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Dec-27-2011 18:09printcomments

Special interview with KLEFF 2010 Winner for Best International Film ('Agent Orange' 30 Years Later'), John Trinh

From our friends with the Agent Orange Action Council.

Rotting agent orange barrels

(DA NANG, Vietnam) - EcoKnights recently caught up with the 2010 KLEFF winner for the Best International Film, Vietnamese-born American John Trinh; he shares his first experience at the festival, his winning film “Agent Orange: 30 Years Later” and his future plans in the world of film making. Trinh made a visit to Malaysia for the first time in 2010 when he was invited by the Eco Film Festival Secretariat.

He met and made many friends and walked home with the trophy for the Best International Film. “Agent Orange: 30 Years Later” touched the lives and hearts of many Malaysian audience as they watched the impacts of a toxic chemical on the health of nature and human.

EK: Was it your first time to Malaysia in 2010? How was your experience in Malaysia and in the country’s first green film festival?
JT: Yes, that was the first time I visited Malaysia. I fell in love at first sight with the nice mixture between the traditional and contemporary landscape of the country, and the diversity of the population.  The people are nice and friendly. Kuala Lumpur is modern and clean and it has a unique ambiance of the Malaysian culture. I also loved the Malaysian cuisine – the curry dishes, especially. The Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival is one of the most welcoming festivals I have ever been to. It was a professionally well-organized yet fun eco-film festival. All the volunteers and members of the festival are also enthusiastically eco-friendly people. I totally enjoyed my stay at Kuala Lumpur as well as the film festival.

EK:What inspired you to do a film on the impacts of Agent Orange on Vietnam and its people?Can you provide a brief background on what prompted you to focus on this story?

JT: I had grown up in Viet Nam during the war before I moved to the US in 1987. I had never heard of Agent Orange until 2005. That was 30 years later since the war ended in 1975. I accidentally found an article about the lawsuit of the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the US government in New York on the internet. Looking at the pictures of the victims of Agent Orange on the internet, I got goose bumps all over my body. I thought I could be a victim as well without knowing it, and so could be millions of other Vietnamese people. I began to study Agent Orange and as I realized how evil and poisonous dioxin was, I decided to make a documentary film to show the atrocity and the long-term effects of war –chemical warfare especially, on the environment as well as the people. I wanted to dedicate the film to all the victims of Agent Orange whether they are Americans, Vietnamese or Koreans… so that they don’t die ignored.

EK: Any of your family members were victims of this monstrosity?

JT: I don’t believe so. I am an artist and my work is always about what I feel strongly about, such as anti-violence, anti-war, justice and love.

EK: Any particular moments during the filming of Agent Orange, that was memorable?
JT: There were many memorable moments. One of the moments that struck me profoundly was when I interviewed a young girl with a deformed face. One half of her face portrayed a normal pretty young girl. The other half appeared to belong to someone else’s face. It was swollen and alive yet emotionless, and it clung awkwardly onto the other half of the girl’s face. I zoomed in to see what gender that face belonged to, but I couldn’t tell. Holding my camera, I was shaking. I felt bad as I thought I was insensitive for doing so, but at the same time I said to myself that was a typical image of evilness of chemical warfare and that’s reality. I needed ingenuous materials and strong stories to make the film.  Later I decided to put the girl’s face on the cover of the film DVD as a symbol of chemical warfare atrocity.

EK: What is your take on the perception of what the Americans did to the nation of Vietnam?
JT: I agree with a lot of people around the world that Agent Orange is a chemical weapon and by using it the US government has committed genocide against the people of Viet Nam. The atrocity caused by Agent Orange and the sufferings the US government inflicted upon the people and the land of Viet Nam are unprecedented and immeasurable.  Three generations after since the war ended in 1975, Agent Orange still contaminates the land and kills millions of people in Viet Nam. These people are innocent babies, men and women in Viet Nam, the US, Korea, Canada … who have nothing to do with the war. They are waiting to die with deformities, deadly cancers and uncountable alien diseases. My philosophy is: when we kill the environment , we kill everything in it. It’s a basic thing to realise, and Agent Orange story is a living proof.

The US government needs to recognize the mistake and do the right thing. That is to compensate all the victims of Agent Orange.

EK: How did you feel when you found out you won the Best International Film at the 2010 Eco Film Festival?
JT: When I submitted my film to film festivals, my main goal was to expose the truth on Agent Orange and to find some help for the victims of AO, in VN especially. I also knew my film would be competing with hundreds or even thousands of films of much more experienced and professional filmmakers around the world. So I was surprised and of course, ecstatically honored to hear that I won an award. The Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Fest award is the one of most special and good-looking trophy I have received.

EK: Are you planning on working on more films soon?
JT: Yes, I am. I have worked on some ideas, but they have stalled due to my personal financial situation and other material issues. I want to do a film on sexual abuse against women, but women don’t want to talk. A few did, but not enough. And also their stories involve many other people and can endanger their lives or their personal relationships…. So I have to research for other ideas in the meantime. I do hope I will find a good story about the environment in a near future.

To watch a trailer of “Agent Orange: 30 Years Later”, see below.

Agent Orange: 30 Years Later Trailer

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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