By: Patricia Vos
PV: Thank you very much Mr. Abrontan for your time for this interview about the film “Vietnam tim toi” or “Vietnam my heart”.
MA: You are very welcome.
PV: I know you barely giving interviews and I appreciate it.
MA: That is true, because nowadays, I can’t trust many journalists who call themselves independent. It seems all of them loves to manipulate any interviews or news for the sake of money, power or political aims.
PV: Thank you Sir!
MA: Please don’t call me Sir. I am not a British, German or French coloniser to be called Sir.
PV: How was your impression of working in Vietnam?
MA: First of all I really should thank to my colleagues in VTV International Cooperation Department who made it possible to produce this film and thank all colleagues who supported this film in any way (the emphasis on the words).
Second of all, that was a great opportunity to observe the developed Vietnam and be part of the country and its media workers for some months.
PV: Vietnam, my heart! Whose heart are we talking about here? From which point of view is the title?
MA: Anybody who knows the history of Vietnam. A country which has been in different wars for decades. The Vietnamese people fought for their liberty, freedom, peace and love. Of course in that film I create the story from my own angle and talking about my own heart. But it is not a personal or private heart. I am talking about that love in a broader senses and intellectual meanings.
PV: Why Vietnam?
MA: Why not? If I would make or create any film about America or Afghanistan or… you would ask me the same. A cliché!
PV: It is not a cliché. You are born in Iran, having Dutch nationality, living in Germany, have been working in different countries and spending 50% of your life outside of Iran and making a film about Vietnam and not about your homeland, Iran.
MA: First of all, I created a film and not made. Second of all, I see myself as a world citizen with inter-cultural background. Some people wrongly, call it bicultural identity. I can create any film about any culture or country that inspires me or touches me. Who did make this rule that I should make/create a film about Iran because I am born in Iran? That is extremely wrong and cliché. But in short I tell you, yes, the American war against Vietnam changed my life. I became an adult in my teenager period and grew up with that war, even in Iran when I have read about Ho Chi Minh. I started to read underground news and listened to forbidden radio stations. He was a great teacher of mine those years. In that way, I became a mature young man.
PV: Why women of Vietnam? You could make the film about patriotism in Vietnam.
MA: “Vietnam Tim Toi” is nothing to do with patriotism. We live in a man’s world. When I was in Vietnam for the first time, I was fascinated by Vietnamese women presence in the society. They were everywhere, on the bikes, in the cars, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, managers, waitresses… I can’t name all the places they work and their positions. I felt they have too many responsibilities. It reminded me the war time in Vietnam that those women had the same positions. They were mothers, nurses, teachers, fighters, farmers, sisters and wives. That situation in Vietnam inspired many women worldwide in the sixties. The Vietnamese women are unique in this way. By the way, it wasn’t my first film about women.
PV: As you said, you created a film about a country that you do not understand the language and you used an interpreter. What would you tell me about that?
MA: I should add that I sometimes had different interpreters. They were great with their jobs. But only translating the words were not all what I wanted to know. The interpreters told me what the interviewees said. They couldn’t tell me how the characters felt or expressed themselves. I was the only one who should feel it. I have communicated with them through my spirits. I could understand theirs minds by my heart and through their own ways of talking and how they told their stories. Their laughs, silences, gestures, tears, bitter smiles and etc. were the signs for me to follow and felt them with my instinct and I created this film by my heart.
PV: I am not convinced! Do you care to explain more?
MA: Look! The way I interview my characters is not questions and answers. I communicate with them. In my way, during the interview, I showed them, that I could trust them and they could trust me. When they talked, I changed my position from a film director to a person who could listen carefully and tenderly. I showed them I was a caring listener. It was not a game neither a play. That was trustworthy aspect of my character. Weather I am making a film or not. It is me how I gain my loyalty with people. When they listen to me, they see, I am not judging anybody, neither criticising nor look at them as phenomena and my point of view is objectively, without bias and prejudice. In this way I can read between their words and silence. I could hear the words they didn’t speak out loud. They knew that those interviews were not for a show or fun and I was deadly serious to know their feelings. More I can’t explain. Better you take your time and think about it or watch the film again and again.
PV: It means the language is not important for you.
MA: The language is just a medium. I believe that communication has nothing to do with language. If it was so, the deaf-mute people can’t communicate because they don’t hear or speak. In my opinion, disable people are those who never use their abilities to UNDERSTAND the others but themselves. People communicate with animals, plants and flowers. If the language and talking is a sign of communication, then why couples who speak the same language getting divorced? Today, thank to social networks we have more miscommunication than mass-communication! Nobody communicate but using the signs to express themselves! It is sad! Very sad!
PV: In which language did you write the script?
MA: I did it in English and my colleague worked very hard and translated it to Vietnamese. We made several copies in both languages for the whole crew.
PV: A documentary film should be made or created based on facts and documents and not personal feelings and emotions.
MA: Boring! Boring! Boring! Any film, in any genre, should have some moments that touches the audiences. In my films, the stories of the characters are the facts. If you meant the short passages of dances, musics and songs, those are the beginning of any chapter in the whole film. Those moments are showing briefly the abstract feelings of the sequences. By the way, we have so many kinds of documentary films, modes and styles. It would be better that the film makers study all of them. We live in 21st century.
PV: And which modes or styles did you choose for this particular film?
MA: Observational, experimental with poetic editing style, as I wrote them down when I delivered the screenplay to Vietnam TV.
PV: Talking about the music, why you chose the German composer?
MA: I didn’t have such a planning when I was writing the screenplay but through the work, the executive producer – as he called himself like that – wasn’t prepared and until the editing phase I didn’t have any music. So, I talked to Gilles Zimmermann to use his musics. I do understand his music very well and was sure I could have his brilliant music in a short time. Unfortunately I didn’t get the music in Vietnam within one and half month. I don’t mean that the chosen musician couldn’t compose. No, he could but the executive producer talked to him and I have no idea about what they were discussing. I just talked to the Vietnamese musician three times but he was the friend or colleague of the producer. It could be kind of miscommunication between them. But when I got the chance to talk to the singer and just half an hour, she understood what I wanted and she was done in 48 hours. The dancer was the same. The dancer and singer were great, unbelievable very talented. But the recording time in the studio and how the executive producer arrange the date and crew, was a mismanagement. When I think about it, even now, after some months, it is hurting why that happened. But I do understand it. There is a lack adequate knowledge and skills and they need real training. Worldwide, there are people who prefer to use their powers rather than be part of the crew and try to build a team work. Power in Media! The title of my new essay.
PV: What did you miss exactly?
MA: I prefer not to talk about it, but I keep a diary or journal when I am creating films. I use to it and the last twenty years I have done that. You can take a look if you want to but that is not for publishing.
PV: I will be thankful for that! I have seen most of your work and I do believe you are depending on music very much.
MA: Many film makers don’t know the power of audio. Of course, the silence is included, as music is. As you know, we call cinema as 7th art. The first 6th arts are; architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry – literature – dance and film. That first five arts are labeled by Hegel and the last two are given by the film theoretician Ricciotto Canudo around 1912. So, I do believe that film is an art when we are going to create it and not copy the events and use cliches, elements as everyday news and reports. I am not depended on music but I need that rhythmic sense. When I use musics in my films, I can feel the heartbeats of my audience are changing. I use kind of music that creates curiosity, asking questions or suggesting some feelings. The instrumental musics are the unspoken words. The music in my films is the soul of the story when the people are telling the story. To be brief, Vietnam Tim Toi is a sophisticated example that film is an art.
PV: But you did not use any narration. Why is that?
MA: I use music. Unspoken words. For many years I do that. With the musics between the interviews, I give the audience the time to feel what they saw or heard.
PV: Your producers did not have any problem with that?
MA: They couldn’t believe that a documentary film could be good (smiling) without narration. In my workshops in Vietnam I told them about that but hardly they accept that. Of course I am not against any narration but sometimes it is not working to transfer the deeply feeling of the story. It depends on the documentary mode and style.
PV: In this film you have been working as director, vision mixer for the song and dance in the studio, you wrote the lyric, design the dance and you knew the melody of your music. What can you tell me about that?
MA: It is me! I can’t tell you more than that, but I am wondering how you got all the information!
PV: Thank you! What serious problems and challenges did you face during the production?
MA: I don’t know the word problem, really! I use that word when there is a natural catastrophe. It means I didn’t confronted with any problems. For any production there are some misunderstandings and conflicts but I don’t call them problems.
PV: I asked you because of differences between Western and Eastern cultures.
MA: Oh that! I think it is not necessary to mention again that I have Persian blood, so, an Asian (laughing) and I hate to divide the world in that way. In Germany you have different life styles between Bavaria and Bremen. Or between the Netherlands and France. That is also a shallow view to this world that there is a PROBLEM (very loud) between Western and Eastern. As long as you are able to communicate with any nation in this world, for sure you shouldn’t be worry about anything. I should add one point that sometimes bothered me. Sometimes I could hear some colleagues told me, we are curious to see how an European makes film. And many times I told them, as an artist or film maker, I am not representing any European, Asian, American or wherever, whatever (sounds bitter). I am an individual film maker. And it was hard to convince them.
PV: You did not face any limitation, censor, controlling, or…
MA: (interrupted me) NO! I know where you are going to. You want to know whether there was anybody from the communist party or government to oversee me, or the production, right?
MA: NO! It wasn’t such a situation! I am not born yesterday my dear fellow. I worked in Iranian TV and I know any kind of censorship and controlling methods. I have experienced soft censors in Europe or America, but they don’t call it censorship. They call it diplomatic awareness for security reason. In Vietnam I didn’t have such an issue.
PV: How was the reaction after broadcasting the film?
MA: To be honest, I don’t know! I just got some “likes and loves” (laughing) through social network and some colleagues wrote me, also through social networks, that there were positive reactions. But what, I don’t know. Even I didn’t get any feedback. But I am not surprised. The audience and even film makers, mostly, talking about good or bad film, and I hate that kind of superficial label. It is not my way to talk about a film. Anyway, they said, that was a good film (laughing). I never use good or bad for anything. I try to look at this world objectively.
PV: Do you want to send the film to any film festivals?
MA: It is not my film, it is belonging to Vietnam TV. If they want to send the film to any festival and ask me for help I am there and will do it with all my pleasure. But I am not a red carpet’s type and fan of festivals and competition.
PV: Any idea for new films in Vietnam or anywhere else?
MA: I Always have new ideas. Every morning when I open my eyes, I drink my coffee and make notes about them. Sure I have some new stories about Vietnam too. Without creation I am dead.
PV: Thank you again Mr. Abrontan!
MA: Thank you!