Be Water receives Best Feature Award while Fighting For Family takes the Spotlight Award

October 29, 2021 (Orange County, CA)Viet Film Fest 2021, presented by the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), has announced the winners of their Trống Đồng Award for Best Short, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Trống Đồng Award for Best Feature. The festival also announced the recipient of the Spotlight Award, reserved for films that highlight an important issue or an emerging filmmaker. All winners were announced at the festival’s first virtual Award Ceremony on Thursday evening, October 28th at 6 pm PST. 

“We congratulate this year’s winning films and celebrate the collective talent of Viet Film Fest 2021,” said Viet Film Fest 2021 Digital Director, Tony Nguyen. “With our awards, we honor several filmmakers yet we know and must acknowledge that Viet Film Fest has just been made stronger by everyone who has taken part in this year’s virtual celebration of Vietnamese voices and stories in cinema.“

This year’s award winners were selected by the Grand Jury, which includes critically acclaimed actress Kieu Chinh (The Joy Luck Club, NCIS), commercially successful director Charlie Nguyen (The Rebel, Fool for Love), and awe-inspiring film producer Naja Pham Lockwood (76 Days, Gook, Try Harder!). The Grand Jury awarded the Trống Đồng Award for Best Feature to Bao Nguyen’s Be Water, a documentary that explores Bruce Lee’s trailblazing impact and legacy. Told through archival footage and interviews with those who knew him best, an intimate portrayal of Lee’s life provides insight into his personal struggle for visibility as an Asian American in Hollywood.

Other winners included the Trống Đồng Award Best Short recipient Malabar, directed by Maximilian Badier Rosenthal. Comedian Tran Thanh took home the award for Best Actor for his role as Ba Sang in the beloved dramedy in Dad, I’m Sorry (Bố Già),  while veteran actress Hong Dao received the Best Actress award for her performance as Mrs. Hanh in Trinh Dinh Le Minh’s Goodbye Mother (Thưa Mẹ Con Đi). 

“It’s been wonderful as a Vietnamese American woman in film to celebrate Vietnamese voices and stories in cinema, and to watch so many amazing works this year,” said Viet Film Fest 2021 Grand Jury member, Naja Pham Lockwood. “Many thanks to Viet Film Fest and its volunteers for putting on a great festival, the largest international Vietnamese film festival outside of Vietnam, through a virtual platform this year that allows us to champion Vietnamese voices all over the world.“

Given by the Executive Committee, the recipient of the Spotlight Award was Lan Nguyen for her powerful documentary Fighting for Family, about a Montagnard (an indigenous tribe in Vietnam) family, impacted by the deportation system and their fight for reunification. Utilizing filmmaking as a medium for social change and drawing from her own personal experience of family separation, this riveting documentary by Nguyen brings to light the emotional toll deportation has on a community.

When the Curatorial Committee and Executive Team got together to decide which film or filmmaker turned a light on an important issue in our community, we did not have to debate long to decide on Lan and her film,” said Viet Film Fest 2021 Artistic Director, Eric Nong. “Though Lan will be the first to admit she is more grounded in the world of social justice and advocacy rather than cinema, Fighting for Family is a deeply empathetic work that shows the resilience of the Montagnard family torn twice by American imperialism – by war and, now, deportation. Lan fully deserves the plaudits for her film, and we hope her work awakens people within and outside our Southeast Asian community to the profound emotions and pressing issues on display.”

Actress and producer Kelly Marie Tran was honored with the Inspiration Award, reserved for Vietnamese pioneers within the film industry. Tran voiced Raya, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first Southeast Asian heroine, in Raya and the Last Dragon. The film will close out Viet Film Fest 2021 as a Free Community Screening on Saturday, October 30th at The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, CA.

A full list of winners is below:

Grand Jury Trống Đồng Award for Best Feature
Be Water directed by Bao Nguyen 

Grand Jury Trống Đồng Award for Best Short
Malabar direct by Maximilian Badier Rosenthal

Best Actor
Tranh Thanh in Dad, I’m Sorry (Bố Già)

Best Actress
Hong Dao in Goodbye Mother (Thưa Mẹ Con Đi)

Spotlight Award
Fighting for Family directed by Lan Nguyen 


Viet Film Fest was created in 2003 by the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), becoming its largest program. As the largest international Vietnamese film festival of its kind in the world, Viet Film Fest showcases the best creative work by and about Vietnamese people. Through the universal language of film, Viet Film Fest brings together multiple perspectives to expand the scope and horizons of Vietnamese cinema. Our award-winning films have been screened in numerous cities and countries. For over a decade, the festival has attracted thousands of national and international attention for its stunning showcase of shorts and features submitted from all over the world. As the hub of the Vietnamese movie industry, the festival hosts networking opportunities with prominent directors, media experts, and producers, including Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya), Tony Bui (Three Seasons), Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall), Victor Vu (Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass), Le Van Kiet (Furie), and Charlie Nguyen (The Rebel). Follow @vietfilmfest on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

ABOUT VIETNAMESE AMERICAN ARTS AND LETTERS ASSOCIATION Founded in 1991, the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) is a community-based, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to connect and enrich communities through Vietnamese arts and culture. Learn more at or join @vaalacommunity on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Viet Film Fest 2021 Assets:
Award Winners Stills 
Logo & Artwork
Official Fest Trailer

 Viet Film Fest 2021 Press Contact:
Minh Pham
Public Relations Manager 

Karen Tran Wood
Public Relations Manager 


Categories: Festival News


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