Good morning Vietnam

by Amar Patel in ,

Think contemporary art and this small corner of South-East Asia is not the first place that springs to mind. But a casual flick through Vietnam Eye – part catalogue, more book – will have you turning to the East and booking your flights in no time. Over the past few years there has been growing interest and anticipation around a groundswell of new talent, whose work is both visually striking yet deeply thoughtful and frequently provocative. The breadth of styles, often produced by one artist, is also really impressive.

But why now? And how did this happen? Editor Serenella Ciclitira, who founded the Global Eye Programme with husband David, gives important context in the introduction. "Reforms that took place thirty years ago in art education [known as "Doi Moi' or "open door"] have borne fruit, with a new generation who have been able to combine local concerns with a sophisticated awareness of international contemporary art. The growth of an international Vietnamese diaspora also meant that a number of artists, such as DInh Q Le, grew up with both a global and a Vietnamese sensibility."

At its best, art is fascinating because it can reflect what's going on in a place and time, but also in the artist himself/herself. Surveying inner and outer worlds and pondering a compelling tension between the two. A country like Vietnam has gone through so much change over the past century, the effects of which are still contemplated to this day as Nguyen Quan explains in his essay.  

"Pre-war artists were romanticists always in search of poetic and lovely objects. Resistance/war patriotic artists used their tools to look for realities and truths that were 'presumptively established' by the then ideological system. Doi Moi artists, instead, only embrace the quest for their own identity. Asking themselves the most important of all questions , 'Who am I?', they were able to resurrect the original and universal core of artistic creation. After the year 2000, this 'modern-style' confidence, arrogance even, was further backed by their willingness to provoke and challenge anyone to defined anything that was contemporary art-related."

A combination of international patronage, the burgeoning digital economy, restless ambition and pockets of healthy resistance have conspired to create a scene that is so hard to pin down. Here are a few favourites from the 75 artists included in the book. Many of these people will be part of a huge showcase exhibition that opens at the Saatchi Gallery this September.

Amar Patel

A Snapchat story

by Amar Patel in , ,

It's not my go-to app but occasionally someone does something interesting with Snapchat. There is editor Yusuf Omar and his mobile team at the Hindustan Times, for example. They have covertly reported on the drugs problem in Punjab and discreetly given voice to sexual abuse victims. But student Trim Lamba's short film Cracked Screen has taken the social media tool into a whole new realm.

Chantelle Levene stars as a regular young woman sharing her everyday life with followers on Snapchat. She goes to the gym, goofs around with friends, dances in her bedroom to the likes of Nadia Rose and airs her frustrations about job hunting, among other filter-enhanced moments. When she suffers a horrific attack, the story becomes quite gripping … and disturbing.

Having read the synopsis, you expect the worst and wait for the shocking act. As Short of the Week's Chelsea Lupkin points out, "You’ll experience empathy for her injuries, the betrayal she feels by her followers, and a creeping guilt at being a voyeuristic spectator in her undoing." For me, it's the reactions of others, played out through her reactions on Snapchat, that are most affecting. How things can quickly turn nasty, and friend becomes foe. Her see-sawing emotions as the victim becomes increasingly insecure, unraveling in a series of images and messages.


Good news travels fast but bad news is almost instant. In the intemperate and often disheartening world of social media, people frequently bypass compassion and empathy, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. And they love to gang up on those under fire. It's the mob mentality that Jon Ronson wrote about so poignantly in his book So You've Been Publicly Shamed

The title Cracked Screen acknowledges the obsession with image and the power of myth-making in the age of social media. When that image is tarnished or shattered, what then? Where does that leave us? This is a bold and exciting use of the medium. Snapchat, an in-the-hand experience, definitely makes the narrative feel more intimate. And real. Chantelle's character could be your friend. You feel complicit.

The composite narrative – a sequence of moving image, stills, captions and doodles – adds tension and mystery to the story, not least because we only see the victim's reactions. The viewer's imagination then goes to work. Trim Lamba and his team have done a great job on this. It's exciting new ground for filmmaking and, as she says, challenges our conception of what we deem 'cinematic' — an idea that should intrigue and propel us all".

Amar Patel

Digging in the archive: ITN Source Competition

by Amar Patel in

The other night I was having a chat with a friend of mine about filmmaking and editing. We are both determined to get busy behind the camera this year but, in fairness, I'm the one that needs to pull up his socks.

My script writing for branded short films is developing nicely but it's been a while since I last said, "Cut!" on my own set. I am currently scheming with my good friend Paul Reson, who is a talented editor and director, so we may collaborate on a few documentary projects this year.

Of course, there are myriad technical skills to acquire if you want to be a professional filmmaker but one of the most crucial is editing. Even if a producer/director works with an editor, it's only going to be a fruitful collaboration if he/she has a good understanding of the edit and shoots accordingly. Being an experienced editor can even make you a better director.

There are two main options for software, apart from Avid. Many seasoned filmmakers still swear by Final Cut, while others find Adobe Premiere more manageable. I tried the latter last year for the first time when entering the ITN Source Short Film Competition. It was great fun to root around their gargantuan archive, and quite a challenge to stay focused on task. Thankfully, selecting, chopping and changing were simple tasks with Premiere. (It still went down to the wire on deadline day.)

I needed to pick a theme and then try to convey the corresponding mood within 60 seconds. It's often said that a film is made in the edit. As I started working with all the clips in my bin, I quickly realised how influential editors can be in constructing a narrative, particularly on a shorter piece. The impact of quick cuts to add tempo or a pause to heighten suspense, putting the right sounds to a sequence to project a certain mood… 

Unfortunately I wasn't shortlisted but I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn a new skill with the support of ITN Source and Audio Network. Hopefully, they will run the competition again this year. If so, definitely give it a go; especially if you're a beginner. Experiment, play, let your imagination run wild. Even greats like Kubrick and Herzog had to start somewhere.

Here is my entry. Can you guess what the theme is?

Music: Audio Network
Stonk (Chris Blackwell)
Chase (Evelyn Glennie)
Batucada (Neil Clarvis)

Amar Patel

From small screen to big screen?

by Amar Patel in ,

Mobile journalists are making the leap to documentary and Leonor Suarez is among those leading the way…


The thought of making films with a smartphone is so liberating. I’ve often shared my love for documentaries, and many of you will remember how Hollywood cooed over Sundance feature Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone. Now, as Apple prepares for its latest launch, the journalism and film industries both stand to benefit. And this is progress, let’s be clear. Ideas and effort should be the only real barriers to entry, not technology or privilege.

For every old school skeptic looking on as they caress their RED, Alexa or Canon 7D, there’s another person – iPhone tucked in pocket – getting out there and surprising themselves with their ability. One example is Leonor Suarez, who gave an inspiring talk yesterday at monthly meet-up MoJo London. Suarez is a news editor and reporter for Televisión del Principado de Asturias (TPA) and makes 20-minute packages for the broadcaster, working with a specialist cameraman. Two years ago she had never tried to film any type of journalistic content on her phone, and had no interest in the technical side. After attending a MoJo gathering she dived straight into long-form.

One catalyst was the abundance of great stories Suarez would come across from day to day. She also wanted to have more creative control over how the final broadcast would look. Her first piece was an 11-minute report on a community arts project under threat in Oviedo, shot and edited on an iPhone 4 and delivered against a tight deadline.

Patience was key. Suarez had to handle every aspect of the report, from lighting to interviewing. It’s what she describes as a “handcrafted job”. However, the added responsibility also became an opportunity for Suarez to “grow as a journalist” because “filming enhances your creativity”. Since then, she has gone on to cover a broad range of topics: a new wave of farmers in Picos de Europa; Michelin-starred chef Nacho Manzano cooking with flowers; and the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia.

Suarez showed clips of these on the night. She stumbled upon the Potosi mines story while on holiday. Many of us were impressed by quality of the shots captured in such poor light. She said that focusing using Filmic Pro, the “gold standard of mobile video”, was difficult so she reverted to the native camera on her iPhone 5s. And that wasn’t the only useful tip. Here are a few more:

  • Phone capacity is still an issue for documentary makers so if you are shooting for more than an hour then always have a spare memory stick to hand. Suarez Velcros one to the tripod, together with a battery.
  • Back up everything at least twice. Once to an external hard disk such as a 256gb iPad (using AirDrop), and again to the Google Drive or a similar cloud provider.
  • Make use of in-built image stabilisation. Don’t be afraid to try pans and tilts if you think this will help to convey the story.
  • Edit in iMovie if you can. Using a phone can be really hard on the eyes and it’s awkward to perform tasks such as editing audio.
  • Learn to work within your particular constraints, eg time and conditions. For instance, use any existing light sources around you. A good example is the hardhat lamps in the mines documentary. Keep interviews short and have a preliminary conversation off camera beforehand to identify key questions.
  • Don’t feel unprofessional just because you are using a phone instead of a bigger camera and crew. This is the now!
  • Think about engagement. That means cutting trailers and teasers with instant visual appeal and snappy soundbites.

Core kit

– iPhone 6s

– Auxiliary battery

Shoulderpod s1

– Stabiliser

Manfrotto 500 series tripod

Joby GorillaPod 

Rode RODElink

Rode NTG2 shotgun mic

iRig Pro audio interface

TRRS adaptor cable

SanDisk iXpand flash drive

Pico dolly

– Velcro!

So what next? Suarez predicts that the line between camera operator and scriptwriter will continue to blur as journalists become more adept at visualising the stories they want to tell. Judging by her next project about the last days of the Spanish Civil War, Suarez will also be experimenting with form and narrative, making the most of the iPhone’s close-up capability and employing other techniques such as reconstruction.

As the technology becomes even more powerful and compact, reporters will be able to get right into the nooks and crannies of a piece to capture amazing footage. A mine, an attic, an ants’ nest… Given time, space and money, filmmakers would still prefer traditional broadcast set-ups for capturing footage to air on giant home TVs. But there are advantages to using a smartphone, not least because people are familiar with them. Hence, they are put at ease.

"I didn't have to take a camera crew with me, says RTE new co-ordinator Eleanor Mannion, who shot an hour-long documentary called The Collectors on an iPhone 6s Plus in 4K for RTE. “I could just go on my own and have conversations with people about their collections. The medium didn’t get in the way of the story and that was really important to me. It allowed me another level of intimacy and honesty…”

You can hear more about Mannion’s experiences on the production at the next Mojo London meet up on 11 October. See you there.

Amar Patel