Trần Văn Thủy

b. 1940, Nam Định, Vietnam
Lives and works in Vietnam

Born during the Vietnam war, Trần Văn Thủy faced tragedy at a young age when his eldest brother was killed by French fire in the course of a sweep operation in Hải Hậu, a rural district in Nam Định Province where the family had taken refuge. Thủy as a result became the eldest son in the family. During his childhood he became an avid swimmer, a skill that later on was to prove of supreme importance to his survival during his years as a combat photographer. He was educated in French schools until 1954, when he turned fourteen.

According to Тhủy, his father Tràn Văn Vỵ was an extremely humane man who made many efforts to help people in trouble, and Thủy attributes his own strong sense of social responsibility, and his activities as a philanthropist, to the influence of his father. After 1954 his family had a difficult time because Thủy’s father had worked for the French. None of Thủy’s brothers and sisters were allowed to enter colleges, in spite of achieving high scores in entrance examinations.

After high school Thủy enrolled in a museum course in anthropology organized by the Ministry of Culture. In 1960 he went to the mountains in the extreme northwest of Vietnam to make ethnographic studies of small groups of minority peoples such as the Tổng lượng and Khu Sung. In 1965, he made his way back, partly on foot, to Hanoi, in order to study at the Cinema Academy, a subsidiary of the government Cinema Department. His training was supposed to consist of a two-year curriculum concluding in 1967, but after only one year, he and number of fellow students were recruited to go south as combat journalists and photographers.

Thủy then worked as a war journalist in Military District V (a region around Quảng Đà) from 1966 to 1969, filming scenes of combat while suffering from extreme privation and danger. In 1969, gravely ill and exhausted, he made his way back north, carrying on his back the canisters of film that he had shot in the south. These rolls of film later became his first finished work ‘My Land and My People’.

In 1972, Trần Văn Thủy went to the USSR to study directing at the Moscow Film College under Roman Karmen (1906–1978), a renowned Soviet documentary filmmaker who admired Thủy’s first film, ‘My Land and My People’, and warmly supported Thủy’s aspirations. After returning to Vietnam from the Soviet Union in 1977, Thủy worked for the Vietnam Central Documentary Film Unit under the Ministry of Culture, and during several sojourns abroad, also worked with Britain’s Channel 4 and Japan’s NHK.

Since 1992, Trần Văn Thủy has put much effort into charitable work in Hải Hậu, a rural region in Nam Định Province, where the local people are for the most part subsistence-level rice farmers. From raising funds through organizations such as ‘Friends of Trần Văn Thủy’, Thủy has provided the means for the villagers to build roads, bridges, and schools.

Trần Văn Thủy’s films have received widespread acclaim. The honours he has received include the Golden Dove Prize and the Silver Dove Prize at the Dok Leipzig Film Festival, the Silver Lotus Prize and Best Director Prize at the Vietnam Film Festival. In 2000 he was awarded the Best Documentary Prize at the Asia Pacific Film Festival for ‘The Sound of the Violin in Mỹ Lai’.

Country: Vietnam
Additional Information: CV