Tran Van Thuy has experienced the hardships of starvation and peril during wartime and has overcome the censorship of his government to bring the story of Vietnam to people around the world.
Speaking only in his native tongue, with the use of a translator, Thuy, a Vietnamese documentary filmmaker, talked about his experiences as a combat cameraman during the Vietnam War and the films he has produced concerning the war and his homeland at Luce Hall Tuesday.
“I think it is an honor for us to be able to have him here,” East Asian studies senior lector Quang Phu Van said. “We can watch his movies, but what we were doing with him –to ask questions and engage in dialogue — is an honor.”
Thuy opened with a brief summary of his first film, “My People, My Village” (Nhung Ngoi Dan Que toi). Thuy captured the images for the film from 1968-1969 on the battlefields of Vietnam.
“The first film I made during the war was of normal people, of monks, of orphans,” Thuy said. “I simply talk about the lives of these people, it has nothing to do with propaganda.”
Although Thuy won the Golden Prize at the Leipzig International Film Festival in 1970, he said his success did not come without hardship. He had many traumatizing experiences during the war, from starving for 15 days to losing consciousness in a bomb shelter due to lack of oxygen.
“After people watch the film they wonder how I was still alive after all the hardship. Most cameramen were injured or died and in the end only two were left.” he said. “After the war I met with reporters and cameramen from South Vietnam and we became friends. The hardest thing to talk about was the war, why we fought, and how unnecessary it was.”
Thuy also spoke of his current friendship with author and editor Wayne Karlin, who fought for the United States during the war and shot at Thuy and other Vietnamese.
“If I had seen you running around I would have shot you without being sorry,” Karlin said in a book about Thuy. “If I had done that, human beings would have missed out.”
Though he is not a politician, Thuy also shared his thoughts on the Vietnamese government.
“I think the most pressing issue is the renovation of the political system,” he said. “At the moment the political regime in Vietnam is totalitarian and it hinders the development of the country. Democracy is necessary, but right now Vietnam is not ready for democracy.”
He said he feels that before democracy can take effect, the livelihood of the Vietnamese people needs to be addressed, and they need to learn about this foreign concept of democracy.
Thuy also discussed his experiences when he was put under police control from 1982-1987 after his his film, “Ha Noi In One’s Eye” (Ha Noi Trong Mat Ai), sparked government attention and was subsequently banned. He said the ban on his film made many people curious, and when it was released to the world it had an enormous impact.
Those attending the discussion said they found the experience enjoyable. School of Forestry & Environmental Studies professor Pam McElwee, said the years she spent living in Vietnam gave her special insight.
“His remarks were really direct, really opened, really honest talking about the political situation, which you don’t hear in Vietnam,” McElwee said. “He is definitely one of the lone, independent voices, which is great to hear.”
Charles Keith GRD ’07 said he thought Thuy’s work had helped to educate people about the war.
“I think his films have done a lot to help the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, and increase awareness about the war, which a lot of Americans do not know very much about,” he said.
Thuy will also be hosting a screening and discussion of his two recent documentaries, “Tolerance for the Dead” (Mot Coi Tam Linh) and “The Sound of the Violin in My Lai” (Tieng Vi Cam O My Lai) at 7 p.m. tonight in Luce Hall.
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