by Adam Chau, AsAmNews Contributor
While the Viet Film Fest has ended its in-person portion of the film festival, tickets can still be purchased to watch the films online through October 15th at: https://www.vietfilmfest.com.
AsAmNews sent some questions out to Vietnamese Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) board member Thao Ha about the film festival, where it’s headed, what it means to the community, and some of the films you should make sure to check out.
Viet Film Fest was started by Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA). Being on the board of VAALA, can you speak a little to the history of the fest and where it was, to where it is now?
VFF started with a vision by Ysa Le, the Executive Director of the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) which hosts VFF. She and VAALA board members at the time began VFF by hosting films on college campuses. It was held every other year, and now in its 13th edition, it’s held annually in large theaters with thousands of on site filmgoers and now a global reach with VFF’s virtual screenings. It started with all volunteers, and now paid staff are hired to organize and run the festival. Of course, it still relies heavily on volunteers to run the event.
While an international festival, from an American perspective, how do you feel about the representation from Vietnamese American filmmakers? Are you seeing more or less in comparison to past years?
Over the years, the representation of Vietnamese American filmmakers has not just increased, but the caliber of filmmaking has reached new heights. For example, this year’s opening night film, “Maika”, had a nationwide theatrical release. Two of Maika’s filmmakers, Ham Tran and Jenni Trang Le, are former VAALA board members. Aspiring Vietnamese American filmmakers have veterans like Ham and Jenni to look up to.
What was it like organizing this year’s film festival compared to the one in 2021, now being one more year removed from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?
It was a hybrid festival which took the VFF team to a whole new level of planning, organization, and management. It was quite a success in terms of global reach as audiences and filmmakers were able to tune in virtually. Director Bao Nguyen made a virtual appearance for his documentary on Bruce Lee, “Be Water”, which won VFF’s Best Feature Award. Actress Kelly Marie Tran made a virtual appearance to accept VFF’s Inspiration Award. Local audiences came out for a community drive-thru screening of Disney’s “Raya”. The VFF team did an incredible job adapting to a hybrid festival and leveraged technology to run a successful VFF 2021. This experience helped the team to continue our hybrid model this year.
From a community standpoint why is Viet Film Fest needed? Why is it important?
VFF brings the community together and showcases a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives through the artistic expression of film. It provides a rare opportunity for community members to learn about historical and contemporary experiences of Vietnamese in the United States and around the world. For artists, they get to share their work and engage in dialogue with an international community. It’s a platform for established and emerging filmmakers of Vietnamese descent globally. VFF hosts Community Day screenings for Senior Citizens and for local high school students by hosting them with special screenings and programming.
What does the film festival mean to you personally?
I’m proud to be Vietnamese American, and it gives me great joy to see artists of all walks of life creating narratives that contribute to an understanding of the Vietnamese experience in America and around the world. As an educator, I personally love the documentary films in the festival and learn so much from them. They’re incredible tools for learning.
What are some films from this festival that stood out to you, or that you heard about from other people (festival organizers or audience members)?
I cried watching the documentary “Children of the Mist” about Hmong child brides being kidnapped, and “A Crack in the Mountain” will most likely get the filmmaker banned from Vietnam as it exposes the sociopolitical struggles between environmentalism and economic gain when the largest cave in the world, Son Doong Cave, is discovered in a remote part of Vietnam. For audiences who appreciate indie art house films, “Daughter”. The high school audience enjoyed the set of shorts curated for them, Pulling Through (High School Community Screening), and VFF’s closing night film, “Blood Moon Party” was well attended and well received.
While not over (as films can be purchased and watched online through the 15th), how has overall attendance been considering still being only two years removed from the height of the pandemic?
Our in-person attendance was not as robust as in the past. With virtual programming, many are choosing to watch from home. I think VFF faces the challenges that the overall film industry faces–will people show up to theaters, or will they continue to prefer streaming from the comforts of wherever they are?
Viet Film Fest runs online through October 15th.
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