Many local Vietnamese and Asian American audiences view the Viet Film Fest, Oct. 12-14, in the same way Asians (and others) across the country viewed the late summer blockbuster, “Crazy Rich Asians.”
“It’s empowering to see faces like mine up there on the screen,” said Yvonne Tran, a Tustin resident and internal vice president of the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA), the group that organizes and presents the Viet Film Fest each year. This year will be the 10th iteration of the festival, which started in 2003 as a biennial.
“In ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ representation matters,” Tran said. “It’s ever more present in everyone’s mind. For me, seeing the images of Vietnamese and seeing the diverse images of Vietnamese people and stories — it makes me so proud to live here and be part of this community.”
The 10th edition of the Viet Film Fest will screen 30 films — 13 features and 17 shorts — at AMC Orange 30 at the Outlets at Orange (formerly the Block at Orange). The fest will also feature panels, Q & A sessions, opening and closing receptions, a free “Youth in Motion” program and an awards ceremony.
“We had 61 submissions, which is a lot,” said Thuy-Van Nguyen, this year’s festival director.
“We got a lot of very good features. The mission of the film fest is — we want to be a platform to encourage emerging filmmakers. At the same time, filmmaking is an art in which our voice is heard …. We also want to be a platform for Vietnamese filmmakers to showcase their work outside of Vietnam.”
In fact, in the 15 years since the Viet Film Fest (formerly the Vietnamese International Film Festival, or VIFF) started, the gathering has become the largest showcase of Vietnamese films outside of the home country.
This year’s crop of films reflects the growing influence of women in society and entertainment. More than 50 percent of the Viet Film Fest movies are either directed or produced by females, and many of them include strong female characters and storylines. Organizers say this represents the power and legacies of the #MeToo, Time’s Up and #OscarSoWhite movements.
The 10th Viet Film Fest will open Oct. 12 with “Summer in Closed Eyes,” a cross-cultural love story set in Hokkaido, Japan. The romantic drama was directed by Cao Thuy Nhi. Several members of the Vietnamese and Japanese cast and crew are scheduled to attend the film and opening reception, which will be held at Cafe Tu Tu Tango.
“The Island,” directed by Tuan Andrew Nguyen, will screen at 4 p.m. Oct. 13. The film was shot entirely on Pulau Bidong, an island off the coast of Malaysia that became the largest and longest-running refugee camp after the Vietnam War.
Homegrown talent will be showcased at the world premiere Oct. 13 of “Actress Wanted,” directed by Minh Duc Nguyen, who lives in Orange County. The film was shot in Little Saigon and stars Thien Nguyen (no relation) as an aspiring actress and Long Nguyen, Minh Duc’s brother, as a Garden Grove Unified janitor.
The Vietnamese American millennial voice will be in the house during the screening of “Hanh, Solo” at 1 p.m. Oct. 13. Star and producer Hanh Nguyen is scheduled to attend to talk about her comedy about an aspiring actress from Philadelphia who stumbles along her journey through modern love and life.
At 11 a.m. Oct. 14, the festival will present a tribute to the late Stephane Gauger, who died in January at age 48. The tribute will include a screening of his last completed film, “Kiss and Spell.” Gauger was a longtime Orange County resident and a graduate of Cal State Fullerton.
The fest will offer a retrospective screening of “The Purple Horizon,” a 1971 feature that was considered to be part of the Golden Era of Vietnamese cinema. Kim Vui, the lead actress and Elizabeth Taylor of her day, will be in attendance at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 14.
Other highlights will include screenings of the Vietnamese box-office hits “The Girl From Yesterday” (1 p.m. Oct. 13), “100 Days of Sunshine” (5 p.m. Oct. 13) and “Go Go Sisters” (12:30 p.m. Oct. 14); “Farewell Halong” (3 p.m. Oct. 14), a German documentary which spotlights the displacement of Ha Long Bay villagers by the Vietnamese government; and “The Way Station” (3:40 p.m. Oct. 14), directed by popular Vietnamese actress Pham Thi Hong Anh (who also stars in “Go Go Sisters”). She plans to attend the screening.
The Viet Film Fest started in April 2003 as VIFF, presenting Vietnamese films from around the world every other year through April 2013. In April 2014, VIFF switched to an annual format and changed its name to the Viet Film Fest.
Organizers took 2017 off to regroup and reorganize. They also decided to push the festival back to October, because the festival was competing with too many other events in April and spring break for students, according to Ysa Le, executive director of VALAA.
“Cinema is such an important art form, and a powerful medium where we can share our stories,” Le said. “So the 10th edition is a big deal because it means that we can sustain it, develop it and have it going for, hopefully, many more years.”
Richard Chang is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC, focusing on the visual arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.