The war in Vietnam was the most filmed conflict in world history. But, unlike the thousands of Western journalists, a small band of North Vietnamese and NLF cameramen has largely been forgotten, though they founded Vietnamese cinema.
GAO RANG (meaning grilled or burnt rice) tells the story of these cameramen/soldiers. In their own words, they describe their experiences filming in combat, first against the French and later the Americans.
Mai Loc and Khoung Mę, two veterans from the French war, tell of acquiring the first cameras and instruction manuals. Mr. Xuong, a traveling projectionist during both wars, recalls projecting films along the 17th Parallel, and remembers how the public reacted to the films.
Tran Van Thuy (director of HOW TO BEHAVE, also distributed by First Run/Icarus Films) and Lę Man Thich (Director at the Studio for Documentary Films in Hanoi) screen some of the material that they shot. They describe the hardship and fear they faced in combat and during American bombings. For all of them, "to make propaganda was obvious." But they also discuss their regrets. Thuy says "If we had had a more critical historical awareness, we could have left much better images." Their films give the impression that everything was easy. They didn't film enough of the hard daily life, and regret the many "heroic deaths that were not filmed." It would have been "useless," the footage would not have been used.
Today, much of the footage these cameramen and their comrades shot is disappearing. The cost of preserving and storing the film is too expensive. Their history (and part of ours) is being "recycled" for a few bits of silver.
"Compelling... [GAO RANG] has significant value for scholars of Vietnam. There is Uncle Ho with the troops fighting against the French, footage of anti-aircraft gunners, the image of an American warplane falling from the sky, the pilots parachuting down into the hands of their captors, dive-bombers at the DMZ, the resulting destruction of B-52 raids on Hanoi, and women warrior-farmers with rifles strapped to their backs rady to shoot at the warplanes overhead, face to the earth and back to the sky, planting rice to supply the heroic soldiers. The documentary also provides a self-reflexive glimpse into the minds of characters important to the development of a nascent Vietnamese film industry. [GAO RANG] shows us that Vietnam, like the United States, continues to be drawn back to issues and concerns from the American War."—Professor of Sociology Jack Harris, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, for the Asian Educational Media Service's 'News and Reviews'
2003 Notable Video for Adults, Video Round Table, American Library Association
Official Selection, 2002 Association for Asian Studies Film Festival
Editor's Choice, Giant Robot Magazine
"[4 & ˝ Stars] Excellent! GAO RANG details the primitive and violent birth of filmmaking in Vietnam during the war against the French and through the bloody conflict against American-lead forces in the 1960s and 1970s. Featuring footage never shown outside of Vietnam [and] blessed with insightful interviews... GAO RANG is the rare documentary on filmmaking which opens doors to a rarely-seen corner of global cinema. A fascinating new documentary!"—Film Threat