Local filmmakers, actors and writers put their skills to the test in this fast-paced, no sleep film competition

The 48 Hour Film Project is a global success. The project was set up in 2001 to promote filmmaking and give an audience to filmmakers, giving them a difficult but inspiring challenge: to write, shoot and edit a film in just 48 hours. It may sound impossible but, 16 years and 30,000 short films later, the competition is still going strong, with competitions being held in 130 cities worldwide. For aspiring filmmakers, this is a competition to look out for: winning films are sent to the next round of the competition, appearing at screenings across the world and the final winner screens at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Ross Stewart, head of the Saigon division of the project, talked to me about his experiences with the competition.

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The 48 Hour Film Project first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 when Ross contacted their offices with the hope of  bringing the project to Vietnam. At the time, he says, he felt that Saigon was missing a creative drive that he saw in other cities. There weren’t enough events, competitions or other catalysts for people’s creativity and he wanted to bring in an outlet to give a voice to those who wanted to be heard. Before moving to Vietnam, Ross had worked for a number of years in a curatorial role in his native Australia, including Brisbane and Melbourne, both well-known for their burgeoning arts scenes. His passion is to help develop creative talent and, with the 48 Hour Film Project, he saw an opportunity to bring an international community of creatives into his new hometown.

What makes the 48 Film Project so special? For anyone with a passing interest in film it may appear an almost ludicrous challenge. 48 is little enough time to write a short script, let alone produce it. However, since its inception, the project has been met with great enthusiasm and produced a number of very special works. The fact is that 48 hours pushes filmmakers to work. If someone sets themselves a vague deadline they can put off the actual work indefinitely, but with this boxy challenge the competitors have to be ready to go go go.

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One of the most interesting challenges of the competition is that the filmmakers are not allowed to make any sort of film they want; they are given a category and have to run with it. Many competitors choose to have a list of possibilities before the competition starts. The stage of development of these varies a lot. Some are basically good to go, some are nascent and others are just a few fuzzy themes and images getting kicked around the back of someone’s  head. There is no one way to win or to make a great film, even if a degree of preparation is always advisable (you’ll probably have an easier time if you don’t have to find, rent and charge your equipment during competition times for example). Ross says that he has seen winners come from pre-written materials and quick-spliced ideas alike. There are many different types of filmmakers, some feel it in the moment and some are more rigid. Whatever your style, you have only 48 hours from the time your genre is revealed to the moment you submit your work.

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Ross interviewing Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of Kong: Skull Island

In 2017, 160 teams registered for the competition, 120 started the project and 105 films were finally submitted. The  challenge is immense, especially for those undertaking the task for the first time. Not every team can finish their project on time and, of those, not all feel their film is in good enough shape to stand a chance. There is no denying 48 hours is a tight deadline, even for films ranging from 4-7 minutes. You can’t get everything right. There are always lighting issues, some fuzzy sound, a bit of bad color grading, perhaps even a cameraman in the mirror, but then that’s the nature of the beast and the judges know it. The purpose of the challenge is not, however, to present a completely pristine short film without blemishes, the true purpose is that of all films: to tell a story.

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Ross has got high hopes for the future of the 48 Hour Film Project and, in particular, the growing film scene in Saigon. His hope is that, as attention grows for the project, more people will flock to it and the number of Vietnamese filmmakers will grow.

The 48 Hour Film Project is a tremendous challenge but the leaning curb is biggest at the beginning. Once you’ve competed once, the next time is already much easier. For anyone out there with a story to tell, a passion for film, or someone who just wants to learn the ropes and meet other like-minded people, the 48 Hour Film Project has a lot to offer. All you need to do is register on their website (www.48hourfilm.com/vietnam) and Ross can show you the way.

Images Provided by Ross Stewart