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Measures for preservation of cinema villages ?

Located about 30 km from the centre of Hanoi, the two villages of Thuy Huong and Huong Gia in Phu Cuong commune, Soc Son district have been called ‘cinema villages’ as many filmmakers visit them for their scenes of old villages.

Many rustic scenes such as banian trees, river wharf and ferry-boat on the poetic Ca Lo river, ancient houses, jackfruit gardens and rows of bamboo trees have been used in films, helping the films become more lively. However, the inevitable development trend leaves the villages confronting two strict choices: preserving ancient Vietnamese architecture to continue to be cinema villages or modernising like most of other villages?

The first person who found the two “cinema villages” of Thuy Huong and Huong Gia is film director Dang Nhat Minh when he went around to look for scenes for his film ‘Thuong Nho Dong Que’ (Nostalgia for Homeland). Many rustic scenes such as over 200 year bemjamine fig tree, 100 year banian tree, old temples and particularly the house by Ca Lo river of the man Nguyen Xuan Vinh.

After the ‘discovery’ of director Dang Nhat Minh, Thuy Huong and Huong Gia have become “studios” for various film directors. Mr Vinh said every three to four months there is a film group coming to the villages. They not only hired his house but also other houses for the film.

The villagers have lost count of the number of films having scene shot in their houses. They just listed some of them, including the television films ‘Nhung Ngon Nen Trong Dem’ (Candle in the Night), ‘Dat va Nguoi’ (Land and People), ‘Nhung Nam Thang Dep’ (Beautiful Days), ‘Canh Sat Hinh Su’ (Criminal Police) and many others. Mr Vinh said since 1995 until now, there have been more than 20 film troupes hiring his house.

People in Thuy Huong and Huong Gia villages like to take part in the films as extras, from old to young people. Sometimes, half of the villagers are invited to participate in the films as extras. The villagers are very proud of that although the cash for their acts is just a small sum, around VND 20 – 30,000 each day.

In terms of money for the renting of their houses, Mr Vinh said they didn’t really put much thought into it. According to him, filmmakers often paid them VND 50,000 – 70,000 per each day of house hire. But sometimes, he said he didn’t take any money from them as they were happy when film troupes came to the villages and they had chance to become extras.

However, recently, many scenes have been changed in Thuy Huong and Huong Gia villages. It seems that modernisation is coming to these two villages as many households knock down their old house to build new ones, leaving fewer old houses in the area. Quite recently, Mr Tran Van tam, owner of an old house which have been seen in dozens of films, destroyed the old gate, and then the old house to build a new one. He said he was sad about that but his old house was seriously degraded while money for restoration can double and even triple that for a new house.

Many hold that if the State and relevant agencies do not have a strategy for the building of a studio or look for measures to preserve ‘cinema villages’, then it will be hard to find any in the future.

ND - (04/03/2005)

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