Viet Film Fest 2018: My Top Picks


by Tom Nguyen

After a hiatus in 2017, Viet Film Festival presented by the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) is back this year! The 10th edition from October 12-14, 2018, at AMC Orange 30, will screen 30 films (13 features and 17 short films) from Vietnam, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Czech Republic, Germany, and Malaysia. In this era of #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, the film festival is proud that more than 50% of the films were either directed or produced by women.

The festival opens with Cao Thuy Nhi’s Summer in Closed Eyes (Nhắm Mắt Thấy Mùa Hè), a cross-cultural love story set in Hokkaido, Japan, that faced many challenges while being made, but has gone onto to become a critical and commercial success in Asia. The young Vietnamese and Japanese cast & crew will be in attendance to kick off the festival!

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Viet Film Fest Highlights Transgender Rights and Nail Salon History & Unsafe Working Conditions

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by Tom Nguyen

This year’s Viet Film Fest impacted me greatly, not just as a Vietnamese immigrant refugee but also because the festivals highlighted social justice issues important to me: LGBTQ rights, in particular the rights of the transgender community through the film “Finding Phong” and the history and current unsafe working conditions of the nail salon industry, dominated by Vietnamese immigrants and other people of color, through the documentaries “#NailedIt: Vietnamese & The Nail Industry” and “Painted Nails”.

It’s no secret there is still a lot of homophobic and transphobic attitudes in the very traditionally conservative Vietnamese community and culture, both in the global diaspora communities and in Vietnam. In 2013, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were barred from participating in the yearly Tet Lunar New Year Parade in Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese community abroad. It was only due to a lot of civic and public pressure that members of the LGBTQ community were allowed to participate the following year.

Expecting attitudes in my native Vietnam to be even more unforgiving, I was surprised to hear about a documentary highlighting the transgender experience there. The film “Finding Phong” is a video diary of one transgender woman, Le Anh Phong, and her quest to get gender-reassignment surgery. It’s a deeply personal look at her thoughts, aspirations and insecurities.

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Viet Film Fest 2016: My Top Picks

12465905_912262538893611_2513417017120711810_oby Tom Nguyen

Viet Film Fest (VFF) returns April 14-17 at a new larger venue AMC 30 Orange this year. The annual festival spotlighting films of Vietnamese national and global diasporic filmmakers is organized by Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) and this year features an eclectic collection of 25 films (12 features and 13 shorts) from countries such as Vietnam, Australia, Canada, France, Norway, and the United States.

The festival will spotlight 2 important issues in the Vietnamese community: attitudes towards LGBTQ and the health and safety of nail salon workers. Also, Youth-In-Motion, VAALA’s film workshop that inspires youth to find their voices through filmmaking, will debut their films that focus on social justice issues in the community.

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VAALA presents Viet Film Fest 2015: My Top 10 Picks!

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by Tom Nguyen

2015 is an important year for the Vietnamese diaspora, the largest of which is here in Southern California’s Little Saigon, Orange County. The end of April marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and it’s personal to me because my family and I were among the first wave of post-Vietnam War refugees that would eventually number up to 2 million who have fled overseas by any means necessary.

April 16-19, the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) will present the Viet Film Fest at Ultraluxe Cinemas in Anaheim, near Disneyland. VAALA started the festival in 2003, then known as the Vietnamese International Film Festival (VIFF) and screened at UCI and UCLA campuses, with support from Vietnamese student groups. The festival started biennially every 2 years and I’m not sure if that was due to funding, lack of enough Vietnamese cinema to feature, or a combination of both, but fast forward to 2014 and a lot had changed! Continue Reading →

14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

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by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Respectfully,
Tom Nguyen

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