Imagine buying a DVD of “Spider-Man 3” today for $1! You can do it–in Ho Chi Minh City. That was one revelation–the only negative one–experienced by the Academy’s “International Outreach” committee, just returned from Vietnam’s first “American Film Week.” The group: producers Tom Pollock and William Horberg, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock, writer-directors Susannah Grant and Phil Robinson, writer-director-producer Curtis Hanson and Ellen Harrington, the academy’s Director of Exhibitions and Special Events.
Two Years ago, then Academy President Frank Pierson and board (Writers Branch) member Robinson wanted to initiate a “public diplomacy” program for the Academy. Iran and Vietnam were under discussion when the invite came from Vietnam. Academy President Sid Ganis said it was a great opportunity “for us to learn their filmmaking counterparts and the state of the industry.” They brought over examples of their films, including “Erin Brockovich,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Quiet American,” “Children of Men,” Ice Age,” “Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner,” and “Field of Dreams.” They weren’t sub-titled, but Robinson told me, “A narrator translated the films (by mike) from the projection booth. Their reaction to my film (‘Field of Dreams’) was their realization that Americans care about their families the same way they do for ‘E.T.’ I have never seen an audience totally transcended the way they were.” Robinson and his fellow American filmmakers learned that Vietnam is now open to private investments in films. They can get financing outside of the country–and more importantly Vietnamese filmmakers no longer have to submit screenplays before starting to film. But they can be stopped from showing them in Vietnam theaters. They met with young filmmakers and noted their “tremendous energy. One of them had mortgaged his own home in order to make his film.” They noted their advance in filmmaking technology–“even they can now make a movie with a little camera and a computer!” And they are starting a computer-animated studio.
The Vietnamese watched the Oscars this year, “but,” Robinson reminded, “they don’t get to see most of our films…yet. But they are building theaters, one so large you’d think you were in The Valley!” As for now, being able to buy the DVD of “Spider-Man 3” on the streets of Vietnam, Robinson said Tom Pollock would pursue that piracy problem pronto.