Owl and the Sparrow

Owl and the Sparrow is a story about a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl named Thuy, whose parents are both dead. She’s being raised by her uncle, who runs a bamboo shade “factory.” As the film opens, Thuy makes a mistake and is thoroughly chewed out by her uncle, who tells her that she’s useless. Thuy packs a backpack, empties her piggybank, and leaves for the big city (Saigon).

In the city, the story expands to include Hai, a zookeeper who especially likes elephants, and Lan, a flight attendant, both of whom Thuy meets, becomes friends with, and is helped by.

The film is a little too sentimental, but manages to keep from going excessively in that direction, and it looks far better than it has any right to given its budget and shooting schedule (more on this below). I left the film only mildly positive about it, but it has grown a bit on me overnight.

Director Stephane Gauger, a producer, and the actress who played Lan (Cat Ly) were at the screening to answer questions. Here are a few points I wrote down:

  • The director apologized for the film being shot almost entirely handheld, wondering how many people in the front rows had motion sickness (it wasn’t that bad, but a few hands did go up)
  • He wanted to make a film in Saigon, which is where he was born (his mother is Vietnamese)
  • Some atmospheric shots were from Hanoi, and the montage of kids looking directly at the camera was from all over Vietnam
  • Everyone who worked on the film spoke Vietnamese
  • This was the Cat’s second film, and she hadn’t been back to Saigon in quite some time (she spoke English like a native)
  • The script was written in a month
  • The film was financed on credit cards
  • The filming was done using two Panasonic MiniDV 24p camcorders
  • The little girl who played Thuy was cast just two days before shooting began, and it was her first film
  • The shooting schedule was only 15 days (there was a significant sound of surprise from the audience when he said this, because the film didn’t look rushed)
  • The fast shooting schedule was made possible by keeping all of the shooting locations close together, using two handheld cameras, and by not setting marks for the actors to hit
  • The score was written by a Vietnamese American, and it is his first score
  • The director does want to show the film in Vietnam, although it does have to be approved by the censors (the script was pre-approved so it has a reasonable chance)
  • Cat is slightly older than the actor who played Hai, and while a relationship of an older woman with a younger man would have been taboo until recently, that is softening today

I’ll give it 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 3/11/2007 at Cinequest, where it was the closing night film.

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