This week, the Doc Alliance Films portal introduced Country of Dreams, the latest film from the “Vietnamese cycle” by Czech documentarist Martin Ryšavý. On this occasion, we are bringing an interview with FAMU graduate Gašper Šnuderl who entrusted the main roles in his short feature film to Vietnamese non-actors. How was his cooperation with the Vietnamese? What does he appreciate about them? Read on…
The film Charmers by Gašper Šnuderl presents the world of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic from a different perspective than the one usually presented in documentary films or perceived by Czechs as such. It tells the story of a young man who attempts to free his life from the bonds of his Vietnamese diaspora, the endless business deals and stalls with cheap goods.
Why did you choose the Vietnamese as the protagonists of your film?
I guess the idea has something to do with the fact that I myself am a foreigner. Moreover, my film is about loneliness, for which theme the character of a foreigner is a perfect fit. I was also attracted to the Vietnamese style, which we offer consider as kitch. Charmers is my graduate film at the camera department. Such a film should be based primarily on images. I believed that the Vietnamese setting would make a perfect fit for the visual rendering of the script, completing the poetic atmosphere of the story.
How did you find your “actors”?
At the beginning, it was very hard. Obviously, there is nothing like a Vietnamese casting in Prague (yet). I had to go out to the streets. I walked through Vietnamese markets, searching for people with interesting faces who I tried to address. I had Vietnamese leaflets printed and posted at Vietnamese markets. However, hardly anyone replied. After several visits at the markets, everyone knew me. “You - film”, they pointed their fingers at me, laughing in their sleeves. Whenever I talked to someone, I tried not to scare them. From the very beginning, I told them this was an art project, no investigative journalism. I pointed out that I would not disturb their privacy; that I was not interested in how they got here or how they got their job; which, I think, was their primary fear.
In the end, however, you were successful…
What was essential to me was to find the main actor and actress. My colleagues from FAMU assisted me in discovering Ta Thuy dung, the protagonist of the main female role; however, the male role was quite a problem. Finally, I met To Hai at one of many street castings at the Sapa market. I noticed him behind the counter of one of the shops, his face was really remarkable. I was anxious to quickly explain everything before he would disappear in the endless storerooms of the market; however, to my pleasant surprise, Hai got instantly interested in the project.
How was the shooting?
It is always demanding to realize an ambitious non-commercial project. Even before the very start of shooting, we were not absolutely sure whether we would be allowed to enter Sapa (the biggest Vietnamese market in Prague) or whether the actors would participate in the end. We were also shooting a number of night scenes. I had to admire the discipline and persistence of the Vietnamese colleagues. For instance, To Hai still had to work at the market while shooting. We would finish a demanding night scene at 5 a.m. and he would get up and go to work and would meet us after work on site. He must have been overworked, however, he never even complained, nor did he quit the started project. Later when I went to Vietnam I learned that a promise has a great worth among the Vietnamese. Before a deal is made, like when you’re bargaining, anything can happen; however, once a promise is made, they will do everything to keep their word, even if they didn’t feel like it at all.
Did your perspective on the Vietnamese community change thanks to the making of the film?
Before making this film, my knowledge of the Czech Vietnamese was limited to the nearest convenience store; the shooting definitely has broadened my horizons. The Vietnamese community is quite inaccessible; the language naturally represents a great barrier. Personally, I am very happy that I managed to penetrate it a little bit thanks to the film. I even attended a traditional Vietnamese wedding (a small one in the Vietnamese perspective, with 400 guests “only”) thanks to the invitation of To Hai; I was also invited to a dinner by the family of Yu Thi Thu Trang - our Vietnamese interpreter, which was dominated by karaoke, an indispensable part of any Vietnamese household; and, obviously, their food. Did I tell you Vietnamese cuisine was the best one in the world?
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