The Poetics of Improvised Lives: Documenting Precarity, Creativity, and Care in the Wounded Land in Post-war Vietnam

Event time: 
Wednesday, November 16, 2022 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Henry R. Luce Hall (LUCE ), 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

What can documentary films tell us about how marginalized people craft lives and modes of habitation near areas where there is a high prevalence of unexploded bombs? In this talk, I will use The Future Cries Beneath Our Soil (Mùa cát vọng, 2018), a film directed by independent woman director Phạm Thu Hằng, as a case study to analyze how the director uses the poetic mode to capture what AbdouMaliq Simone (2019) calls “improvised lives.” Set in Quảng Trị, the most heavily bombed area in the Vietnam/American War, The Future Cries Beneath Our Soil narrates the mundane lives and the friendship of four poor middle-aged men. The film illustrates how the poetic documentary mode captures the joyful and caring moments of the rural poor living with the danger of environmental toxicity and the eco-aesthetics of a wounded landscape, while still showcasing the haunting of the historical violence of war on humans and the land as well as the locals’ everyday struggle in the postwar era. In doing so, the film challenges the inspiring stories of resilience, victory, renewal, and development that have become common rhetorical tropes in NGO videos as well as the Vietnamese government’s mainstream discourses. As I will show, the emergence of documentary and experimental filmmaking in Vietnam over the last decade has been entangled with the usage of novel filmic devices that seek new ways of conveying the historical violence war enacts on humans and specific land/landscapes.

Qui-Ha Hoang Nguyen , Postdoctoral Associate for Southeast Asian Studies, Yale University