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Filmmaker Hà Lệ Diễm Wins Best Directing Award at Documentary Film Fest

Children of the Mist (Những Đứa Trẻ Trong Sương) is the debut long feature of Vietnamese documentarian Hà Lệ Diễm.

At the ongoing International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), widely considered the world’s foremost event for documentary features, Hà Lệ Diễm’s 92-minute documentary Children of the Mist was given the IDFA Award for Best Directing.

The film offers deep insights into the childhood and societal dynamics of young H’Mông living in Sapa. Through the story and life events of its main subject, 12-year-old Di, the documentary ruminates on the challenges facing young girls from ethnic minorities and the shifting paradigms of a community straddling the line between settling into a new decade and hanging onto old customs.

The shortlist of 14 nominees competing in the international section was announced on November 1. Besides the awards, the film festival also holds screenings, both in-person and virtually, of nominated films.

The winning entries were selected by a panel of five jurors, and each award comes with a cash prize — EUR15,000 (Best Film), EUR5,000 (Best Directing), and EUR2,500 (Best Cinematography). The award for Best Film went to Mr. Landsbergis by Sergei Loznitsa (Lithuania, Netherlands), and Where Are We Headed by Ruslan Fedotow (Belarus, Russia) won Best Cinematography.

In the IDFA jury report, the jurors call Children of the Mist “an endlessly empathetic film that tackles subjects as fraught as gender, ethnicity, and modernity with an unflinching but non-judgmental eye.” On Diễm’s work on the documentary: “This filmmaker, who is also the film’s incredibly capable cinematographer, has created both an ethnographic portrait and a study of societal and familial relationships that broaches universal questions about freedom and responsibility.”

The film trailer.

According to Phu Nu, Hà Lệ Diễm is of the Tày ethnic group. She was born in Bac Kan Province but is currently based in Hanoi. She studied journalism in university, but a passion for documentaries led her to sign up for a doc directing course.

Diễm told the news source in an interview that the idea for Children of the Mist materialized when she participated in a residency in Sapa for a forum on creative collaboration among ethnic minorities. “During that time, I stayed with Di and noticed that Di and her friends had a beautiful childhood, so I want to make a film to document those precious moments,” she said in Vietnamese.

“The filmmaking process took place from 2017 until now,” Diễm shared. “Every year I visit Sapa 5–6 times to film, each time always very worried if I would see them again because kidnapping is prevalent in the mountainous region.”

Children of the Mist is Hà Lệ Diễm’s first long documentary, though her short film Con Đi Trường Học (Going to School) won the Silver Kite Award for Best Short in 2013 when she was just 23 years old.

[Top image via IDFA]