Santa Ana, California – The Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of Viet Film Fest (VFF), the largest international Vietnamese film festival in the diaspora. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Viet Film Fest 2023 will take place virtually from September 30th to October 15th and in-person at The Frida Cinema in Downtown Santa Ana on October 6th to October 7th.
Viet Film Fest was founded in 2003 by members of non-profit VAALA Ysa Le and Tram Le to fill the void of underrepresented films centering around the Vietnamese experience. It is now the largest festival outside of Vietnam promoting Vietnamese cultures, stories, and artists through film. In its earliest beginnings, there were not enough films centering around the Vietnamese experience, thus the festival being a bi-annual event until 2014. As Vietnamese filmmaking has grown throughout the years, Viet Film Fest has been at the forefront of projecting the community’s stories and highlighting the very best of both domestic and international Vietnamese cinema. With 45 short films and 12 features, this year’s Viet Film Fest is expected to be the largest yet!
“We are thrilled to bring back Viet Film Fest for its historic 20th year, celebrating the diversity, creativity, and unique storytelling of Vietnamese film culture,” said Ysa Le, VAALA’s Executive Director, “Through this festival, we aim to foster cultural exchange and appreciation while supporting the growth of Vietnamese filmmaking talent on an international stage.”
Highlights of Viet Film Fest 2023 will include:
- 20th Anniversary Red Carpet “Autumn Moon” Launch Party sponsored by Rémy Martin on September 16th.
- Opening Night Screening of The Spectacular Adventure of Little Prodigy (Trạng Tí), directed by Phan Gia Nhat Linh (Sweet 16): Bring the family to watch this Vietnamese children’s adventure film in-person on October 6th at 7pm! The film details “an adventure beyond the imagination of Ti, Suu, Dan, and Meo when they have to overcome many challenges to discover the mystery of Ti’s Father.” Cultural attire is encouraged! As part of the Community Day, this screening is free for all seniors over 65 years old. General admission tickets will be $18, and discounted tickets at $16 are applied to high school students with a student ID.
- Closing Night Screening of The Accidental Getaway Driver, directed by Sing J. Lee: Based on a true story of an incident which captivated not only the local Vietnamese community but also mainstream media, the film now sets its sights on the big screen with an OC and LA premiere at Viet Film Fest on October 7th at 7pm. There will be a pre-showing wine tasting with BONDLE Wines from 3pm-7pm. General admission tickets will be $18, and discounted tickets at $16 are applied to high school students with a student ID as well as seniors over 65.
- “Storms and Silver Linings”, a Curated Short Film Set for High School Students: Keeping with VAALA’s values of community outreach, Viet Film Fest’s Artist Director, Eric Nong, has carefully curated a short film set specifically for the Vietnamese diaspora youth. The films featured here mostly contain younger protagonists going through trying times in their lives and which stories span from various countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, to here in Southern California. There will be free screenings for local Orange County high schools to see the set in-person at Viet Film Fest!
- Free Screening Event Exclusive for Santa Ana Residents: An event to extend our gratitude to the community hosting the festival, residents of Santa Ana will be able to see the curated short film sets All You Need is Love and Belonging/Unbelonging at no cost. This event will take place on Friday, October 6th, at 4 pm. Valid proof of residency required.
- Exclusive Access to Award-Winning Films and Talent: Winning the top prize at the Nantes Three Continents Festival and nominated for best film at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Glorious Ashes, directed by Bui Thac Chuyen (Living in Fear) is set to make its U.S. debut here at Viet Film Fest. The story tells the lives of three women trying to get the attention of their lovers in their estranged and distinct ways. Additionally, the feature film, Angels, is set to make its world premiere at Viet Film Fest. Directed by the award-winning filmmaker, Luu Huynh (The White Silk Dress), Angels tells the bittersweet, but amazing story of an inseparable mother and daughter: Dep and her 10-year-old daughter, Buom.
- Virtual Component: Watch Viet Film Fest from the comfort of your own home or wherever you go! Starting September 30th through October 15th, Viet Film Fest will show over 50 films (both short and feature) on an online platform.
- Filmmaker’s Talk: Attendees will have the opportunity to engage with the visionary minds behind the films through Q&A sessions and general film discussions. A special film panel for Refuge After War, directed by journalist Thanh Tan, will highlight both the Vietnamese American and Afghan American refugee experiences, as the film examines the events of the fall of Saigon and Kabul.
- Trống Đồng Awards Reception at Saigon Grand Center on October 7th, from 9:30pm-12:00am: The festival will culminate in a memorable closing night ceremony, where outstanding films and filmmakers will be honored with prestigious awards, recognizing their contributions to Vietnamese cinema. Tickets for the award ceremony are priced at $50.
FEATURE FILMS INCLUDE:
The Accidental Getaway Driver (2023, United States; dir. Sing J. Lee), In-Person Screening Saturday 10/07 at 7 pm
Based on Paul Kix’s GQ feature story about the aftermath of the 2016 Orange County Men’s Central Jail escape, The Accidental Getaway Driver won Sing J. Lee the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Much of this film was shot in Orange County’s Little Saigon, and Lee and cinematographer Michael Cambio Fernandez’s striking use of lighting endows these locations an unnerving atmosphere. Playing the title character, Hiệp Trần Nghĩa was cast in this film after producer and VAALA Board Member Jes Vũ spotted him in the short film Malabar for VFF 2021.
[The Accidental Getaway Driver contains some violence.]
Mẹ ơi, Bướm đây! (Angels) (2023, Vietnam; dir. Lưu Huỳnh), In-Person Screening Saturday 10/07 at 3:30 pm, with a screening of Oink prior and a Q&A afterwards
Lưu’s works have made ripples at past Viet Film Fests. He won the Audience Choice Award at the inaugural Viet Film Fest in 2003 with Passage of Life (Đường Trần). More recently, at VFF 2013, In the Name of Love (Lấy Chồng Người Ta) star Thái Hòa was bestowed Best Actor. Acclaim for Lưu’s films has also come from multiple international film festivals. The White Silk Dress (VFF 2007) won Audience Awards at the 2006 Busan International Film Festival and the 2007 Fukuoka International Film Festival
[Angels contain scenes with emotional and psychological abuse.]
Cat Daddies (2021, United States; dir. Mye Hoang), In-Person Screening Saturday 10/07 at 10 am, with a Q&A afterwards
Cat Daddies is Mye Hoang’s first documentary feature as a director, and her second feature after 2012’s romantic drama Viette (VFF 2013). Her latest film delivers an uplifting and fresh new glimpse towards modern masculinity, allowing us to experience the love for cats without gendered stereotypes.
For Tomorrow (2022, Canada; dir. An Tran)
Amid the worrisome reality of human-induced climate change and inequality, For Tomorrow (narrated by Daisy Ridley) is a hopeful documentary about human ingenuity and resilience in the face of local and global sustainability and equity challenges. Vietnamese American director An Tran and local film crews from around the world have joined forces to weave together the inspiring stories of grassroots changemakers from all walks of life across the globe, spotlighting ordinary individuals who innovatively address their local problems with the limited resources around them. This uplifting film – which premiered at New York City’s Lincoln Center during the 2022 United Nations General Assembly – shows us that solutions to many existing world problems are already in our hands, and that everyday people can enact meaningful changes. The seeds of possibilities are inside each of us.
Tro tàn rực rỡ (Glorious Ashes) (2022, Vietnam; dir. Bùi Thạc Chuyên), In-Person Screening Saturday 10/07 at 12:45 pm, with a screening of The Resemblance prior and a Q&A afterwards
Glorious Ashes premiered at the 2022 Tokyo International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the festival’s premier award, the Tokyo Grand Prix. This film marks Bùi’s third entry into Viet Film Fest, after Sống Trong Sợ Hãi (Living in Fear) (VFF 2007’s Spotlight Award winner for screenwriter Nguyễn Thị Minh Ngọc) and Chơi Vơi (Adrift) (VFF 2011)
[Glorious Ashes contains graphic nudity, strong sexuality, and violence.].
Hao Are You (2022, Vietnam; dir. Dieu Hao Do)
Hao Are You is making its debut outside Germany through Viet Film Fest, having previously been shown at Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis in Saarbrücken and Achtung Berlin Filmfestival earlier this year
Intersections pilot episode, “Meet the Đà Nẵng Gang” (2022, United States; dir. Trần Văn Kirk)
The fates and lives of Amerasian children (a term that can also encompass those fathered by an Asian woman and an American military/contractor father during World War II, the Korean War, and peacetime) have been rarely depicted in American, let alone Vietnamese, media. As of the writing of this synopsis in late July 2023, the subsequent episodes of Intersections are planned to cover one individual’s life in more intricate detail, but Trần Văn Kirk has not ruled out the possibility of making this one longer documentary feature.
Mười: Lời nguyền trở lại (Mười: The Curse Returns) (2022, Vietnam; dir. Hằng Trịnh), In-Person Screening Friday 10/06 at 9:45 pm, with a screening of Powder prior
Mười: The Curse Returns marks Hằng Trịnh’s debut as a director, offering a sequel to the Korean feature Mười: The Legend of the Portrait (2007). Inspired by Jordan Peele’s visual style and M. Night Shyamalan’s narrative style in The Sixth Sense (1999), Hằng intended not to “induce fear irrationally,” but instead, “advance the plot to an ending full of drama and femininity” with her version of Mười. Mười successfully combines horror genre conventions with a compelling story, becoming the first Vietnamese film to achieve two notable distinctions: the first horror feature directed by a woman and the first local film to receive a C-16 rating (for audiences 16 years old and above). Hằng states that nothing from Mười was cut or censored, despite Vietnamese censors having a history of demanding sweeping changes for domestic horror films.
[Muoi: The Curse Returns contains disturbing images and violence.]
Az almafa virága (Our Blossom) (2023, Hungary; dir. Dóra Szűcs)
In present-day Budapest and interwoven with the past storyline, Song Ha (Nari Nguyễn) has to make a choice of her own. She has one love waiting for her back home and another just blossoming with Viktor (Balázs Koltai-Nagy). Can she find the answers she came to Budapest searching for? And how does she deal with the profound emotions she is only just experiencing?
Refuge After War (2023, United States; dir. Thanh Tan), In-Person Screening at Saturday 10/07 at 12:30 pm, with a screening of Flowing Home and The Waves Now Calm prior, with a Viet American/Afghan American refugee panel afterwards
Through interview accounts of those who had experienced these displacement events and historical footage, the film traces the similarities between the Fall of Saigon and the Fall of Kabul and the influxes of Vietnamese and Afghan refugees to the United States nearly five decades apart. These groups’ shared fates as former American allies, as those who have lost their countries, and as newcomers to American society raise poignant questions about the lessons learned and not yet learned from history, about the United States’ responsibilities towards its allies, and about the challenges of refugee resettlement processes in the U.S. Tan’s background as a former journalist and the child of refugees unmistakably colors her presentation of the material, which balances a style akin to feature news reporting and personalizing the anecdotes shared by Afghan and Vietnamese refugees alike
The Spectacular Adventure of Little Prodigy (Trạng Tí phiêu lưu ký) (2021, Vietnam; dir. Phan Gia Nhật Linh), In-Person Screening at Friday 10/06 at 7:00 pm, with a screening of Breathe prior and a Q&A afterwards
In the ancient village of Phan Thi, Little Prodigy (Tieu Tí, played by Huỳnh Hữu Khang) was born to a peasant mother, Hai Hậu (Oanh Kiều), who mysteriously became pregnant with him after she had fallen asleep on a magical stone in the middle of a lotus pond. A very observant and clever boy, Tí is famous for his intelligence and ability to solve difficult problems in unconventional ways. However, Tí and his mom are also bullied and spurned by the local villagers because of the unique circumstances of his birth. Determined to find out the truth about his father’s identity, Tí embarks on a spectacular and memorable adventure with his friends, Sửu (Phan Bảo Tiên), Dần (Vương Hoàng Long), and Mẹo (Trần Đức Anh). Through thick and thin, the friends stick with each other, learning invaluable lessons about the world and people around them. Directed by Phan Gia Nhật Linh (VFF 2018’s The Girl from Yesterday), The Spectacular Adventure of Little Prodigy (Trạng Tí phiêu lưu ký) is a witty and cinematographically beautiful reinterpretation of a beloved Vietnamese folktale-turned-comic series about a young Vietnamese prodigy. This humorous, upbeat, and poignant film about familial love, friendship, and adventure will delight audiences of different generations
SHORT FILM SETS INCLUDE:
Storms and Silver Linings, In-Person Local OC High School Exclusive Free Screening, October 6th, 10 am and 12:30 pm, Q&A afterwards (High School Students’ Screening) (US Virtual Edition)
In this free screening intended for high school students (but is suitable for older viewers, too), each of these six films asks questions of perseverance in times of personal or communal strife or displacement. The stop-motion animated Spring Roll Dream (which debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival) finds a Vietnamese American mother confronting a culture she has largely left behind. Conversations at the Register and In Living Memory take a look at the familial and communal impact of two Southeast Asian American-owned businesses in Southern California.
Two teenage Vietnamese American women seeking to more fully express themselves in Hyphen and Love, Mai (both are student films from Chapman and George Mason University, respectively) must navigate familial hurdles to do so. Lastly, Good Chips sees a Vietnamese Irish family operate a Chinese food truck in Dublin to make ends meet, with their young daughter finding friendship with an Irish boy.
Storms and Silver Linings (High School Students’ Screening) (International Virtual Edition)
In this free screening intended for secondary school students (but is suitable for older viewers, too), each of these six films – three documentaries, three narrative shorts – asks questions of perseverance in times of personal or communal strife or displacement. Among the documentaries, Conversations at the Register and In Living Memory take a look at the familial and communal impact of two Southeast Asian American-owned businesses in Southern California. The Waves Now Calm is a personal reflection of the plight of the Boat People, as well as a document of a Malaysian fisherman’s reflections of the former refugee camp on Bidong Island. The narrative half of this set features a young Vietnamese American teenager seeking to more fully express herself in Hyphen, despite the linguistic barriers she faces in communicating with her grandmother. A duo of athletic stories feature young protagonists with differing motivations – sporting accomplishment (Match Point) and simple self-confidence (Dawn of Skates).
All You Need is Love, In-Person Screening on October 6th at 4 pm, free for Santa Ana residents with a valid proof of residency, Q&A afterwards
Love in its various forms – whether everlasting, absent, or in pursuit of it – binds each of the films presented in this set. Deception – borne out of love or in search of it – plays out to darkly comedic effects in The Family Circus and Supermarket Affairs. Separations of significant others, voluntary and otherwise, result in unexpectedly deeper connections in Je suis là (I Am Here) and Little Parrot. And in Ripen (Trưởng Thành), a father and daughter renew their ties despite the barriers, emotional and physical, that separate them. An unexpected love at first sight almost fifty years ago forms the basis for Sleepless in Saigon. In sum, the films comprising “All You Need is Love” exemplify love at its most maddening and its most rewarding.
Belonging/Unbelonging, In-Person Screening on October 6th at 4 pm, free for Santa Ana residents with a valid proof of residency, Q&A afterwards (US Virtual Edition)
We always look for a sense of belonging, whether within a family or a community. Belonging/Unbelonging is a short film set looking into the lives of people who struggle to fit in. How do we navigate a new way of life in a foreign land (Ngày Mai and Good Chips)? Can we, as outsiders, grow to be part of a community (Dawn of Skates)? How far would you go for your own family? (Flowing Home and I Am No One)? This set offers insights into human relationships and connections.
[I Am No One contains a brief scene of implied violence.]
Belonging/Unbelonging (International Virtual Edition)
We always look for a sense of belonging, whether within a family or a community. Belonging/Unbelonging is a short film set looking into the lives of people who struggle to fit in. How do we navigate a new way of life in a foreign land or a homeland that makes you feel foreign (Good Chips and I Am No One)? Can we, as outsiders, grow to be part of a community (Dawn of Skates)? How can we overcome the expectations of elders, especially when one might not be able to communicate with them (Hyphen and Supermarket Affairs)? This set offers insights into human relationships and connections.
[I Am No One contains a brief scene of implied violence.]
Spectrum of Stories, In-Person Screening on October 7th at 10 am, Q&A afterwards
It’s a cruel world. And it can be even more cruel to some people. This set exhibits the struggles and fights of marginalized people who are women, girls, or genderqueers. In this world, they are fetishized through the prism of race (Object of Desire) and their body parts become objectified to the extreme (Oink and Astonishing Little Feet). Yet, they still get up to continue our fight to tell our story of survival (In Living Memory), and to rebuild their own identity and relationships (JACKFRUIT). “Spectrum of Stories” asks us to reflect on the lives of the minority and their ability to persevere.
[Object of Desire contains scenes and themes of sexual violence.]
Make Way for Tomorrow
Consciously or not, for better and for worse, life is shaped by the decisions we and others have made in the past. In “Make Way for Tomorrow”, we encounter a number of characters and real-life individuals remembering, reminiscing, honoring, or mourning their pasts. One pair of films gracefully handle the emotions of young Vietnamese American women losing their parents (I Want You to Live and Video Funeral), learning more about themselves and their parents in the wake of loss. Meanwhile, The Resting Place: Nơi An Nghỉ documents how a group of Vietnamese Americans from the Tacoma area in Washington state banded together to establish a shared cemetery to honor members who have passed.
The three other films in this set have less to do with death, and find their answers among those still here. Golden Seams of Love unpackages the seemingly tense relationship between the filmmaker’s parents, and how it abides, despite their many vehement disagreements. Meanwhile, Homeseek and Family flow like dreams – the former transporting a grandmother to her childhood and the latter a musical interlude influenced by the filmmaker’s child memories within a Vietnamese Hungarian family in ‘90s Budapest.
On the Edge
Pushed to society’s margins, the characters and subjects inhabiting the films of this set confront the difficulties that their situations entail. Some resort to their profession’s violence (Jheff Wick) or through a friendship that makes them believe that the grass might truly be greener on the other side (Her Name is Like a Sigh). Others will come to accept their life’s station for the good of their children (Pipe Dreams) or find different outlets so that their frustrations might subside (Fungi Monster). And for some, tragedy and a lack of agency over a situation results in personal devastation (Resurrection and 39).
[Jheff Wick contains strong stylized violence throughout. 39 contains depictions of human suffocation throughout.]
Sharing Dreams in Pairs
What does friendship mean? How do we become friends with each other, from strangers or even enemies? This short film set explores friendship in different forms and portrays the wonderful moments of connection and reconciliation. Sometimes, new friendship is born through sharing a sense of loss (Little Parrot and The Ride) or a passion for sports (Match Point). Other times, we become friends despite our differences whether it’s race, ethnicity, or class (Hoang the Paper Boy and Porcelain). Of course, we can also dream about a world that is more friendly, where we do not hate any more (Hex the Patriarchy). Sharing Dreams in Paris reflects on what it means to be friends and to have friends.
Geo-location restrictions (“geofences”) for some film sets may apply. General tickets pricing includes $16 for general admissions (GA) and $14 for seniors over 65 and high school students with an ID. All-access festival passes, including admission to special events, are available for $250 (reservations are still required for each screening). Early bird discounts are offered now until the end of September 18th! For a limited time, passes are only $225, and GA tickets are only $14. Post-September 18th, a 5-Film Pass (excluding special event screenings) will be offered at a discounted rate of $70.
For the latest information on ticket information, festival lineup, and events, please visit our website at vietfilmfest.com and follow us at @vietfilmfest on Facebook and Instagram.
Viet Film Fest 2023 Contact:
Public Relations Manager
Founded in 1991 by Vietnamese American journalists, artists and community members to fill a void and provide a space for artists to express themselves as a newly resettled immigrant community, the mission of the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) is to connect and enrich communities through Vietnamese arts and culture. Celebrating its 30th year of service, VAALA collaborates with diverse community partners to organize community-centered artistic cultural events, including art exhibitions, book signings, music recitals, plays and its annual Viet Film Fest and Gallery Beyond Walls programming. More information about VAALA on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
About Viet Film Fest
Viet Film Fest was created in 2003 by the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), becoming its largest program. As the largest international diasporic 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. For nearly two decades, 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.