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Despite being torn apart by the devastation of two separate aggressor invasions and often finding its artisans hamstrung by censorship and bureacracy, the 100 year-old Vietnamese film community has forged a strong brand and unique voice within the global cinema community.

               (Picture, above: Tôi thay hoa vàng trên co xanh; Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, 2015) 

Three prominent production entities were formed in Hanoi in the 1920’s - the Huong Ky Film Company, producers of documentary footage (notably the funeral of Emperor Khải Định and the enthronement of Bảo Đại) and the silent feature Một đồng kẽm tậu được ngựa (A Penny for a Horse); the Vietnam Film Group, producers of Một buổi chiều trên sông Cửu Long (An Evening on the Mekong River) and Thầy Pháp râu đỏ (The Red-Bearded Sorcerer); and, the Asia Film Group, makers of the nation’s first sound films Trọn với tình (True to Love), Khúc khải hoàn (The Song of Triumph) and Toét sợ ma (Toét's Scared of Ghosts), between the years 1937 and 1940.

The government propaganda machine was also a prominent producer of documentary footage, having formed a film unit in 1945 (pictured, right). They were responsible for capturing iconic images of the First Indochina war in documentaries such as Trận Mộc Hóa (Mộc Hóa Battle, 1948), Trận Đông Khê (Đông Khê Battle, 1950), Chiến thắng Tây Bắc (North West Victory, 1952) and Việt Nam trên đường thắng lợi (Việt Nam on the Road to Victory, 1953).

Following the creation of the North and South divisions, film production was shared between Hanoi (which produced the government’s propaganda films) and Saigon (where the more audience-friendly genre films were being made). With the opening of the Hanoi Film School in 1959, talents such as Nguyễn Hồng Nghị (Chung một Dòng sông / Together on the Same River, 1960) and Phạm Kỳ Nam (whose 1963 feature Chị Tư Hậu / Sister Tư Hậu won a Silver Bear at the Moscow Film Festival) began to emerge. Manuel Conde's Filipino co-production Chúng Tôi Muốn Sống (We Want To Live), a stiring account of wartime defiance, was a hit. There was even an animated feature, Đáng đời Thằng cáo (A Just Punishment for the Fox), in 1960.

But, with the American War ravaging the countryside and its resources, most film technicians and equipment were being utilised for newsreels, sent by embedded photojournalists. Some features were produced – the hit film Chúng Tôi Muốn Sống (We Want To Live, 1959), the family dramas Nguyễn Văn Trỗi (1966), Người Tình Không Chân Dung (Faceless Love, 1965) and Chiếc Bóng Bên Đường (Roadside Shadow, 1967) and the comedy Triệu Phú Bất Đắc Dĩ (The Reluctant Millionaire, 1970) – but in a country under siege, cinema was often a luxury that the population could not afford.

The reunification of Vietnam in the 1970’s led to a wave of social-realism cinema, stories that focussed on the plight of the nation’s people in wartime and of heroic, revolutionary struggles in the face of oppression; notably Em bé Hà Nội (Little Girl of Hanoi, 1973; in full, above) and Cánh đồng hoang (The Abandoned Field: Free Fire Zone, 1979). Production surged – by the early ‘80’s, Vietnam was producing 20 feature films annually, including the international critical hits Hà Nội trong mắt ai? (Hanoi Through Whose Eyes?, 1983),  Bao gio cho den thang muoi (The Love Doesn't Come Back, 1984), Bao Giò Cho Đến Tháng Mười (When The Tenth Month Comes, 1984), Người công giáo huyện Thống Nhất (A Catholic in Thống Nhất District, 1985) and Cô gái trên sông (Girl on the River, 1987).

The introduction of free market economics under the Đổi Mới period of social reform and the wave of television and video content that surged into the sector on the back of the VHS boom kept the population indoors for most of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, severely hurting the exhibition sector. B-movie aesthetics came to the fore and artistry suffered, and soon the unregulated film industry was in the hands of producers chasing the quick buck. The richness that had been synonymous with the great visionaries of past Vietnamese film eras was kept alive through such independent works as Hà Nội trong mắt ai? (Hanoi Through Whose Eyes?, 1983); Thuong nho dong que (Nostalgia for The Countryside, 1984); Anh và em (Siblings, 1986); Chuyện tử tế (Story of Good Behavior, 1987); Gánh Xiếc Rong (The Travelling Circus, 1988; pictured, above); and, Canh bac (The Gamble, 1991), though clogged distribution channels meant these films were often not heralded until years after they were made.

The Vietnamese film industry turned around overnight with the release of Tran Anh Hung’s The Scent of the Green Papaya in 1993. The film would win two awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Camera d’Or, trophies from the British Film Institute and the French Film Academy and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Tran’s follow-up film, Cyclo (1995), would win the highest accolade at the Venice Film Festival and his subsequent works - Mùa hè chiều thẳng đứng (The Vertical Ray of the Sun, 2000) and I Come With The Rain (2009, starring Hollywood import Josh Hartnett) – would be globally acclaimed.

Tran’s presence in the marketplace opened the films of Vietnam to a wider audience and inspired his countrymen. Soon, such notable works as Regis Wargnier's Indochine (1992) and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Lover (1993), two high-profile international productions, as well as Tony Bui's Ba mùa (Three Seasons, 1998, with Harvey Keitel), Lê Hoàng's Gai nhay (Bar Girls, 2002) and its sequel Lọ lem hè phố (Street Cinderella, 2004), Nguyễn Võ Nghiêm Minh’s Mùa len trâu (The Buffalo Boy, 2003), Phi Tiến Sơn’s Lưới trời (Heaven's Net, 2005), Quang Hai Ngo’s Chuyen cua Pao (Pao’s Story, 2006) and Ham Tran’s Vượt Sóng (Journey From The Fall, 2007) were impacting festival programmes and arthouse cinemas worldwide. A horror film (a genre frowned upon by censors) finally made its way to local screens in the shape of Kim Tae-Kyeong’s Muoi The Legend of the Portrait (2007), the first film to bear a under-16 censorship tag; documentaries have found favour again, particularly Nguyen Trinh Thi’s gay-themed Love Man Love Woman (2008) and Doan Hoang’s Oh Saigon (2008).

The debate over censorship and the influential role of the Vietnam Film Department flared in 2013, when the Nguyen Brothers film Bui doi Cho Lon faced a ban for content deemed violent and anti-social. The banning raised deep concerns amongst the industry that the governing body was becoming too strict in its enforcement of ageing standards, especially when anachronistic actioners like Lady Assassins 3D (2013), Quang Dung Nguyen’s Shaw-inspired Ninja-babe romp, were getting greenlit and heavily promoted.
That same year, the Vietnam Department of Cinema announced with much fanfare that an injection of US$309million would kickstart a resurgence in Vietnamese production and exhibition. The aim was to ensure the region’s film output and cinema attendence would be the number one per capita earner in South-East Asian territories by 2020. However, as of 2016, it is Korean interests CJ CGV Cinemas and Lotte Theatres that have secured control of 70% of the multiplex market, while the planned investment in regional cinema venues (predominantly owned and operators by local entrepreneurs) has slowed. Piracy remains a major concern, with stalls often spruiking DVD knock-offs of current release titles on the same street as theatrical houses.

Despite these obstacles, both the commercial film sector and independent arthouse producers are surviving in the modern Vietnamese film landscape. Broad entertainment such as the period action epic Lua Phat (Once Upon a Time in Vietnam, 2013), the body-swap comedy Em là bà nội của anh (You Are my Grandmother, 2015), the raucous farce Battle of The Brides (2011) and its sequel (2014) and the horror/romance hybrid The Housemaid: Co Hau Gai (2016) open to receptive local crowds, while more personal, indie-sector works such as the rural drama Tôi thay hoa vàng trên co xanh (Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, 2015, and Vietnam’s official foreign language Oscar entry in 2016), the transgender documentary Finding Phong (2015), Dap Canh Giua Khong Trung (Flapping from the Middle of Nowhere, 2014) and the wartime melodrama Nha tien tri (The Prophecy, 2015), buoy the sector, which maintains an enviable presence in the face of the western sector imports.

Key Events:
The Hanoi International Film Festival – Hanoi, Vietnam; November.
The 4th edition of the northern city's premiere film event begins November 1, under the guidance of the Cinema Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. To honour the theme of 'Cinema, Integration and Sustainable Development', the event will screen 12 features from 11 countries, as well as provide a sidebar focus on Indian Cinema.

Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST)
Cinema Department
147 Hoàng Hoa Thám,
Quận Ba Đình, Hà Nội.
Tel: (+84) 4 845 2402
Fax: (+84) 4 823 4997

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Even the most ardent supporter of Romanian cinema would concede that the nation’s film output, which averages about 15 features a year, adheres to a pretty dour aesthetic. The exception that proves the rule may be a film like Radu Muntean’s Boogie, a 2008 charmer about three men who wish themselves back to their high school days, but overall Romanian cinema reflects a society of artists still ruminating on the atrocities of recent regimes and the struggle of both its urban and rural population to cope with the commercial realities of the new Europe.

                                    (Pictured, above; Radu Jude's Everybody in Our Family, 2012)

Like much of Europe, the new invention of the Lumiere Brothers premiered in Romania before the turn of the century. An employee of the French pair, Paul Menu, filmed the first footage on Romanian soil, a newsreel that captured King Carol 1 atop his steed and leading The Royal Parade in May, 1897. As the new medium became further established, young filmmakers emerged and the silent shorts began to accompany the newsreel footage. Also, filmed theatrical productions, such as Nicolae Barbelian’s Păpuşa (The Doll, 1911) and Victor Eftimiu’s Dragoste la mănăstire (Love in a Monastery, 1911), began to introduce audiences to cinematic storytelling techniques. 

Considered many to be the first significant filmmaker to emerge from the birth of Romanian cinema was Grigore Brezeanu, whose short fictional films Amor fatal (Fatal Love Affair, 1911), Înşir'te mărgărite... (Spread Yourselves, Daisies, 1911) and the feature-length epic Independenţa României (The Independence of Romania, 1912; pictured, right) would be the country’s first major works of international standing. Only 20 when he directed Independenţa României, Brezeanu’s premature passing from typhoid in the post-World War 1 epidemic robbed a nation of an extraordinary talent. The financier of the film, Leon Popescu, was flushed with profits from its success and established the nation’s first production company, Film de artă Leon Popescu (Leon Popescu Art Film), resulting in a range of commercially-viable films that helped establish the Romanian film community - Amorul unei prinţese (The Love Affair of a Princess, 1913), Răzbunarea (Revenge, 1913), Urgia cerească (The Sky-borne Disaster, 1913), Cetatea Neamţului (The German's Citadel, 1914) and Spionul (The Spy, 1914). Aristide Demetriade directed two films of note - Oţelul răzbună (Steel Takes Its Revenge) and Scheci cu Jack Bill (Sketch with Jack Bill), both in 1913 – but the First World war would decimate the exhibition and film production sectors, rendering the industry inactive.

(Above: Scenes from Jean Mihail's 1924 drama, Păcat (Sin)

It was not until Jean Mihail returned to his homeland in the mid 1920’s that the industry would find the impetus to resurrect its film culture. He first came to prominence as co-director (with German Alfred Hallm) of Ţigăncuşa din iatac (The Little Gypsy Girl in the Bedroom, 1923), then helmed such significant works as Păcat (Sin, 1924), Manasse (Manasseh, 1925), Lia (1927) and Povara (The Burden, 1928). The resurgent industry fostered such talents as Ion Şahighian (Năbădăile Cleopatrei /Cleopatra's Caprices, 1925; Simfonia dragostei /The Symphony of Love, 1928), Ghiţă Popescu (Vitejii neamului /The Bravest of Our People, 1926; Năpasta /The Calamity, 1927) and Niculescu Brumă (Ecaterina Teodoroiu, 1929).

In 1930, the era of the talkie was launched in Romania, with German director Martin Berger adapting the culturally significant novel Ciuleandra in 1929. Most films being shot in Romania over this period were financed, wholly or in part, by visiting producers – it was not until Bing-Bang (1934), a vaudevillian-style collection of skits and musical numbers featuring a collection of the nation’s most popular performers, that a fully-Romanian feature would hit the screen. The beginning of the sound era was problematic for Romanian cinema. Foreign films, each one of higher production standards than the last, flooded the market and pushed true Romanian cinema into the background. Only 16 films were made in the country in the 1930’s.

To stop the decline in the cinema culture, the government established the New Cinema Fund in 1934. A percentage of all foreign film ticket sales would be channelled into the local industry, resulting in a steady flow of nationalistic films – Mihail’s documentary România (Romania, 1937); Şahighian’s O noapte de pomină (An Unforgettable Night, 1939); Paul Călinescu’s Venice-prizewinning documentary Ţara Moţilor (1938; pictured, right); Jean Georgescu’s O noapte furtunoasă (A Stormy Night, 1942) and Visul unei nopţi de iarnă (A Winter Night's Dream, 1944); and Cornel Dumitrescu’s Pădurea îndrăgostiţilor (The Lovers' Forest, 1946). Though the Second World War raged around them and many of the nation’s film technicians were forced to work on propaganda film projects, the passion of the filmmaking community kept Romanian cinema active in these years.

Following communist occupation in 1948, the Romanian film industry as the free-thinking creator of narrative, fictional films, all but ceased to exist. The people and resources that the National Film Fund had brought to prominence were now at the mercy of a ruling party that saw the film sector as the tool of the political body. Films espousing the communist dogma lead to a period of social realism in Romanian film – directors who would play influential roles in the decades to come, such as Manole Marcus (La mere, 1953), Geo Saizescu (Doi vecini, 1958), Iulian Mihu (Jocurile copilariei, 1955) and Gheorghe Vitanidis (Ciulinii Baraganului, 1958), emerged from this period. This was also the era of the great Romanian animator Ion Popescu-Gopo, who would produce 15 short works in 1955 and win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1957 for Scurtă istorie (A Short History).

(Above: Ion Popescu-Gopo's Scurtă istorie/A Short History, 1957)

Through the 1960’s, Romanian filmmakers, inspired by the New Wave mentality sweeping European cinema, began to slyly subvert the Communist doctrine. Mihai Iacob’s Darclee (1961), Lucian Bratu’s Tudor (1962), the legendary Lucien Pintilie’s Duminica la ora 6 (Sunday at Six, 1965), Cannes Best Director winner Liviu Ciulei’s Pădurea spânzuraţilor (Forest of the Hanged, 1964) and Mircea Mureşan’s Cannes-honoured debut Răscoala (1965) were all instrumental in a noticeable shift away from the state-sanctioned cinema of social realism and political message.

This revolutionary tone, however subtle, fuelled a passionate industry that blossomed in the 1970’s – a period that many refer to as Romanian cinema’s own New Wave. Out of the film school culture that had flourished in the 1960’s came directors that would represent Romanian cinema well into the 1980’s and in the final years of the Communist rule - Dan Pita (Nunta de piatra/The Stone Wedding, 1972; Bietul Ioanide/Poor Ioanide, 1979; Rochia alba de dantela /The White Lace Dress, 1989), Mircea Veroiu (Duhul aurului/Lust for Gold, 1974; Dincolo de pod/Beyond the Bridge, 1975; Sfarsitul noptii /The End of the Night, 1982) and Mircea Daneliuc (Cursa/The Long Drive, 1975; Croaziera / The Cruise, 1983; Glissando, 1985; Senatorul melcilor/The Snail’s Senator, 1995). There work led to a relative surge in production activity that saw 8 vital films released in the early 1990’s, among them acclaimed works by Bogdan Dumitrescu (Unde la soare e frig / Where The Sun Runs Cold, 1991; pictured, right), Florin Codre (Sobolanii rosii/The Red Rats, 1990), George Busecan (Pasaj, 1990) and Nae Caranfil (E pericoloso sporgersi/Don’t Lean Out of the Windows, 1993; Asfalt tango/Asphalt Tango, 1996; Filantropica/Philanthropy, 2002).

It took Romanian cinema 100 years but, in the 2000’s, the ‘Golden Age’ had arrived. This period also established the reputation that Romanian films have for their bleakness, though what now seems indicative of Romanian cinema was the point of difference a decade ago that made the film culture of the region stand out. After impacting the international festival circuit with Cristi Puiu’s Marfa si banii (Stuff and Dough, 2001), Cristian Mungiu's Occident (Accident, 2002) and Radu Muntean’s  Furia (Fury, 2002), the global critical community rallied behind Puiu’s 2005 breakout hit, Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), earning the film the Un Certain Regard honour at Cannes and over 20 other international awards. Momentum was with Romanian cinema Ruxandra Zenide’s Ryna (2005) enjoyed domestic and arthouse success and made a star of the stunning Doroteea Petre; in 2006, Corneliu Porumboiu’s A fost sau n-a fost (12:08 East of Bucharest) won Cannes’ Camera d’Or; in 2007, Cristian Nemescu's posthumous California Dreamin' won the prize in the Un Certain Regard section, while Christian Mungiu's abortion drama Patru luni, trei saptamâni si doua zile( 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; pictured, right) received the Palme d'Or. Other significant works from this time include the fresh output from Lucian Pintilie, including Afternoon of the Torturer (2001) and Niki and Flo (2003). 

After a lean 2008, when domestic box office saw a dip in audience acceptance of Romanian films for the first time in many years, new works by Corneliu Porumboiu (Police Adjective, 2009) and Florin Şerban (Eu când vreau să fluier, fluier /If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, 2010) have scored big at home and abroad. Most recently, Calin Netzer’s Child's Pose (Pozitia copilului) took Golden Bear honours in Berlin while Romanian cinema welcomed the found-footage horror genre to its industry with Adrian Tofei’s Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, a brutal shocker that won Best Film at Sydney’s A Night of Horror Film Festival in 2015. Other notables include Cristi Piui's Cannes 2016 competition title, Sieranevada; Christian Mungui's Graduation (2016), Radu Jude's Aferim! (2015), and Alexabdra Belc's vital doco Cinema, Mon Amour (2016), which provides insight into the struggle of the independent cinema owner in modern Romania. 

Key Events:
KINOFEST International Digital Film Festival – Bucharest, Romania; October.
The first digital film festival in Romania, Kinofest’s aim is to promote the film, music and vis-art of the region’s young film-makers. Festival director Valentin Partenie also hopes to cultivate interest in and promote the arts and media culture among the general public through independent film, video and new media making. Kinofest includes 3 competitions (Animation, Fiction, Micromovie), with 3 distinct juries. Expanding into a weeklong event in 2010, the 4th edition of Kinofest will enhance its film content programme and create more social-networking events (such as concerts, expositions and seminars)

Romanian Film Commission
Asociatia pentru Promovarea Filmului Romanesc
Popa Soare St 52 Et 1 Ap 4
Bucharest 2
Tel:  (+40) 21 326 02 68

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(Note – With due respect to the Bikram Samwat calendar of the nation of Nepal, all dates in this article have been converted to the Gregorian calendar.)

Geographically remote and often burdened with financial hardship that has not always allowed for the costly craft of filmmaking, the Nepalese film industry did not premiere its first full-length feature film until 1952. D.B. Pariyar’s Satya Harischandra was shot in India and utilised Nepalese technicians and craftsmen living in India; an expanding release pattern in makeshift cinemas and town halls ensured it became a cultural sensation, although there is some debate as to whether it was shot in the Nepalese dialect or later dubbed.

(Pictured, above; Deepak Rauniyar's Highway, 2012) 

The ruling government was aware of the impact upon the poorer classes that communal cinema going had and created a handful of propaganda films to indoctrinate them, but feature film production was nil. It was to be a decade later that Shiva Shanker and Bhuwan would star in Nepal’s first domestically produced and shot feature, Hira Singh Katri’s Aama (Mother, 1964). Its success was quickly followed by the film that would shape the Nepalese film industry, it’s success unprecedented – B.S. Thapa’s Maitighar (Maternal Home,1966), starring Bollywood siren Mala Singha (pictured, right; with co-star C.P. Lohani and child extra). So popular was the film that the region in which it was set was renamed after the film’s title and remains so to this day. Maitighar was the crowning achievement of the Royal Nepal Film Corporation, formed in 1962 to foster local production, including Hijo Aaj Bholi (1968) and Parivartan (1972). But the film’s success overwhelmed the small sector – it would be 16 years before another ambitious film, Juni, would be attempted, and its commercial failure sent many investors scurrying.

The implementation of a production sector tax rebate and a fresh wave of creativity overtook the Nepalese film industry in the late 1970’s and 1980’s and production prospered. Kathmandu (or ‘Kallywood’, as it is known locally) became the centre for film production – Man Ko Bandh, Kimoori, Sindoor and a series of films called Jeevan Rekha employed many and were enjoyed by the masses.

The political upheaval of the early 1990’s engendered the young members of society with a vibrancy and freedom that had not been allowed to surface for many years. Production started to generate, the resurgence led by the blockbuster releases of director Tulshi Ghimire (Kusama Rumal, 1987, featured below; China, 1991; Darpan Chaya, which took over 20million Rupee’s, in 2001).

The war with Maoist rebels, which intensified between 1998 and 2000, shattered the film industry and stifled cinema attendance of Nepal, and the dire state of affairs remained that way under monarchist rule until 2006. Some filmmakers were able to construct films that resembled the social-realism works of 1950’s European cinema, and factual filmmaking, chronicling the plight of the people and the land gained international coverage. Key amongst this movement was Tsering Rhitar Sherpa, whose 2000 film Mukundo (pictured, below) was a deeply spiritual study in grief and traditional religion and earned rare international exposure. But as a commercial film culture, Nepal was moribund.

It was the April 2006 overthrow of the monarchy that allowed for the rejuvenation of the film culture. The integration of the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal into mainstream politics resulted in investment in domestic production, the likes of which the Nepalese industry has not seen for some time. In 2007, Narayan Puri’s Aago (The Fire) and Himmat (The Guts) premiered, as did Badri Adhikari’s Aawaji (The Voice); a rebellious voice in the form of Dinesh Karki caused furore and debate with the racially volatile Aahankar; and factual film-making grew in stature with the release of Mami Kunaka Manchhle (We, the People of Remote Corner), that examined the slow developments of Nepal’s poorer communities, and Chaama Deu! Tara Nabirsa (Forgive! Forget Not!), based on the life of tortured journalist Bhairaja Ghimire.

Production has remained relatively constant, with the sector veering away from the Bollywood clichés that have dominated commercial cinema and finding new voices willing to tell contemporary narratives. In recent times, Nepalese auteurs such as Nischal Basnet (Loot; Kabbadi; Talak Jung vs Tulke), Joes Pandey (Saanghuro), Deepak Rauniyar (Highway), Narayan Rayamajhi (Paradeshi), Subarna Thapa (Soongava-Dance of the Orchid; pictured, right) and Yaday Kumar Bhattarai (Jhola) have found favour both domestically and abroad. Advocates are demanding the government take a pro-active stance in protecting and fostering local production; with imported Bollywood (and, increasingly, Hollywood) fare still accounting for 80% of theatrical releases in Nepal, the local sector continually struggles to be seen by Nepalese audiences.

In 2015, Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa, a documentary that captured both the seething tensions between guides and tourists on Mount Everest and the horrific tragedy of the April 2014 Khumbu Icefall disaster, earned a BAFTA nomination and was lauded internationally.

Key Events:
Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival – Kathmandu, Nepal; January.
Organized by Himal Association, KIMFF started as a non-competitive, biennial festival founded in 2000. A wide selection of films reflecting contemporary society have been screened, including alpine documentation, archival footage, adventure cinema, experimental shorts, commentaries, anthropological narratives and narrative feature films. These movies have dealt with issues regarding cultural practices, lifestyles, conflict, wildlife, mountain-climbing, environment, globalization and gender.

Film Development Board, Nepal.
GPO Box: 4400, SaraswatiNagar, Chabahil, Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: (+ 977 1) 4812332, 4812387 Fax: (+977 1) 4812360

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