Short film Vo Dien (Faceless) by Nguyen Phan Thao Dan is among 23 movies from all over the world to compete at Festival Corner’s SVA Computer Art at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 from May 8-19.
The film won best short at the Vietnamese Cinematography Association Golden Kites Awards month.
Dan has art in her genes. Her grandfather is established writer Ngo Thao and her parents are a movie director and a producer who meet at one of the first private film studios in Vietnam.
Dan is currently working at Psyop Studio in New York.
Has the Golden Kite award helped make you more established?
‘Vo Dien’ is a result of my four-year studies in the New York-based School of Visual Arts’ Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects Department. I made the film in New York but I wanted to win an award in Vietnam because I was born and brought up here. I’m very glad and proud of the Golden Kite Award.
Vo Dien tells the story of a boy left faceless as an unfinished painting and seeks his face in his artist’s world. I believe that almost children are thrown in to environment where they develop without any guidance. They have to begin to question who are they?
A person is not himself or herself when he/she is born. They develop to become themselves. My character has no name and no face. He was born to an unfinished painting. Like a newborn baby the boy begins to learn new things about himself as he matures.
Winning the Golden Kite award is a good thing to make me more confident to continue my work.
What are you looking for to develop your filmmaking career?
I was born and brought up in Vietnam. I was raised in a traditional Vietnamese lifestyle and I studied in French education for 13 years. I spent four years studying in the US. Finally, I always feel that I’m lost and never think that I know where I belong to because I have tried to adapt to different cultures.
However, I also see this as an opportunity to experience and learn many things from different cultures including cinemas. That is why Vo Dien reflects me and my emotions, my feelings, my desires and my values. I’m a new graduate and I’m still on the way to discover myself.
You are born to filmmaking family. Does this add pressure to your own work?
At small age, my younger sister and I always wrote stories when we did not have toys. We made characters and drew them. While in my 4th grade, our cat died and we were very sad. We recognised the only way we could see our pet is to make an animation about it.
We began to dream about filmmaking. And now we are supporting each other when we have own projects. I know my parents are working hard in filmmaking. But it will be not a passion if I give up film making because I find it too difficult.
Actually, it is very difficult to make a film. It doesn’t look like people see from outside. Filmmaking is really a hard work. It is many sleepless nights and many days working from morning to night. It is much more difficult for women who want to be a filmmaker. Many times I used to think about quitting my job because sometimes it is boring. But whenever I have new idea or I finish a project I think I cannot give up my job.
Some people say that you are strongly supported from your family studio. What would you say to them?
I’m 23 years old. When I heard that it made be a little bit sad, a little bit angry and a little bit of worried at the same time. However, I think that it is normal. At the beginning, I wanted to make animated films only aiming to avoid being compared with my parents. But I think I won’t let other people limit my dream.
If my parents were going to give me more opportunities I would have just returned to Vietnam when I finished studying. But I wanted to stand on my own and I chose to stay a long way from home.
Between American or European styles which will you follow in the future?
I’m impacted by Jean-Paul Sartre and Wong Kar Wai when I made Vo Dien. French philosophy and Asian romantic cinema inspired me a lot. Street light in New York also excites me but I want to find my own style.
What do you expect from Vietnamese cinema industry?
I wish young filmmakers would support each other making films with a view to a new look and new storytelling to Vietnamese audiences. I hope to change thinking about the mainstream movies that I feel are boring and lack entertainment.
I see many Vietnamese animated movies which are made for children with simple stories for educational purposes. Sometimes, these movies don’t entertain audiences. If Vietnamese animated filmmakers can make a work for not only small children, Vietnamese animated films will be popular and seen more. Vietnamese animated film is like the first pages of a book. It is up to the filmmakers to fill the rest of the pages.
I have been living in Vietnam for 18 years. I want to distribute my films which I make anywhere in the world as well as in my homeland. I also want to make my contribution to Vietnamese cinema and to join international film projects. I should not limit myself.
Young people like me need have experiences and the chance to learn new things. I studied for knowledge and work for experience and relationships. If I returned to Vietnam right after finishing my study abroad, it would have been a waste. Filmmakers are like many other professions, such as doctor. Making a film cannot save a life but a good film can change thinking.