Nhi Dang is a documentarian making travelogues like no others. Based out of Saigon, her journeys across the globe have taken her from Paris to Indonesia and everywhere in between – but throughout her portfolio, her home country Vietnam is a constant presence.
Its north-west region, notable for a wealth of untouched natural landscapes and traditionally-minded communities, is affectionately placed before Dang’s lens in The Old Ways. Practical, demographic and geographical information goes unspoken in this short doc, with the region related through sound, colour and the faces of the people who live there.
Dang works in the abstract, fusing visuals both sweeping and intimate through feverish, scattershot editing that builds up a vast selection of snapshots into a dreamlike, but robust portrait.
With travellers to Vietnam notorious for reducing the country and its citizens to window dressing for their own adventures of self-actualisation, Dang works hard to put locals front-and-centre of her mood piece.
Rapid successive shots of markets, mountains, farmland and sunrises are punctuated with lingering face-on shots of people young and old taking brief pauses from lives unknown to the viewer. But eyes and smiles sparkle with affection and experience – a pride in their home and ways of life often undermined by self-centering backpackers.
Dang herself is nowhere to be seen, a hidden presence observing this corner of the world going about its business. People farming, selling, driving, playing, laughing – the mundane day-to-day explodes in colour and music uninterrupted by Dang as she passes through.
Without agenda, The Old Ways serves as an ample, if slim, window into life in north-west Vietnam. Dang, a photographer by trade, finds both stillness and movement as she steps back and lets the region tell the story for itself.
DIRECTOR: Nhi Dang
EDITOR: Tuan Do
MUSIC: Max LL
SYNOPSIS: This is a short film in Northwest Vietnam, one of the most important sub-regions of Vietnam. This region plays a crucial role in Vietnam’s defense and security. Northwest Vietnam is always characterized by the untouched beauty of its landscapes and local people.