by Minh Thu
A new epic documentary about Việt Nam's wartime history is set to be subtitled in English for the first time so that foreign audiences can have a panoramic view of the Vietnamese people’s victorious struggle and their huge sacrifices during their wars of resistance in the 20th century.
The 22-episode documentary Con Đường Đã Chọn (The Chosen Path) has already had several screenings on television to celebrate the Việt Nam National Day, September 2.
Though many documentaries have been produced featuring the wars, The Chosen Path is different as it systematizes the historical events of the resistance wars to defend the country, showing how Vietnamese people chose the path they did to emerge victorious.
The documentary uses a vast treasure trove of documents, photos and other materials, much of them previously unseen, to create an objective and multi-faceted history series, by filmmakers of different ages.
Remarkable milestones in history
The documentary shooting was started four years ago by a People’s Army Cinema film crew.
According to Colonel Phạm Tiến Cường, director of the People’s Army Cinema and also a director of the documentary, it features the prolonged wars of the Vietnamese people against the French and American invaders, for national independence, freedom and reunification.
The film also highlights the Vietnamese fights to protect southwestern and northern borders, national island and sea sovereignty, as well as Việt Nam’s support for the Cambodian people to escape Khmer Rouge genocide.
"What makes the film different from previous documentaries about war is that it provides thorough and systematic information about Việt Nam's history during the wars," said Col Cường.
He said that although many domestic and foreign documentaries had told stories about the country’s resistance wars, there was still a shortage of films that systematically reflected and objectively showed the Vietnamese fights for independence, freedom and national reunification under the leadership of President Hồ Chí Minh.
Many of the Party, State, and military leaders, as well witnesses to the historical events had now passed away, so the filmmakers saw the documentary as a key to preserving history.
“It was made from 2018 to 2021, by a team of professional filmmakers with deep experience in making war films and knowledge of historical documents," Col Cường said. "It is the longest and largest film project that has ever been produced by People’s Army Cinema."
The Chosen Path includes assessments from many scholars, journalists, and military specialists, as well as insiders on both fronts in order to offer objective views of Vietnamese strength, particularly, the vision of the Communist Party of Việt Nam, the commands of military generals and, above all, the boundless sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people.
Each of the 22 episodes corresponds to a set historical period and conveys the overarching idea that: "No force can stop the path a nation has chosen for itself to independence, freedom and reunification."
"That is the millennial aspiration of the Vietnamese people, the patriotic tradition and the will to fight against foreign invaders, which have been passed down by their ancestors. That aspiration was achieved by the Vietnamese people in the Hồ Chí Minh era and under the leadership of the Party, who overcame many sacrifices and hardships to ultimately win the wars," said Cường.
The documentary not only synthesises and analyses historical events, but also provides commentaries from many scholars and journalists in Việt Nam, France and the US.
"Through the documentary, we want to show the young generation what gave rise to Việt Nam’s strength," said Cường.
Joint work of different directors
In addition to many famous filmmakers such as People's Artists Đặng Xuân Hải, Lê Thi and Lưu Quỳ, the series also employed young up-and-coming directors such as Đặng Thái Huyền, Trần Vũ Anh and Bùi Chí Trung.
Despite difficulties posed by the spread of coronavirus, the film crews made sure the series was completed.
Director Thi said one of the greatest pressures of making a history documentary was making sure viewers did not succumb to boredom.
"The film is attractive thanks to its objective and honest approach, exploiting domestic and foreign documents, including newly declassified documents, which have been published for the first time," Thi said.
He added that the director’s biggest challenge was to connect other filmmakers, inspire them, and celebrate their creativity, but also have to be moderate and create balance and continuity across the entire series.
"The film has the participation of many directors, editors, and screenwriters of different ages, with different personalities. Therefore, I have to discuss carefully with them, assign specific tasks to each team so that the work does not overlap, and the characters and issues are not duplicated," he said.
Content consultant, People's Artists Đặng Xuân Hải said that it was an epic film, showing bold heroic qualities, and would let viewers better understand the values of independence and freedom, as well as the arduous journey previous generations made to get the country to where it is today.
"The footage will be a source of moral strength to energize the nation, for today’s generation to stand firm in the future. Through this, young soldiers will better understand the traditions of the nation and the army,” Hải said.
He added that he appreciated the talent, enthusiasm and creativity of young directors and that the participation of various generations of filmmakers brought a richer, more colourful perspective to the series.
People’s Artist Lưu Quỳ has made dozens of history documentaries but said making his six episodes in this series brought a great sense of pride and responsibility, adding that he became very emotional when filming scenes at Đá Đẽo Pass, Heaven Gate, Tám Cô Cave and Road 20 Quyết Thắng, where bloody battles took place.
"Field filming took more than a month, but the time for script research, planning, and post-production was much longer. During that time, we went back to many old battlefields and were touched by the sacrifices of the soldiers at such a young age," he said.
Director Đặng Thái Huyền said that strong pride and emotions were common among everyone involved in the project.
Huyền was responsible for the opening and closing episodes of the series, but belonging to the generation born and raised after the wars, she had to carefully study and consult experts to get them just right.
"With the support and encouragement of veteran directors, I feel that I am much more mature in my career and have more knowledge for my future work," she said.
Huyền said that while the project put a lot of pressure on her, it also gave her a huge opportunity to learn from more senior seasoned professionals.
"They are always solid in their historical and military knowledge, and young directors are always looking for new ways to express themselves," she said. VNS
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