During my last days of doing research at the Film Institute (Viện Phim) in Hà Nội, I watched Battle at Moc Hoa (1945) on a small editing bay. Made by one of Việt Nam’s most esteemed directors, Mai Lọc, the film constitutes one of the few surviving films from the colonial time period. Many film reels in Việt Nam were, in fact, destroyed or damaged during the country’s long history of war with the French, Japanese and Americans in the second half of the 20th century. Situated against the commercial streets that were just outside the archive’s doors, the film’s imagery of revolution seemed archaic and “out of joint,” to use Jacques Derrida’s term. I take this moment as symbolic of how the Vietnamese film archive is a jarring experience of both absence and presence.
Foregrounding the shifting postwar relations of power between Việt Nam and the diaspora, I investigate how a minor transnationalism inflects the ways that two films — Land of Sorrows (1971) and Journey from the Fall (2007) — are received in the Vietnamese American community. While made in different time periods, the films exemplify state practices of regulating and censuring films in the past and present moment. Tracking the films’ reception and their circulations, I gesture towards an archive formulated by new media technologies and shaped by local practices of commemoration, an archive that stands outside of the state’s domain of control. This essay also highlights issues of memory, power and capital underpinning the making and study of Vietnamese films.