Organizers of the 26th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in South Korea have turned down a request by the Vietnam Cinema Department to cancel screenings of ‘Vi’ (Taste), a controversial Vietnamese film that was banned domestically despite winning several international awards.
The Vietnam Cinema Department on July 12 prohibited all distribution activities of the movie ‘Vi,’ officials from the department said.
The agency cited gratuitous nudity as grounds for the prohibition.
But ‘Vi’ is still slated for screenings in South Korea in the ‘A Window on Asia Cinema’ program during the festival’s 26th iteration this October, according to BIFF’s official website.
BIFF’s choice to move ahead with planned screenings have created a complicated situation for the Vietnam Cinema Department as it establishes who to hold accountable for violating Vietnam’s Law on Cinema.
According to the department, Le Bien Pictures – the film’s Vietnamese producer – is subject to an administrative fine under the government’s regulations on culture and advertising.
Le Bien, however, shifted responsibility to France-based Wild Bunch International which it claimed to be the international distributor and the entity which submitted the picture to the Busan International Film Festival.
Th Vietnamese producer and director Le Bao have renounced all author’s rights, copyrights, and revenue claims to the film.
‘Vi’’s description on the BIFF website now only lists Singapore, France, and Germany as the countries responsible for producing the film.
On September 27, officials of the Vietnam Cinema Department and inspectors of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism held a working session with Le Bien Pictures to corroborate the firm’s claims that it has no rights to ‘Vi’ and was not responsible for submitting it to the BIFF.
In a follow-up meeting on Tuesday, Vietnamese culture officials claimed there was “not enough evidence to verify the movie as an international collaboration.”
The cinema department stated that investigations into the case are continuing and that Le Bien Pictures should “immediately cease all promotions for ‘Vi’ at the 26th Busan International Film Festival.”
After receiving the order via email on Tuesday evening, Dong Thi Phuong Thao, a representative of Le Bien Pictures, forwarded the mandate to BIFF organizers the same night, asking them to comply as a way of supporting the firm and director Le Bao.
However, Park Sungho, a film curator at BIFF, said in his reply to Thao that he cannot deprive the audience of the screenings they were promised.
The curator was taken aback by the order from Vietnam as BIFF organizers only liaised with Wild Bunch International during their preparations for the upcoming event
Meanwhile, E&W Films, one of the ‘Vi’ copyright holders and production firms, sent a letter to Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Vietnam Cinema Department, to complain about illegal ‘Vi’ screenshots that were allegedly leaked from a screening at the department’s Central Council on Film Evaluation, which was held to decide the movie’s suitability for public distribution.
Lai Weijie, an E&W Films representative, said the company has filed copyright complaints with Facebook to have the leaked images removed from the platform.
He stated that the incident has “undermined the Cinema Department’s reputation,” and urged the department leader to carry out a thorough investigation and report its findings to E&W.
‘Vi’ is Le Bao’s debut feature film.
The 97-minute flick tells the story of a Nigerian footballer who moves to Vietnam for a professional career and moves in with four middle-aged Vietnamese women after his team is liquidated.
Earlier in April, the producers of ‘Vi' were fined VND35 million (US$1,513) by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism for submitting the movie without a publishing permit to the Berlin International Film Festival 2021.
‘Vi’ won the Special Jury Award in the fest's Encounters section, which was created to support new voices in cinema and make room for diverse narrative and documentary forms.
In 2020, Vietnamese drama film 'Rom' was also slapped with a fine of VND40 million ($1,739) for joining the BIFF without first acquiring a screening permit at home.
The fine came months after the movie won the top award at the competition.
However, ‘Rom’ producers managed to show a version of the film, which was said to be heavily censored, in domestic cinemas.