AN INTERVIEW WITH PHAM NGOC LAN ABOUT ‚MOT KHU DAT TOT‘

Let us introduce you to the Vietnamese director Pham Ngoc Lan, who participated in this year’s Berlinale Shorts competition.

Born in Hanoi, Vietnam in 1986, he studied urban planning at Hanoi Architectural University. His photographic and video work focuses on the influence of cityscapes on human relationships. His debut short film Chuyen moi nha (The Story of Ones) screened at numerous film festivals and in art museums, including Visions du Réel in Switzerland and at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan. In 2015, he participated in the Short Film Station at Berlinale Talents. In 2016 Pham Ngoc Lan presented his film Another City at Berlinale Shorts. Besides working on further short films, he is currently developing his feature film debut, Cu Li Never Cries.

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Pham Ngoc Lan

An old cemetery in the middle of a dune landscape: mother and son wander between graves in search of the resting place of the deceased father. Looking down from the opposing dune, a man watches them through binoculars. The dunes are now part of a golf course overlooking the city. The cemetery was sold, the old graves were excavated. The movements of the big fish in the pond are reminiscent of the eels in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum. The man plays golf, and his young girlfriend thinks about plastic surgery. A re-zoning of towns and places in the course of society’s commercialisation. In elegant, carefully framed shots, Pham Ngoc Lan links the future and the present on equal terms. This narrative approach is enlightened by a different cultural understanding of life and death in the act of ‘being’. We do not remember, we are in our imagination.

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© Mot Khu Dat Tot by Pham Ngoc Lan

What is your ambition in the film?

To me, Mot Khu Dat Tot takes on a journey of grasping the fleeting manner of a place that is claimed and transformed by humans, this time, a cluttered yet mesmerizing cemetery that (seems to be) turned into a vast golf court. The film introduces two pair of characters of two different narrative threads, one of a mother and her son looking for the dad’s lost grave and the other of a rich man and his young girlfriend entertaining their spare time. From my observation, golf is always an extravagant sport in underdeveloped countries. It is catered towards very few amount of people but captivates a country’s most precious sceneries indeed both horizontally and vertically which is most appalling when compared to the size of land that is shared by the rest of its citizens. This comparison will be layered with the cemetery’s crowdedness shockingly replaced by the bareness of the golf court. It also expands my interest to sensitively look at levels of humans’ artifact and its legacy on nature. In this film, I also want to work with animals (catfishes and cows) not only to challenge my directing ability but also to pratice for the next feature project.

What do you like about the short form?

I think shortfilm remains one of the most flexible forms of cinema. It prevents the filmmakers from being withheld from commercial suppressions while a feature would not which makes room for them to experiment with alternative forms of moving image.

What are your future plans?

I have currently finished writing my feature screenplay, which I’m still in the process of looking for financing. In the mean time, I will continue making shorts. I’ve learnt to foresee who would be my potential collaborators for the upcoming projects, and most importantly my main concerns. This is for sure a good thing.

24 films from 17 countries have competed for the Golden and Silver Bear, the Audi Short Film Award, endowed with 20,000 euros, and a nomination as “Berlin Short Film Candidate for the European Film Awards 2019”.

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