A joy of online distribution is that it sometimes delivers us striking independent films from regions that aren’t well represented on the festival circuit. Such is the case with Broken Being: Prequel, an animated short from Vietnam.

The film, by the Hanoi-based Deedee Animation Studio, is a sci-fi romance with mystical leanings and rich references to its country’s traditional culture. It is 2d, and aimed at adults — two factors that set it apart in Vietnam’s nascent animation industry. Watch it below:

Producing a film like this in Vietnam is no mean feat. Deedee was set up in 2016 by Quang Dang, with the aim of creating high-quality “made-in-Vietnam” works of 2d animation, and bringing them to the world’s attention. But that’s easier said than done, as the studio’s communications manager Minh Ha tells Cartoon Brew.

The talent pool poses an immediate problem — particularly outside the cg sector. Although Deedee recruited a few French people in the past, its current workforce is entirely Vietnamese. Yet a paucity of schools and institutions make well-trained artists a rare breed.

“In recruiting talents, we rarely come across any experienced individuals that can contribute something meaningful immediately,” says Ha. “We usually just recruit raw talents who are interested in the art of animation, and we train them from there. Most new recruits don’t know how to use the software (we use Toon Boom Harmony), thus we usually maintain a production/training process almost simultaneously — which is definitely a challenge.”

Ha adds that many Vietnamese can’t afford animation software; some resort to using cracked programs. But while these infrastructural problems present the first hurdle to animation production, they are themselves rooted in a general apathy toward the industry, as Ha explains:

From the 1960s until 2000, the animation industry in Vietnam did not have much diversity. Most production during that period was from the state-owned animation studio … As I was growing up, Vietnamese animation wasn’t something to be proud of … And that’s why most people in Vietnam don’t have much faith in [their] own country’s animation productions, making it more challenging to get awareness and funding for nowadays’ projects.

Then there is official censorship. The subject recently came to Cartoon Brew’s attention, when it was revealed that the U.S./China co-production Abominable had been pulled from Vietnamese cinemas due to political sensitivities.

“All arts and entertainment products in Vietnam must go through the approval of the Vietnam Cinema Department, which judges films and movies based on vague, biased and subjective measures,” says Ha. Broken Being wasn’t spared: the censors demanded changes, such as the removal of blood and references to the apocalypse, resulting in an alternative local version.

Broken Being is groundbreaking in several respects, and when it came to distributing the film, Deedee had little precedent to draw on. The studio released it for free on Youtube, Vimeo, and Facebook, and it will also come out on Iflix, a streaming service that’s popular in Southeast Asia.

The film has played at a number of festivals abroad, but not in its home country. “We haven’t got any infrastructure nor a community big enough for festivals or screenings yet,” says Ha. “But it’s definitely something in the future as the industry evolves.”

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