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South East Asian Portraits - A Documentary Series

Sunday 5 p.m - I have just finished work and I look outside the window like a child on Christmas morning, hoping that the rain has stopped. No luck. I prepare myself for yet another ride under the rain to District 2 to meet with filmmaker Mudfish aka Davide Domenici for a chat/informal interview.

Twenty minutes later, I arrive at Snap Café where Davide is busy preparing for his very first screening of South East Asian Portraits (5 documentary shorts).

Davide has been living in Vietnam for almost three years, before that he lived in other four different countries in Europe and in North America in addition to traveling extensively around South East Asia. While living in Prague, he worked as an actor and directed two short films. South East Asian Portraits is his first attempt at documentary making. As the title suggests, the series is composed of five short documentaries about people, their lives, activities and traditions (4 about Vietnam and one about Cambodia):

The fisherman: Chu Ba Cut

Calligraphy artist: Van Tien

Arak Musician: Mau Yun

Cao Dai Monk: Ngo Dai Hung

Water Puppet historian: Nguyen Huy Hong

We sit down for a coffee and he begins by telling me that he started working on these films in 2011. It is a one-man project: he finds the stories, directs and edits the materials. Many friends helped him along the way, especially in getting in contact with the characters which is the most difficult and lengthy stage.

He explains that his aim is to create a varied ensemble of portraits of many different people from South East Asian countries. He began by looking for jobs and traditions that he reckons will be most likely to disappear in the near future. Through time and evolution, occupations and traditions might cease to exist or blend into something new and, although it is vital to keep records of them for future generations, it would be unnatural to forcefully try to keep them alive in our society. However, he believes that changes in our lives should occur with a bit more integrity - people should be truthful to the way they choose to lead their lives rather than conceded pressures from society and the masses. This is, in the director’s point of view, the element that all these unique stories have in common and that it is most dear to him.

Each character narrates his own life and from it, the meaning and the history of his occupation unfolds. Some will make you empathise and fill you with emotions, like the fisherman who tries to live in a country that is changing so fast that it no longer has a place for him; some other will uplift you, like the calligraphy artist who keeps doing his job because he feels that he is saving people from the abyss of their lives; finally, some will inform you and make you think, like the water puppetry historian.

Davide will screen his documentaries one more time on Wednesday, August 14th at 7:30pm at DeciBel lounge, before he leaves Vietnam to film more portraits from other countries. His plan is to make between 3 and 5 pieces for every country. He also tells me that he is currently editing two more shorts about Vietnam and soon they will be available, with the others, on his website -

Trailer: South East Asian portrait (2013): 

Decibel Lounge 79/2/5 Phan Ke Binh, Da Kao Ward, Dist 1, HCMC

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