Memoirs of a Superfan, Vol. 8.10: San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival

By Ravi Chandra, M.D.

The San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival, co-presented by CAAM, will take place April 26-28, 2013.  The Opening Night Gala takes place from 7:30-10 pm on April 26th at Artists’ Television Access (992 Mission St.), and the festival itself features 20 films from at least 7 countries.  A highlight includes a Q and A with Duc Nguyen (BOLINAO 52), Tony Nguyen (ENFORCING THE SILENCE) and Viet Le (LOVE BANG).  Check it out!

I interviewed the organizers of the SFGFF by email: Julie Thi Underhill (Film Festival Director), Isabelle Thuy Pelaud (Film Festival Supervisor), and Estela Evette Uribe (DVAN Intern).


Any figures on the numbers of Vietnamese in the diaspora?

There are about 3 million people of Vietnamese descent living in the diaspora.SFGVFF-logo


Which countries are Vietnamese concentrated in, and which American cities/areas?

According to the 2010 census, there are about 1.8 million Vietnamese in the U.S..

Vietnamese are spread out across the globe mostly in the U.S., Cambodia, France, Laos, Australia, Canada. In the U.S., cities including San Jose, Garden Grove, Westminster, Houston, San Diego, and other locations within Orange County have more than 10,000 Vietnamese Americans.


Are the war and refugee experiences still of predominant concern for the filmmakers and audiences?

Yes, but at the same time no because the films we are showing are not limited to that scope. A lot of the time when people address Vietnam they normally refer to the Vietnam war and life after the war so the SFGVFF is showing films that include themes such as queer love as shown in Viet Le’s LOVE BANG, sexual awakening in teens from the Best of Yxine Film Festival, battling addiction and HIV contraction as shown in With or Without Me. There are three significant films that shift the war and refugee focus. Hong-An Truong’s ADAPTATION FEVER series is an experimental video installation trilogy that investigates difference in relation to time, history, and memory through overdubbed narration in Vietnamese, French, and partial English subtitles. There’s Tony Nguyen’s ENFORCING THE SILENCE, which speculates about Lam Duong’s murder in 1981 after reprinting articles in a liberal newspaper from communist Vietnam.  He founded the Vietnamese Youth Development Center in San Francisco. And then there’s Duc Nguyen whose documentary, STATELESS, trails stranded Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines after the closing of refugee camps leaving them without legal status barely surviving on their own with no place to call home.


What are other stories coming out of the Global Vietnamese community, which you are highlighting?

As you can see from the wide variety of subjects in the films, Vietnamese and Vietnamese in the diaspora have developed new terminologies in the world that are not necessarily related to the war and therefore do not have to be determined by the war alone; they are addressing different issues to break out of that constricting perspective and, furthermore, expand it.


There’s Lin+Lam’s DEPARTURE that discusses modernization and interventions through transportation methods from the perspective of moving cars, cycles, and trains traveling through Taipei, Shanghai, and Hanoi, which were former colonial Asian Cities. The tale is told in five different native languages by five women who recount interconnected histories of urban environments that underwent transformation. The feature film for opening night called NORWEGIAN WOOD by Trần Anh Hùng, has nothing to do with the Vietnam war at all, but is an adaptation of a Japanese novel by Haruki Murakami that deals with the social upheaval in late 1960’s Tokyo. The Five Shorts from Various Yxine Filmmakers addresses sexual awakening, a young boy’s tragic decision, Vietnamese student’s interview for a residency permit, and also how families pass down jobs generation to generation.


Can you spotlight some programs which you’re really excited about?

We are excited to be showing Tran Anh Hung’s film NORWEGIAN WOOD.  He is one the best, respected, well-known filmmakers of Vietnamese descent known world wide. Some of the movies that might also be familiar are Scent of Green Papaya, Cyclo, and Vertical Ray of the Sun. Haruki Murakami is also a globally known author, who actually refused anyone to adapt his book until he was approached by Hung. Another film is Enforcing the Silence by Tony Nguyen, which we talked about earlier about which speculates about Lam Duong’s murder in 1981. Tony Nguyen along with Viet Le and Duc Nguyen will be doing a Q&A on Saturday night, so the audience is in for quite a treat.



Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco.  You can find more of his writing and performance at, where he invites you to sign up for an occasional newsletter.   His Pacific Heart blog is at Psychology Today,  On Twitter he is @going2peace.