05-15 November 2020

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HIFF Blog

October 29, 2019

HIFF39 KAU KA HŌKŪ NOMINEE: 5 Questions with Dinh Le Minh Trinh and Nhi Bui, the creative minds behind GOODBYE MOTHER

A new wave of films have emerged out of Southeast Asia that apply a more realistic, earnest understanding of queer experiences. Recently premiering worldwide at the Busan International Film Festival and making its North American debut at HIFF39, Vietnam’s GOODBYE MOTHER is certainly an antithesis to the often caricatured, flamboyant representation seen in antecedent films.

GOODBYE MOTHER director Dinh Le Minh Trinh (left) and screenwriter Nhi Bui (right)

Yet the film also incorporates broader issues such transnational strife, filial duty, financial instability, and toxic masculinity, as if to incorporate and normalize queerness as part of the tapestry of their society. We asked the creative leads behind GOODBYE MOTHER to elaborate further. 

Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journeys as filmmakers thus far.

DLMT: I am an emerging Vietnamese filmmaker who tell little, small stories. I chose my career path as a filmmaker because it is the most effective way to communicate with larger pool of audience. 

NB: To best describe myself I’d use the word ‘storyteller’. I don’t want to limit myself to films, though I love films and love making films. One of the best parts about plotting a story is thinking what’d be the best medium for it. I’d love to try writing books, writing for plays, making TV series, making contents for picture/comic books... if there are opportunities.

Filmmaking is very unique in the sense that it requires knowledge and skills across different areas, where every bit of experience counts. I think being a screenwriter and/or a producer best suits me as a filmmaker at the moment. I don’t aspire to be a director, at least in the next 5 or 10 years, which is weird as almost every filmmaker I know wishes to become a director. Directing films, to the true meaning of the job, is ambitious and demanding.

What inspired and motivated you to work on GOODBYE MOTHER?

DLMT: The theme of individual choice versus family expectations is one of my main interests and obsessions. Furthermore, choosing this story for my feature debut offers me a nice balance between what's inside and outside my comfort zone. 

NB: It’s interesting how many people think GOODBYE MOTHER is semi-autobiographical in Vietnam. That means they believe in what we are trying to tell, that the story is true to some extent. For me, I’m drawn into family comedies and dramas. The dynamics between Vietnamese family members, how we love each other, how we are envious of each other considering the Eastern traditions and the background of the country always interested me. I try to attach as many of these elements as possible in the movie. Some are on the surface, some are a bit more ambiguous. And though the majority of the story is fictional, the movie is still something very personal to me, and to many of the audience because we can reflect ourselves, our lives from it.

What were some of the greatest challenges of working on GOODBYE MOTHER?

DLMT: The greatest challenge of working in this film is keeping the balance between the intimacy of two and three characters scenes and the complexity of individuals in group scenes.

NB: For indie projects like this, it is always about looking for financial resources. Investments for the movie came from both individuals and production companies in the country, some joint at the very late stage after watching the final cut. Other than that, from day 1 until now, I have always kept a learning mindset and anticipated challenges as that is all filmmaking is about. I guess.

In fact I feel we were very fortunate to be able to finally complete it and present it to an audience, even outside the country.

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching GOODBYE MOTHER?

DLMT: I hope they will feel the dilemma of the characters as well and the beauty of imperfect solutions which our characters face in the film.

NB: I believe every filmmaker has something they want to convey in their work. But that something is not necessarily the same as what audiences may take away. I want to leave that door open for everyone who watches the movie.

For me, the last couple of times watching the movie with public audience, I thought a lot about how love can be covered under different layers. Like in the core of an onion. And it takes a lot of effort and courage in order to reach that core. I never thought that far writing the story in the first place :)).

What are your and GOODBYE MOTHER’s plans beyond HIFF?

DLMT:  I hope the film will go further than a couple of screenings within a film festival. I want to make it available for a larger pool of international audience. The film is in Vietnamese but the situation and the relationship of our characters are relatable and universal. 

NB: What we learnt after some opportunities bringing the film outside the country is that this story is capable of touching international viewers. We are working our best to present it to as many audiences as possible.

The movie itself also brought some other opportunities to us, which we are currently involved. I can see at some point the team will sit down and talk about reuniting to make another movie together. I just don’t know when yet ;). 

Read about all the HIFF39 KAU KA HŌKŪ Award nominees. To read more and purchase tickets, go to GOODBYE MOTHER program page.


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