18 February 2011

The Russians in Town & Boat Ferries

Coming upon a road block on one of the main lanes in the central district, I thought, Oh no; had there been an accident? A crime? I looked at the yellow crime-scene-type tape stretched across the road and the official guys in green government uniforms stopping anyone from entering. In all cases of injured bodies lying in a street, I quickly find an alternate route. But I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any misshapen bicycles or motorbikes. I didn’t see anyone being hauled off in handcuffs. In fact I couldn’t see anything out of place.
Finally we were let through and that’s when I started noticing western men and women with walkie-talkies and several guys in US military fatigues, a jeep and a truck or two dressed up to look like US military vehicles of the Vietnam War era.
One man obviously involved with whatever was going on sat on a shop stoop. I went over to get details. He was Russian, spoke about five words of English, but I did ascertain that they were making a movie. Damn; once again I hadn’t brought my camera. I really do need to buy a cheap one so that I will be prepared at all times for that prize winning photo.

A large green truck with a canvas canopy over the back was parked at the end of the block. They were just getting ready to film the peasants being shuffled in. The Vietnamese extras were rather well attired for a war-era film, but had been grimed up a bit. As they filmed, I watched the reaction of the onlookers, most of them born years after the conflict had ended. I did notice one gentleman in his 60’s and wondered what he was thinking.
The shot finished, I walked closer to the truck and saw who I assumed was the leading lady. Anorexic enough to look like a starving young woman from the countryside, she nevertheless had enough make-up on to look like a Vogue model. Three people simultaneously worked on her hair and maquillage before the next shot.

I debated running back to my hotel to grab that camera, but decided not to. However, I was definitely going to pack it along the next day and come back with the hopes that they would still be there. They weren’t.

Several days later, I ran into the crew in a different part of town and, of course, was without camera. But at least this time I approached the Vietnamese crew members and asked if they would be filming the following day. Yes, they would, but it would be down by the river. The following day, after almost giving up on ever finding them again, I finally was at a film location with a camera.

This time they were shooting a scene that involved a boat laden with chickens and bananas. It was a very artistically arranged vessel that looked in much better repair than the real, working boats alongside it. I went directly over to a man who appeared to be in charge and started asking about the film.
It is going to be a TV movie about love during the war. I asked why a Russian production company was making a film about the Vietnam/American conflict. He pointed out that the Soviet Union had consultants working in Vietnam to help with the communist agenda. That made sense until I later thought about it and only remember seeing portrayals of US soldiers and Vietnamese, and not one Russian. Then again, I only saw a few takes being filmed. I would love to see the final cut, but I’ll either have to go to Russia, or possibly be in Vietnam when it is shown.

I was glad I happened to be down by the docks at that particular time, late afternoon, because the transport boats were coming in and going out. It is an amazing feat to watch. Boats filled with motorbikes and bicycles pull up to the quay bringing folks home from somewhere down the river. In a well-choreographed procedure, people and their modes of transport are off-loaded at a quick pace. A few minutes later, the reverse occurs, motorbikes being pushed up a ramp then aligned in precision and with a speed that is truly impressive. While that is going on, another guy is lifting bikes onto a platform above the boat. People pile on and off they go, just as another boat is coming in.

Maybe I should take a ride on a boat.