Children in the Mist, directed by Ha Le Diem, is the first movie from Vietnam to successfully go far on the Oscar journey.
Recently, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has announced the shortlist of works participating in the Oscar 2023 competition. The documentary category attracts attention with the appearance of the author. Children of the Mist – the first feature-length documentary film by director Ha Le Diem from Vietnam. Although not the final list, this is still a memorable milestone – especially when Vietnamese cinema has regularly sent movies to the Oscars since 1996 (according to Wikipedia) but was not nominated.
Children in the Mist is director Ha Le Diem’s attempt to capture from the documentary film’s point of view the sacred beauty of childhood as well as the disappearance of that fragile and peaceful life. On the occasion of Children in the Mist shortlisted for 15 documentaries competing for the Oscars 2023, director Ha Le Diem sat down with us to share stories surrounding her brainchild.
Documentary director Ha Le Diem (Photo: NVCC)
The documentary has entered 100 film festivals
What are you doing when the shortlist of 15 documentaries competing for the Oscars 2023 is announced by AMPAS? At that time, what was the first emotion that came to you?
The night before the list was announced, I also checked the news, listened to the situation but still didn’t see anything new, so I thought “Ah, probably not!” so rest assured… go to sleep. As a result, early in the morning, when the shortlist was announced, I was not online. When I opened the network, I saw everyone’s congratulatory messages rushing in.
The first emotion is probably “Oh, my movie has entered the inner circle!”. Initially, when I saw Children in the Mist competing with 144 other documentary works submitted to the Oscars 2023 – this includes many names that have been “battled” at film festivals, No. Others are made by friends I’ve known since 2019 so I know a little about them myself – I told myself it wouldn’t be my turn. In my eyes, those movies are all “sharks”. They all deal with very large, very macro topics.
English poster of the movie Children in the Mist (Image: IMDb)
How did your journey to bring the Children in the Mist to the Oscars began?
At first, I did not aim to send the film to the Oscars, but just thought to take it as far as possible, wherever it is or there. But the turning point came when Children in the Mist won the Best International Documentary Award at the 2022 DocAviv Film Festival held in Israel. Winning this award means that the film is eligible to be submitted to the Oscars. After that, the organizers of the Film Festival supported the publisher in international markets of The Children in the Mist to make a profile to send the Children in the Mist to the US to go to the Oscars.
In order for a film to be eligible for an Oscar, there are many more criteria beyond the award, for example it needs to be released in several major theaters in the US. The set of criteria for a film to be eligible for an Oscar nomination is very long, an entire document full of text. As a young filmmaker, new to directing my first work, I can’t help but be confused by this massive amount of information. But I am fortunate to receive the dedicated support of the international publisher. They know the process, know what to do and how to do it. It was the publisher of Children in the Mist who helped me get the film to the Oscars.
Children in the Mist won the Best Director award at the idfa International Documentary Film Festival 2022 held in the Netherlands (Photo: idfa)
Director Ha Le Diem at the global premiere event “Children in the Mist” in the Netherlands (Photo: idfa)
Up to now, do you remember how many film festivals the Children in the Mist have participated in and won at many awards?
Recently, when I looked up on the publisher’s website, Children in the Mist have participated in nearly 100 film festivals large and small. But this list is by no means exhaustive. Many times when I go to the Internet to read newspapers, I find out that my films are also sent to participate in this film festival, that film festival… About the number of awards, it must be about 25, 26 or something. I don’t remember clearly either. There are prizes I was informed about by the organizers, asked to record a video of the award speech, but there are also prizes that I was awarded but the organizers didn’t say anything, I had to Google to find out that I had won.
In the future, do you plan to release Children in the Mist in Vietnam?
Yes. Currently, I and the publisher in Vietnam are discussing to fix the movie release schedule in theaters. We were originally planning to release the film by the end of this year, but we had to push it back because both the director and producer were busy. It’s also hard to compete with Christmas and New Year releases, so the expected release time for Children in the Mist is between January and before the summer movie season. But overall it will be soon.
Variety page calls Children in the Mist an “extraordinary Vietnamese film” right on the title of its commentary (Photo: IMDb)
The film about the holy childhood of highland children
How long did it take you to finish the movie Children in the Mist?
The draft was filmed for about three and a half years. The translation of Hmong into Vietnamese and English took about 4 months. Post-production, draft review, and rough editing took more than 6 months, but that’s fast enough. After that, the film was sent to post-production in Thailand for an extra month and a half, mixing and adjusting colors for about 2 weeks… In summary, The Children in the Mist shot in 2017 and completed by the end of 2021, which is about 5 years.
What inspiration and ideas inspired you to make this film?
Initially, I had the idea to make a documentary about the cross-border trafficking of women and children, but it didn’t work out. After that, I joined the 1 month trip of the iSEE Institute for Socio-Economic Research to Sapa to learn and write about the lives of ethnic minority communities. Here, I stayed at the house of Di’s father (the main character of Children in the Mist) because he also participated in many iSEE programs.
I attended classes for Hmong friends in Di’s village, lived and played with Di and other friends. I took out my camera and filmed her with her friends, the kids loved it. Then looking at Di and the children playing, I suddenly remembered that I used to have fun like that, also had a world of my own. That world is very different from the world of adults, where I have the power to do everything, I am free. But when I grow up, I don’t have that fantasy anymore.
My friends got married very early too, the feeling when no one is playing with me is very sad. I think Di and her friends will feel the same way at some point. So I want to make a film that keeps my childhood memories, and when that childhood will disappear. I don’t remember when I grew up in the past, and when my childhood ended, I just suddenly found myself growing up one day. I wanted to use a camera to record all the fragile things that I couldn’t see, so I came up with the idea to follow Di until Di grew up.
The main character of Children in the Mist is a 12-year-old Hmong ethnic child named Di (Photo: IMDb)
Why did you choose “early marriage” as a milestone marking the farewell to childhood?
Honestly, when I was filming, I didn’t even think about it. I also do not intend to choose a specific milestone, because it is different for each person: For one person it is a very stressful exam, for another it is the loss of a loved one, for another it is a choice. choose to get married early or not. When I was filming Children in the Mist, I didn’t think about those things. Or maybe I thought about it, but didn’t think it was the main thing.
Then, the wife pulling happened unexpectedly. Then dragging my wife became a landmark in the movie even though I had no intention of it. That event is reflected in the film because the work follows Di, so everything that happens to Di, important to her, affecting her future will of course have to be recorded.
How has Di’s life changed since The Children in the Mist?
Di just got married, but not with the person who pulled his wife in the movie, but with someone else she loves. Di will also return to school next year. She also intends to open a small shop selling brocade products made by herself and her mother. Di’s mother is very smart. Di also often texted me that you go to the film festival to advertise your shop.
Thank you so much for the interesting interview!
Some pictures from the movie (Image: IMDb)