Journey from the Fall (Vietnamese: Vượt Sóng) is a 2006 independent film by writer/director/editor Ham Tran, about the Vietnamese re-education camp and boat people experience following the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
The film traces the story of a family’s struggle for survival in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, to North Vietnam’s communist regime. After her South Vietnamese Army husband Long, is imprisoned in a North Vietnamese re-education camp, Mai, her son Lai, and her mother-in-law escape Vietnam by boat in the hopes of starting a new life in Southern California. Believing his family is dead, Long gives up in the face of brutal conditions, while Mai struggles to keep her family from crumbling under the pressures of life in a new country. When Long learns his family is alive in America, he is reinvigorated and decides he must join them at any cost.
- Diem Lien as Mai Nguyen.
- Kieu Chinh as Ba Noi (Grandmother).
- Long Nguyen as Long Nguyen.
- Nguyen Thai Nguyen as Lai Nguyen.
- Cat Ly as Phuong.
- Xavier Ortiz as Bully.
The film was received with critical acclaim.
The film is distributed by ImaginAsian Pictures, and released in Orange County, New York City, and San Jose on 23 March 2007, to sold-out screenings.
Since its opening weekend on 23 March 2007, it has expanded to Dallas, Houston, Washington, DC, San Diego, Chicago, San Francisco, Mountain View, Daly City, Seattle, Berkeley, Honolulu, Atlanta, Portland, Sacramento, Vancouver, and is expanding to other cities throughout the summer in what is called a “rolling release”.
In the opening weekend, it played in packed theatres, generating $87,442 on just four screens, giving the film the largest per theatre average for that weekend ($21,861).
As of 16 July, the film has grossed over $630,000, despite a limited release that never exceeded fourteen theatres at a time.
Response from Vietnamese Diaspora
An early cut of the film was screened in April 2005 in sold-out one-day-only showings in Little Saigon, Washington, D.C., and San Jose to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. The film was highly praised by the Vietnamese diaspora as an accurate presentation of the experiences that many Vietnamese people had to go through. In the process of making the film, the director interviewed more than 400 former boat people, some of whom are cast in the film even though they are not professional actors.
- Grand Jury Prize – Amazonas International Film Festival, Brazil.
- Winner, Best Feature Film – Anchorage International Film Festival.
- Winner, Best Cinematography – Milano International Film Festival.
- Winner, Long Nguyen, Best Actor – Newport Beach Film Festival.
- Special Jury Prize – Newport Beach Film Festival.
- Audience Award – San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
- Grand Jury Award – San Diego Asian Film Festival.
- Jury Award – Dallas Asian Film Festival.
- Winner, Ham Tran, Best Director – Asian Festival of First Film.
- Winner, Lam Nguyen, Best Producer – Asian Festival of First Film.
- Audience Award – Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
- Special Project Award – The Princess Grace Foundation, US.
- Best Feature Film – Boulder International Film Festival.
- Winner, Best Feature Film – Vietnamese International Film Festival.
- Best Independent Film – Asian Excellence Award.
The film was not eligible for competition in the Sundance Film Festival even though it was an official selection because it was screened prior at a Korean film festival (only world premieres of films at Sundance are eligible for competition).
Home Media Release
The 2-disc DVD was released on 31 October 2007, which includes a 38-minute The Making of Journey from the Fall, a 135-minute roundtable discussion/commentary with cast and crew, a deleted scene and alternate ending, as well as original theatrical trailer and TV spots.
The OC Weekly, an alternative weekly in Orange County, California, published two reviews of the film. The first and longer review was written by R. Scott Moxley, praised the director for “bring[ing] to life the true South Vietnamese experience”. The second and much shorter review was published almost a year later, written by Scott Foundas. In his review, Foundas praised the film for being “one of the few movies to depict Vietnam and its aftermath through the eyes of the Vietnamese” but ultimately characterized it as “old-fashioned and even phony”. This conclusion brought a flurry of letters to the paper, most disagreeing with Foundas and taking offense at his “phony” characterization, prompting Foundas to clarify his review, claiming that he was “by no means suggesting that the history depicted by the movie didn’t happen, but rather that matters were not nearly as black-and-white as Mr. Tran makes them seem”.
Following the negative ratings above, in Vietnam, where the film was neither filmed nor shown officially, unlicensed copies were so prevalent that the government issued orders to confiscate all DVD copies. The film was banned for its “reactionary” content. The government consider the film “defamation” and a “distortion” of its policy of sending people to re-education camps after 1975. The film was considered such a threat that the Ministry of Public Security’s newspaper Công an Nhân dân featured an article (now through vietbao.vn) warning about the “poisonous film” and claiming that “most overseas Vietnamese are indifferent or critical of this movie”. The article also quoted Foundas and several random people in online message boards to bolster its claim.
- This drama was released on 23 March 2007, by ImaginAsian to sold-out screenings.
- The film is notable for having been financed entirely by the Vietnamese American community.
- While the Vietnamese who had relocated to Southern California were in an English class, the blackboard read, “Wednesday June 21 1981.”
- 21 June 1981 was a Sunday.
- An officer gives a quote from Emil Cioran to a prisoner while apparently justifying his own actions.
- It introduces Cioran as a French philosopher when in fact he was a Romanian, though he lived in France and published part of his work in French.
Production & Filming Details
- Ham Tran.
- Jason Black … associate producer.
- Alan Vo Ford … executive producer (as Alan Ford).
- Lam Nguyen … producer.
- Angela Sostre … line producer: US.
- Ham Tran … producer.
- Ham Tran … story.
- Lam Nguyen … story.
- Christopher Wong.
- Julie Kirkwood … director of photography.
- Guillermo Rosas … director of photography.
- Ham Tran.
- A Fire in the Lake.
- Old Photo Film.
- ImaginAsian Entertainment (2006) (USA) (theatrical).
- Arkles Entertainment (2008) (Australia) (all media).
- Arkles Entertainment (2008) (New Zealand) (all media).
- ImaginAsian Entertainment (2007) (World-wide) (all media).
- ImaginAsian Pictures (2007) (USA) (all media).
- Notro Films (2007) (Spain) (all media).
- Release Date: 22 February 2006 (Bangkok International Fil Festival, Thailand).
- Rating: R.
- Running Time: 135 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English and Vietnamese.