16:30 in Saigon

If you don’t live in Saigon, and I mean REALLY live in Saigon. In the streets, the alleys and the markets, it’s unlikely you know what the number 16:30 represents. But it has a meaning. It has a story.

16:30 is the time when something happens. Something small and insignificant to most people, but something that means a lot to a small number of children. What is it ? What’s the big deal ? Does school let out at that time ? No. Does someone give out free food ? No. Does happy hour start ? No.

16:30 is when the lottery numbers come out, or rather, when they get distributed.

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In a sprawling metropolis like Saigon, there are many problems. There are drugs, prostitution, theft, violence, mafia and other bad things. And like in some Gotham-style comic, they all coexist right in front of each other, if you care to look. In the busy tourist district of Phạm Ngũ Lão, most foreigners turn a blind eye to the children selling knick-knacks, roses and chewing gum. Unless they’re particularly amused by young Asian children they just shake their head and continue ignoring them. Most of them have homes though. People who take care of them and clothe them and send them out to earn their keep either to learn English and grow up on their feet or because they genuinely need the extra money.

But some kids aren’t so lucky. They live in garbage dumps, under bridges and in slums with no family around them. 16:30 is a story about those children. At only 15 minutes long it unfolds quickly and with incredible suspense. The music accompanying the video is perfectly appropriate and heightens the tension. Director Tran Dung Thanh Huy combines the vibrant but dirty beauty of Saigon’s poorest areas with grainy images of people going about their daily life. It’s not the beautiful, glossy side of Saigon but it is a real side. And it shows a little part of Saigon life that a foreigner might never normally see.

The short film cleaned up at amateur film awards and Huy was the lucky first recipient of a program allowing Vietnamese filmmakers to make their way to the Cannes film festival in France. Despite Vietnam’s thriving film industry it does not have significant representation at such awards so it was a great honour for Huy to attend. In an interview he commented “There are flags of many countries at the gate to the ‘Marche du Film’, but I was really sad that there was no Vietnamese flag there.”

Huy’s success with 16:30 will surely cement his name as an amateur filmmaker in Vietnam and he certainly has my interest after this amazing and emotional short film.

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