Ysa Le, co-founder of the Viet Film Fest, remembers when the festival started in 2003. Vietnamese American directors like Charlie Nguyen and Victor Vu were early in their careers.
Now, Orange County festival-goers come to see their award-winning, big-budget films from Vietnam: Charlie Nguyen’s “My Mr. Wife” opens this year’s Viet Film Fest at the AMC Orange on Oct. 11, and Victor Vu’s “The Immortal” closes it on Oct. 13.
Le also remembers getting a submission from a young filmmaker named Leon Le in 2005.
“He was like a one-man band,“ she says. “When we received the film, we were like, wow ... directed by Leon Le, costumes by Leon Le, story by Leon Le, acting by Leon Le. This director is talented.”
This year, Leon Le’s first feature “Song Lang,” an internationally-acclaimed film about the unlikely relationship between a gangster and a cải lương (Vietnamese folk opera) star, is the festival’s centerpiece.
“VFF grows along with the filmmakers, and the filmmakers grow along with VFF,” says Ysa Le. “We support each other.”
For a decade, the Viet Film Fest only ran every other year, because there wasn’t enough content to warrant an annual festival. But since 2013, other than a break in 2017, the festival has taken place annually on the second weekend of October.
“With the advancement of technology, filmmaking is more affordable,” says Le. “You can even shoot a movie on your phone.”
VFF returns for its 11th edition with 41 films in the line-up, an increase from last year’s 30. The features, documentaries and shorts come not only from Vietnam and Vietnamese America, but also France — “Jasmine Lane’s” Stéphane Ly-Cuong and “Little Father’s” Thomas Appolaire are both flying out for the festival — and Germany — Jasmin Luu with “Pelvicachromis.”
Prior to the opening night festivities, Friday begins with special free screenings for high school students and seniors during the day.
Films include short documentaries “Walk Run Cha Cha,” by Laura Nix, about a couple separated by the Vietnam War who become ballroom dancers together 40 years later; and Barre Fong’s “Finding the Virgo,” about a refugee family who searches for the captain and crew of the ship that rescued them at sea in 1980.
Saturday begins with a free screening of the shorts made in the festival’s “Youth In Motion” program, which has nurtured young filmmakers like Quyên Nguyen-Le, who entered in 2015 and is now playing her third short at the festival, “Hoài (Ongoing/Memory).”
Later that day, director Oliver Stone is scheduled for a post-screening Q&A, following a retrospective screening of his 1993 epic “Heaven & Earth,” based on the memoirs of “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” and “Child of War, Woman of Peace” of Le Ly Hayslip.
Sunday will bring a variety of films, including the horror feature “The Bloody Hand,” by Quoc Vo, which was filmed in Orange County; the short film “Kite Under the Rain,” a mysterious love story made by O.C. residents Cuong Ngo, who directs, and pop star Dan Nguyen, who serves as producer and leading man; and Tim Tsai’s documentary “Seadrift,” about the tensions between white and Vietnamese refugee fisherman in a small Texas town in the 1970s.
The festival will close with an award ceremony following closing night’s “The Immortal.”
“Through these films, we can look back and see a lot of trauma and a lot of violence, but also how we reconcile our cultural identities, how we find our homeland, and how much acceptance there has been from a nation — where are we at,” says Le. “It’s all of these questions that I hope that we can bring up at VFF.”
All screenings will be at the AMC Orange, located within the Outlets of Orange shopping center. For more information, go to vietfilmfest.com.