Tiếng Việt

Duy Tan Dream

The Untold Story of a Documentary, in the Theaters Now

Many documentary films are shown at theaters, but selling tickets for an historical documentary like The First Swallows is out of the ordinary.
After five years of preparation, a year-and-a-half of production and eight months of post-production, the film was completed. This is the normal time-span for professional film crews but the DTU Silver Swallows Studio team were all amateurs however, in their 20s or 30s, and put an extraordinary effort into their first production. Even more surprizing is that the film was created at a university by a team with skills completely unrelated to filmmaking, such as architecture and information technology. The film, which recreates the air battle for the Thanh Hoa Bridge, was shown in Ho Chi Minh city theaters on August 9.
Chuy?n chua bi?t v? m?t Phim Tài li?u ra r?p
A shot from The First Swallows
More than forty minutes of the movie is a recount of the battle by Lieutenant General Tran Hanh, the only pilot to survive the April 4, 1965 confrontation with the US Air Force. The movie recreates the battle with high-tech software and real actors.
The twenty members of the Silver Swallows Studio typified small swooping swallows and gradually grew attached to their project in exactly the same way as the Vietnamese soldiers of old were attached to their MiG fighters. The idea of making the film came from Dr. Le Nguyen Bao, DTU Provost, who was born in the 80s. 
While Dr. Le Nguyen Bao was studying in America, he often watched 3D movies about US dogfights in Vietnam, but these only showed Vietnamese airplanes being shot down. This aroused his patriotism and gave him the idea of making a 3D movie recreating the heroic battles of his own Vietnamese armed forces. As director and co-writer, he chose the air battle for the Thanh Hoa bridge in 1965, believing that, as the first battle, it would be easier to produce.
Chuy?n chua bi?t v? m?t Phim Tài li?u ra r?p
The homemade studio, equipment, props and actors of The First Swallows
Once actual work started however, nothing was easy. Making an historical documentary is complex, even for professionals. At the beginning, the studio team of twenty had to investigate computerized filmmaking technology and, at the same time, research historical documentation for accuracy. After one year, they started working on two tasks simultaneously, recording interviews with historians, former pilots and researchers on the one hand, and also creating 3D models of various types of airplanes, 3D landscapes and playing the roles of the pilots.
“We interviewed ten people, but only six are shown in the movie,” producer Truong Son explains. “Approaching these people was quite difficult, as they didn’t yet trust us because we were amateurs. Mr. Tran Hanh, for example, refused twice. They required us to follow their work schedule for the entire day to concede us only two minutes of their time, even though we were just gathering information and not showing them in the movie.”
Because they were not professional filmmakers, everything was makeshift, improvised and lacking. The one thing The First Swallows crew had in abundance was enthusiasm, the determination to bring the viewer the story of the willpower, the resolve and the heroism of the Vietnamese pilots and, as a result, to spread the message of pride and patriotism.
Trailer of The First Swallows
“We filmed from June to September, but the weather in Central Vietnam during that period is unpredictable rain or sunshine,” recalls cameraman and editor Thai Bao Long. “There were days when we erected the green screen and were getting ready to perform when it suddenly started pouring. At other times it was interminably sunny and hot, which made our actors sick. The multi-layered pilot uniforms got hot and stuffy and, as amateurs the crew needed to reshoot everything dozens of times for perfection.”
The most impressive parts of the film are high-tech, with three hundred frames of the dogfight, although only sixty were planned. This stretched post-production to eight months, just to make the end of the movie more dramatic.
The First Swallows was launched in Danang in April and in Hanoi in May and now the film has just been shown in Ho Chi Minh city. It received much positive feedback from viewers, but Dr Le Nguyen Bao’s dream of making war films has not yet been satisfied and he confesses to be considering a second project: “Maybe the air battle of May 10, 1972, but this time fictional, so that we can relate the story more romantically, something that  The First Swallows didn’t allow us to do with its documentary format.”
Their stage is the DTU courtyard, the lighting is the sun. The actors sit in imaginary cockpits made of cardboard boxes and their uniforms are old clothing bought on eBay. The actors speak with Nghe An, Quang Binh and Nam Dinh accents that they created. The roles of the four heroic pilots, Tran Hanh, Pham Giay, Le Minh Huan and Tran Nguyen Nam, are played by Chu Nguyen, Minh Hieu, Minh Quan and Xuan Long respectively, all members of the film studio.
(Media Center)