The Stories They Have to Tell: Viet Film Fest 2018 Highlights the Diversity of Diasporic and Emerging Filmmakers

ORANGE – With a new format and timeline, the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) celebrated its 10th edition of Viet Film Fest with a diverse lineup of first-time and women filmmakers from all around the world. From October 12-14, Viet Film Fest 2018 screened 30 films (13 features and 17 shorts) from countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Canada, France, and the United States, to over 3,500 attendees.


On Friday morning, over 400 local high school students and senior citizens packed two theaters to watch a series of short films centered around “Love in Its Many Forms” and “Family Dynamics in the Diaspora.” Friday’s free screenings are part of a long-standing tradition of Viet Film Fest to make high-quality films and art events accessible to the community.


Friday night marked the debut of the festival’s opening night feature, Summer in Closed Eyes (Nhắm Mắt Thấy Mùa Hè), an indie, love story shot in Hokkaido, Japan. The director (Cao Thuy Nhi), lead actor (Takafumi Akutsu), producer (Thanh Tan Pham) and crew from Vietnam and Japan were present to receive the Spotlight Award that highlights emerging talents. Despite it being the first feature film for a majority of the cast crew, (including its director and lead actor), the team created a masterful piece of art that crossed cultures and brought the audience to tears.


Saturday’s screenings took us across space and time: With films that transported audiences from the past to the future, from Palau Bidong, Malaysia to Orange County, CA, the films ranged in genres, originality, and filmmakers’ identities. Considering that more than 50% of the films at this year’s festival were either produced or directed by a woman, the organizers convened a special panel on “Vietnamese Women In Film: The Power of Stories.” It featured candid discussions about their professional and artistic  journeys, challenges they faced, and what they envision for the future of the industry. Panelists included Ngo Thanh Van (Producer & Actress, The Tailor), Pham Thi Hong Anh (Producer and Director of The Way Station; Actress of Go Go Sisters) , Hanh Nguyen (Producer & Actress of Hanh, Solo), Quyen Nguyen-Le (Director & Producer, Nuoc [Water/Homeland]), Loan Hoang (Producer of First Generation), Cao Thuy Nhi (Director of Summer in Closed Eyes), and Ngoc Thanh Tam (Actress of The Way Station).


This year’s festival also focused on important issues in the Vietnamese community, particularly around the issues of immigration and displacement. On Sunday, two documentaries that were screened, Farewell Halong and Limbo (Bị Kẹt), opened up a space for a special panel on “The Journey Home: Vietnamese immigration + identity.” Filmmakers and community members participated in the discussion, and set up a letter-writing campaign for Tung Nguyen, the subject of one of the films who is facing deportation orders.


With eerie shots of Little Saigon, director Minh Duc Nguyen’s world premiere of Actress Wanted, packed two theaters of local cast, crew, and fans Saturday Night. The twist and turns of the storyline and multi-dimensional characters earned acting awards for both leads of the film.


Other highlights at the festival included: A touching tribute screening to the late director, Stephane Gauger, a special industry reception helping to connect industry with filmmakers, the premiere of youth films created through VAALA’s Youth in Motion filmmaking workshop, and the Awards Ceremony. The awards (winners below) recognized the best in Vietnamese film among the festival lineup. Viet Film Fest also gave an award to Ann Phong, VAALA’s former Board President, for her lifelong contribution to arts and the community. Additionally, the Awards Ceremony marked the creation of the Tran Tuong Huy Volunteerism Award that honored the memory of a community leader and long-time volunteer of Viet Film Fest.


2018 Filmmakers who appeared at the festival included: Pham Thi Hong Anh (Go Go Sisters; The Way Station); Pham Hong Phuoc & Ngoc Thanh Tam (The Way Station); Thanh Tan Pham, Cao Thuy Nhi, & Takafumi Akutsu (Summer in Closed Eyes); Kim Vui and Khanh Phi-Ha (The Purple Horizon); Hua Vi Van (Murder in the Lens); Duc Ngo Ngoc, Christophe Eder, and Ariane Königshof (Farwell Halong; Apples and Oranges); Stephane Ly-Cuong (Spring Leaves); Hanh Nguyen, Jason Taylor, & Brian Duffy (Hanh, Solo); Andrew DeJohn (The Dreaming City); Eric Nguyen (Before You Run); Kady Le (Like Mother, Like Daughter); Victor Nhieu (Love and College Prep); Quyen Nguyen-Le, Rosi Vo-Nghiem, and Jes Vu (Nuoc [Water/Homeland]); Loan Hoang (First Generation); Thien Pham, Thien Nguyen, Long Nguyen, Susan Tran, Julian Tran, Isabelle Du, & MyLan Luu (Actress Wanted); Julian Tran & Thai Ha Nguyen (Kiss and Spell, The Girl From Yesterday); Lan Nguyen (Limbo).


On the last day of the festival, Viet Film Fest’s #VAALAnextgen online crowdfunding campaign successfully raised its $10,000 goal to continue its youth programs and Viet Film Fest 2019. In addition, the festival would not have been possible without the contributions of individual donors and sponsors, such as Wells Fargo, Harrah’s, UVSA Socal, City of Santa Ana, Crexendo, All Children’s Dental, Union Bank, NTM Circle of Friends, Thai Ha, M.D., Lan Cao, Kim-Luan Tran Esq. & Van Tran, Tre Khoe Dep, Orchid LQ Academy, Derrick Nguyen Hoang Dung, Esq., and DTNTech. It is through the generous support of sponsors, volunteers, filmmakers, and partner organizations that Viet Film Fest can connect and enrich communities through film. Next year’s festival date is set for October 11-13, 2019.


Additional information about the festival can be found at

Viet Film Fest 2018 Award Winners

Grand Jury Trống Đồng Award: The Island by Tuan Andrew Nguyen

Spotlight Award: Summer in Closed Eyes (Nhắm Mắt Thấy Mùa Hè) by Cao Thuy Nhi

Best Short Film: Apples and Oranges by Duc Ngo Ngoc

Best Actress: Thien Nguyen for her performance in Actress Wanted

Best Actor: Long Nguyen for his performance in Actress Wanted and Pham Anh Khoa in The Island

Audience Choice for Best Feature Film: Kiss and Spell (Yêu Đi Đừng Sợ) by Stephane Gauger

Audience Choice for Best Short Film: Spring leaves (Feuilles de Printemps) by Stephane Ly-Cuong and Nguyening: The Lee Nguyen Story  by Alfonso Bui


SAVE THE DATE: Viet Film Fest 2019 on October 11-13, 2019


Photos Attached:

Actress Wanted Cast and Crew on the red carpet after their world premiere and big wins at VFF’s Awards Ceremony:


Vietnamese Women In Film Panel:


Immigration and Identity Panel:


High School Students at Viet Film Fest’s Free Screenings:


Cast and Crew of The Way Station:


Kim Vui, actress from retrospective feature, The Purple Horizon: