In January 2019, a symposium, a workshop and a screening program took place over the course of four particularly cold days in Hanoi. Eclectic in the breadth of people brought together and the conversations engendered, the series of happenings explored realities and deliberated possibilities around archived film, and in extension the history of Vietnamese cinema throughout the ages – in Vietnam, and sometimes beyond. The events formed part of the project Heritage of Future Past – currently undertaken in Vietnam, and itself part of the global British Council programme Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth – which explores the use of cultural heritage for growth that benefits all levels of society. This publication collates, in textual form, several talks and thoughts resulting from various components of the January 2019 events. More than a mere celebration of the past, as with archived film it seeks to provide ideas and inspirations for a number of possible futures.
I was very pleased to be invited by the British Council to contribute to Film as a Cultural Heritage and Dreaming/Remembering: Workshops on Archival Film Materials (symposium, workshop and public events) in Hanoi, Vietnam (15–18 January 2019). As the Director of an English regional film archive (Screen Archive South East at the University of Brighton), Co-Director of a film festival (Cinecity) and an early film historian, I am steeped in British screen culture as shaped by government policy, the work of the British Film Institute and the many synergies that connect film heritage with film production, exhibition and education. This is a dynamic that has come into being over the last 25 years (especially through the rise of the national lottery) and revolves around films, tapes, files – their preservation and use in a range of public, educational and commercial contexts. It (this dynamic) has of course been energised this century by the relative ease with which we can now digitize films to a high standard and share them with practitioners (film-makers, artists and broadcasters), film and museum curators, the education sector (teachers, students and researchers), the tourism industry and the public.
This cultural heritage, through its use online and within public spaces, not only represents the past but can also serve as a catalyst for the production of memories, stories and histories. This is a very inclusive process, generating a genuine sense of being part of a shared community with common identities. For me, and for those of us within British screen culture, it is this understanding of film’s cultural role and its public value that shapes how we build our heritage collections, cultivate our partnerships and develop our users and audiences.
The film archives respect the work of the film and television industries, as well as the mutually beneficial relationships we have and will co-develop, but our work is clearly very different from this commercial sector. From this perspective, it was fascinating to be a contributor to this British Council series of events as it provided me with my very first introduction to film in Vietnam. From comments made at the Symposium (Hanoi’s National Cinema Centre, 15 January), conversations had with the Workshop’s participants (a mixture of film-makers, artists, teachers and students) and my own perspective, I have identified a number of issues in relation to this project and the current nature of film culture in Vietnam.