Viet Film Fest opens with “Nuoc 2030” to enthusiastic audience

Thuy Phan/Nguoi Viet Daily News

Anaheim, Calif.–To say that Alan Ford is a fan of the Viet Film Fest and what it represents is an understatement. After all, he has been to all eight festivals for the past 12 years.

“I like to support the filmmakers. It is an art and a vehicle for them to express stories,” he said. “And I really enjoy watching the films.” Ford, who lives in Orange county, along with hundreds of other guests came out to the UltraLuxe Theatres Thursday for the opening of four-day festival, which ends Sunday.

“Nuoc 2030,” a film by Nghiem Minh Nguyen-Vo, was chosen to open the festival.

Actors Quynh Hoa (left) and Thach Kim Long (right) from a scene in “Nuoc 2030,” which opened the Viet Film Fest. The movie was directed by Nghiem Minh Nguyen-Vo.(Photo courtesy of

It is a speculative drama that takes place in Vietnam 15 years in the future with the premise that most of the country is underwater due to climate change. For Nguyen-Vo, who holds a Ph.D in physics from the University of California at Los Angeles, making this film was about finding his voice.

“I was in research for 16 years and wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “My mind always went back to my childhood in Vietnam, where my parents managed a small cinema.”

Back then, Vietnam was in the midst of a civil war, and Nguyen-Vo said he still remembers the barracks erected by the Americans near his home in Vung Tau. “I found escape from the gunfire through movies, and I felt I could see the world through the lens of cinema. It called to me years later, and I went back to school to study film making.”

This is Nguyen’s fourth entry into the Viet Film Fest and nearly a decade since “Crimson Wings” was featured in 2003. Two years later, his short film, “Buffalo Boy,” closed the festival to much acclaim. In 2011, he showed “Don’t Look Back” and this year, opened with his latest project.

“Nuoc 2030” director Nghiem Minh Nguyen-Vo addresses the audience in a Q&A session. (Photo: Thuy Phan/Nguoi Viet)

“It feels like coming home. It is an honor for the entire cast and crew to be here,” Nguyen-Vo said. “My first film showed here, and more than a decade later, I’m back again. In a way, it feels like the festival is growing up with me as I mature as a film maker.”

The film, which is murder mystery/love story hybrid, takes the viewer to a time in the near future where Vietnam is submerged due to climate change. The main character, Sao (Quynh Hoa), is ensconced in a love triangle between Thi (Thach Kim Long), her husband, and her former lover Thuy (Hoang Tran Minh Duc). It is a futuristic look into the possible effects of climate change with social undertones.

“I’m really glad this was chosen as the premiere,” Ford said. “There were lots of deep meanings and I quite enjoyed the storyline.”

Nguyen-Vo, who filmed much of the underwater sequences, says lead actress Quynh Hoa didn’t know how to swim before this movie.

“She took a crash course and learned to swim in three weeks,” he said in a Q&A session after the film. The film’s composer, Inouk Demers, was also in attendance and said they met through a hokkaido class. When they each learned of the other’s respective careers, they made plans to work together and “Nuoc 2030” is the result of that collaboration.

 Thuy Vo Dang (left), Giana Nguyen (second from left), Ysa Le (second from right) and Tram Le (right) give opening remarks for the film festival. (Photo: Thuy Phan/Nguoi Viet)

Janice Arrington, the Orange County film commissioner, said she was impressed with the film and hopes to lure more Vietnamese talent to make films here.

“I was fascinated by the story, and I thought the acting was superb.,” she said, adding, “I know underwater scenes are really difficult to film, but they made it look very easy.”

Tram Le, the artistic co-director and one of the festival co-founders, says she is proud to see how it has grown. “When Ysa (Le) and I first decided to get this together, we were praying for five films,” she said. “We didn’t have a venue, or any real plans. We were going to show films out of Ysa’s garage if we had to!”

But luckily for them, the University of California, Irvine, believed in their mission to showcase Vietnamese American film talent and partnered with the Vietnamese Arts and Letters Association to screen the films on campus. Today, they’ve moved beyond the doors of UCI to a cinema space large enough to accommodate a larger crowd.

In addition, the film fest now is held on an annual instead of a biennial basis, with nearly 31 films in the lineup for 2015.

“I think the film fest is growing because there wasn’t a voice for the 1.5 generation back then and this was it,” Le said. “This is what they were missing and it was refreshing for the community. We want to nurture the Vietnamese film makers on their journey.”

Le said ironically, many of the films screened at the film fest are made in Vietnam since independent film makers do not have the Hollywood budgets to produce feature films here.

“Vietnamese filmmakers born in America are considered minorities making a film in America,” she said. “But when they move over to Vietnam and make their films there, they become more attractive and seen as exotic, foreign film makers.”

Le said she hopes that the trend will reverse in the future and more films will be made by Vietnamese directors in the U.S.

Charlie Nguyen, one of the most well-known Vietnamese directors today, agreed. “You don’t get the attention you need.” He added, “I’ve been trying forever and I’m very close.”

Aside from offering moviegoers a chance to see innovative new films by emerging film makers, the film fest offers something people would never get elsewhere, Le said: up close and personal access to film makers.

“When would you ever get the chance to talk to Charlie Nguyen and hear his thoughts on the industry?” she asked. “Only at a film festival. It’s a great way to see movies and follow a film maker through their career.”


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