Finding Phong, a documentary addressing a transgender journey of a young male, debuted in Ho Chi Minh City on October 2, after attending more than 25 film festivals and bagging multiple awards.
The movie release was not only attended by the two directors, Tran Phuong Thao and her French husband Swann Dubus, but also the main character of the documentary Le Anh Phong.
Le Anh Phong, originally named Le Quoc Phong, is a transgender female born in Quang Ngai Province, in the south-central coast region of Vietnam.
Phong is the youngest among seven children of the family, and realized very early in life the woman he is inside.
The documentary follows Phong’s journey as he struggles to decide whether to live for himself or for his family, as well as his challenges to become a true woman not just physically, but also mentally.
A long emotional journey
“This is the first time I dared to watch the whole movie. The previous times I would just be crying! Today, however, I am surrounded by [my three siblings],” the main character said shyly.
Third gender, especially transgender, remains a sensitive, serious, and gloomy subject for filmmakers in Vietnam, as the characters always have to face countless challenges both from society and from themselves.
But Finding Phong perfectly depicts the character’s journey while making the documentary funny and appealing to the public.
But more importantly, there are still touching moments in the documentary where viewers can see Phong’s never-ending struggles.
At the beginning of the movie, Phong was sitting all by himself on a small loft on a New Year Eve’s night looking blankly while asking himself how his life will turn out to be if he never gets to be himself.
The two filmmakers, Thao and Swann, did not just jump in Phong’s life with their cameras.
Instead they gave Phong a small camera so that he can tell the story himself, in the way he sees fit, which has turned Phong into not just an actor of the movie, but also a cameraman and a producer.
Hence, the documentary resembled a video diary where Phong decided what should be told.
The audience is touched as the character reveals thoughts which seem naïve, experienced, and honest all at the same time.
After six months of taking hormones pills, the character could see himself turning into a woman when his skin became smoother and brighter and his hairs grew longer.
As the time went by, Phong started encountering emotions of ‘love’ including the nervousness, dates and sexual desire, just like a young adult would have.
It was apparent that there were still challenges including the doubts, worrying, as well as questions from family, but one thing was gone – a sad, gloomy boy who never got to be himself.
Phong has been reborn, and this time he was finally himself.
During the movie release, the character was asked why he had kept the name “Phong” even though it is more common for male.
“The appearance my parents gave me, I have already changed, so the name they gave me I do not want to change anymore,” said the young actress.
Documentaries in theaters
Even though documentaries are always highly evaluated in the world, they do not appeal to the Vietnamese public, so most movie producers do not prefer this genre and tend to avoid it.
However, Blue Productions might be an exception as they grabbed the opportunity to work on this documentary with the two directors.
The producing team and actress and managing director Hong Anh accepted the challenge as they have already had previous success with documentary Chuyen di cuoi cung cua chi Phung (The last journey of Phung) in 2014.
Even though it may not be appealing to the public, the company cannot stop wondering what the reason behind it might be.
According to Hong Anh, since both producers and viewers do not seem interested in documentaries, the best solution to this genre at the moment is independent production.
“There is no other way but to focus on the target audience, and only after that can we hope to reach other audiences.”
At the event, co-producer of the movie Tran Phuong Thao also expressed her interest in documentaries as well as her experience with Le Anh Phong.
“I really like documentaries that are not just about a character, but are made with characters.
“Phong is so much fun, and friends surrounding him are all very positive people as well.
“They do not stigmatize – the thing that even in developed countries like France is still quite an issue.
“More importantly, we wanted to show people the diversity present in Vietnam’s society.
“It is not all black or all white but there’s always a change in stigma which will be a good foundation to talk and exploit other aspects of LGBT community.”
At the second movie screening in Ho Chi Minh City on October 4, audience had a chance to talk, interact, and raise questions for directors, actors, and actresses, especially Le Anh Phong the main character.
Finding Phong, completed in 2014 and shown at many international film festivals, won several awards including Grand Prix Award for documentaries at Festival 2 Valenciennes 2017 (Valenciennes, France), Best Documentary at Festival In & Out 2017 (Nice, France), Amsterdam TranScreen Film Festival (Netherlands), and Asian American Film Festival (Austin, Texas, US), among others.