Czech-Vietnamese director to shoot for Oscars with animated short
The short animated film Love, Dad by Diana Cam Van Nguyen has picked up several international prizes and recently qualified for the 2023 Academy Awards. The FAMU graduation film centres on the troubled relationship between the Czech-Vietnamese director and her father and is built around letters the two exchanged when she was a teenager and he was in jail. I discussed it with Cam Van Nguyen, who is 28.
“He had his own brand of tobacco in 2004, or around then, and he didn’t do the proper tax.
“It was that kind of problem.
“But in that year, because it was a little like still in the ‘90s in the Czech Republic, there was a gap in the Czech law actually, so it was somehow possible to do it.
“So that’s he why he was in prison for one year, and then they let him go because they didn’t have enough evidence.”
And the letters and the envelopes that we see in the film the actual ones that you sent each other, or that he sent you?
“Yes. From the film, that’s the only thing that is really true and authentic; I mean from the visual side.
“I knew that when I had these letters that I wanted to use them as they are.
“So yes, they are.”
Why are the letters in Czech? Do you not write or read Vietnamese?
“I’m second generation. I’m still Vietnamese. I can speak Vietnamese, but I can’t write and read.
“That’s why when my dad wrote to me he had to write in Czech.
“He can speak Czech, but he learned a lot in jail too.
“But it was good that he had to connect with me also in this way.”
The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Fest, which is a qualifying festival for the Oscars in the short film category. What does that actually mean? Are you on a short list for the Oscars, or how does that work?
“It means that I’m on the long list, which means around 80 to 90 short films each year.
“From this long list there’s going to be a short list of around 15 or 20 films.
“So now it’s like we have a chance but it doesn’t mean much yet [laughs].”
But the film has done extremely well. It’s been at over two dozen international festivals and won a load of prizes. Why do you think it’s resonating so much with so many people?
“I think the technique is really special.
“Like, you haven’t seen so many films in this technique – or I haven’t seen anything like this. So maybe that.
“And also because the technique really works with the topic; I think it’s a good combination.”
“But then there have been a lot of successful short animated films in recent years.
“And also I’m not a beginner if I can say it like this, because my previous film was also a little bit successful.
“Not that much, but still it’s easier for me to get into these festivals, because some of them already know me.
“And also we have professional distribution now. We have French distribution, which is new.”
But also I’m sure the story is speaking to people around the world.
“Even though it’s so personal and is basically about Czech and Vietnamese culture, the whole world can somehow understand it, because there are more of these minority problems in the whole world.”
Has your father seen it? And if so, what was his response to Love, Dad?
“Yes, my father saw it.
“I knew from the beginning that he had to see it before anyone else, before there were some screenings.
“I was really prepared for that, but during the year when we already started and we were doing production I got more and more nervous and I was more and more careful about his feelings.
“Sometimes my decisions were a little bit hard, because as a director I would do one thing and as a daughter I would do something else.
“But then I always went more to the direction of director.
“So I showed it to him when we finished it and it was a little strange, because he was asking more about practical things about the film – not the topic.
“He was asking how much the film cost or where I got the actors.
“And I had to push him, to ask him more the personal question of if he didn’t mind that I brought such a personal topic of our family into the public.
“He was OK with it.
“He told me that from my perspective I’m speaking the truth, which was actually more than I was expecting.
“But we will never come back to this topic again, I think.
“I’m now super happy that he knows about my feelings, and that’s enough for me.”