Owl and the sparrow

Author: Trịnh Minh Phương
Following the “back to cradle” trend of Viet Kieu directors, Stephane Gauger – an American/Vietnamese – had made his debut long feature film Owl and the sparrow. It is not easy for any Viet Kieu director to make his film in Vietnam since they are not familiar with the lifestyle and the languague here. Although, their films may be successful at international film festival, they faced cold reception in hometown as the script is critisied to be too “western”. Viet kieu directors also find difficult to obtain the stamp of approval of the country’s strict ministry of culture. Fortunately, first-time feature filmmaker Stephane Gauger had overcome local obstacles to finish his story of a modern Saigon with eight million people.



Among them are Thuy, Lan and Hai. Thuy (first-time actress Pham Thi Han) is an 10-year-old orphan forced to work in her uncle’s bamboo factory – until she runs away to the big city. Like hundreds of streetkids in this city, she ends up with finding herself a job as postcard and flower seller. During these days, Thuy meets Lan (Viet kieu actress Cat Ly) – a beautiful single flight attendant and Hai (The Lu) – a honest zookeeper. The tiny girl plays her role as a matchmaker for the young couples. These three people seem to be a happy family. Suddenly, Thuy’s uncle appears – he’s the one who has legal custody of Thuy. The newly-born family is almost torn up, but… happy ending still comes anyway. They live happily ever after.

So far, Owl and the sparrow has received some rewards at San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, etc. In the early of 2008, the film will be distributed widely in Vietnam by Chanh Phuong Film. Whether Gauger’s debut can earn local reception or accept the same result as previous Viet Kieu films? The answer will come out soon.

During the short trip to Hanoi for a documentary on National Symphony, Stephane Gauger has spent a little time for a brief interview with Tinvan:

Tinvan: Well, first thing first, can you tell us how the idea of “owl and the sparrow” came out?

S.Gauger: I’ve been working in film industry for years as cinematographer or actor – the most recent work is in Rebel. I also have some digital medium and short project of my own. I thought I could shoot something in Vietnam pretty cheaply using digital handy cameras, kind of French “new wave” style.

Tinvan: What were your roles in the Rebel?

S.Gauger: First, do the lighting, then take the second camera and finally play a part as a French guy. I worked on The Rebel for four months. Charlie (Nguyen, the director of The Rebel) knew I was coming into town to do lighting on his film. He tapped me to play DeRue because he knew I spoke fluently French, and he didn’t know if he could cast a decent French actor in Saigon. I thought why not, and hey, the production saves money that way.

Tinvan: Back to your film, Owl and the sparrow describes the noisy atmosphere of Saigon. Do you have any difficulty while shooting outside?

S.Gauger: For night shots, we have to choose the bright enough place. Normally, the digital camera can support the light. Some restaurant owners are quite nice, we just need to pay them a little and they leave us shooting as long as we want.

Tinvan: This is an independent film, therefore, the budget is limited. How did you use your money for the film?

S.Gauger: Most of the cost I pay by myself. Thank God! The film has won some international rewards, so this business is not a loss. Shooting in Vietnam didn’t cost much as the living standard here is quite low. The most expensive part in the post-production finished in the States.

Tinvan: Why don’t you cast famous local actors for the film? The audience is often attracted by celebrities.

S.Gauger: I cast them based on their talent. Cat Ly is know in the Vietnamese American community since her recent work Journey from the Fall. I saw The Lu in the film Mua Len Trau (The buffalo Boy) in the film by Viet kieu director Ho Quang Minh. I think he fits the part of Hai as a zookeeper so I picked him. About the little girl, among a dozen girls came to casting I chose Han as she has an half innocent half shrewd girl. She looks more like a country girl than the others. Moreover, unknown actors with unknown film crew helped us to avoid the curiosity of local people while we were shooting outside. They just thought I was a curious foreigner who loved to take the handicam around the streets.

Tinvan: In the time coming, do you have any film project in Vietnam?

S.Gauger: Well, yes. After the success of Owl and the sparrow, I plan to have a bigger project with the appearance of a Hollywood star. Of course, it’s not easy to invite a celebrity, however if they are convinced by a good script they may accept with low payment. I continue making another film in Saigon. This time, the budget would be much higher since I’m supported financially by bigger companies in NY or LA.

Tinvan: Thank you very much for the interview. Good luck with your coming film.

S.Gauger: Thank you.

~ by phongsinh on December 27, 2007.

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