TRINH T. MINH-HA: FORGETTING VIETNAM (2016)
Australian Premiere - Seventh Gallery, 155 Gertrude St, Fitzroy - Thursday April 5 - 6.30pm for a 7pm screening
“I make films for sensitive people.”
The above quotation comes from a Q&A session in which Minh-ha provided a soft rebuke of the admittedly arbitrary question; “Who do you make films for?” Given the intimidating nature of her oeuvre, it’s disarming to hear those words from such a renowned polymath. “Calm down, don’t overthink it,” would be another way of putting it.
This comes from an artist, mind you, who edits the interviews in which she’s interviewee and provides 250-word press releases for her work that seemingly explain everything, rivalling the most pored over art journal analyses. She could be leveled as the academic overthinker exemplified, perhaps, whose work is marred by pretense and context. However, there’s a precision to her self-preservation, her mythmaking. Over-intellectualising is part and parcel of Minh-ha’s modus operandi, despite common knowledge that it’s the supposed death knell of creativity and spontaneity. Pop music, poetry, recitations of Mao and Confucius overlaid upon image after image, each sensation muddied by underlit photography, obfuscation and digital smudging. Representation, othering, cultural genocide; Futile attempts at understanding such things in Minh-ha’s films yields few standard rewards – as well as added despair and/or confusion – yet a feeling persists beyond the intellectualised confusion.
“Sensitive people” we must be, I suppose, if nothing else can be comprehended but the image of a boat passing through mist, the contours of a shadowy face, the inky trails of freshly painted calligraphy. Trinh T. Minh-ha speaks for herself, and she speaks carefully, perhaps a suitable answer to the previously mentioned question. Yet the palpable breathing room that remains throughout, a productive confusion and frustration when watching/reading her seemingly overripe work, becomes a benefit for what she attempts to shed light on, for what can’t be comprehended. One can feel the leg work, the digging, the scrounging around in order to decipher the incomprehensible, through critique, music, film, yet, as she says; “Reality is more fabulous, more maddening, more strangely manipulative than fiction.”
Minh-ha’s cinema is ultimately sensed, an intangible reality can be felt through the muckraking methods of holding up her small, cracked and water-damaged mirror to a maddening reality. A purpose can be found for those who are sensitive enough. There is something to be felt.
- James Waters
One of the myths surrounding the creation of Vietnam involves a fight between two dragons whose intertwined bodies fell into the South China Sea and formed Vietnam’s curving S-shaped coastline. Influential feminist theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s lyrical film essay commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of the war draws inspiration from ancient legend and from water as a force evoked in every aspect of Vietnamese culture. Minh-ha’s classic Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) used no original footage shot in the country; in Forgetting Vietnam images of contemporary life unfold as a dialogue between land and water—the elements that form the term "country." Fragments of text and song evoke the echoes and traces of a trauma of international proportions. The encounter between the ancient as related to the solid earth, and the new as related to the liquid changes in a time of rapid globalization, creates a third space of historical and cultural re-memory—what local inhabitants, immigrants and veterans remember of yesterday’s stories to comment on today’s events.
- Women Make Movies