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Making movies

By Michael Oko, intern, UNICEF Viet Nam, June – August 2004



Paul Cantwell Film editing trainer from ABC and Michael Oko, training assistant of the basisc video production training course for Junior Reporter Club in 2004Shortly after touching down at Noi Bai, the international airport in northern Vietnam, on a steamy hot Sunday evening, I located the UNICEF car, and we quickly made our way onto the highway toward Ha Noi. The rush of traffic, honking horns, and crush of motorbikes all declared my arrival in this highly energized city.  The decibel level alone made it clear that I was not in America, my home country, anymore.

A little more than twelve hours later, I found myself at the khach san La Thanh—a large, dusty yellow, slightly dilapidated, former hotel that now serves as a conference center—for the opening ceremony of UNICEF’s first ever Junior Reporters’ Club course in Basic Video Production.  There were three groups of teenagers selected for this two-week introductory program on making videos.  They would be taught everything from how to create a story, to shooting with digital video cameras, to editing the footage into a final product.  At the end, the students would have three completed films, each approximately five minutes in length.  Through the latest video technology, the young people would have an outlet to share their stories.  The project would also provide the kids with video skills that they could pass along to their peers.

Micheal Oko (left) Paul Cantwell (second left) and Sue Spencer (second right) Trung, traing interpreter (right) discussing a plan to adapt the training manualI was on hand to assist Paul Cantwell, a television editor from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) who was heading up the training program.  At home, I am a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington DC.  With a background in documentary and commercial film production, I would do my best to overcome the language barriers to offer my professional experience to the training.

“It is difficult to express.  It is beyond words.  But the loud applause made me feel very happy.” 

For this pilot project, three groups were selected: one from Ha Noi, and the other two from rural provinces of Binh Dinh and Quang Binh, respectively.  The ten students gathered for the opening ceremony.  They sat quietly in their pressed white shirts with matching blue name tags around their necks, as they listened to Paul’s introduction.  They were all nervous about what lay ahead.  The truth was none of us was sure how successful the training would be.


May be it would just be a waste of timeThe Junior Reporters’ Clubs in Vietnam is a program that began in 1998 by UNICEF in conjunction with the Vietnamese Youth Union.  The clubs enable high school kids to gain hands-on experience in the basics of journalism through a weekly radio program and newsletter.  The underlying objective is to encourage them to express themselves directly to other children.  For the first time in Vietnam, the training was being expanded to video format.

“it would just be a waste of time.”

Despite this special nature of the project, the kids were initially quite skeptical about the opportunity.  To them, the challenge of making a film in just two weeks seemed unrealistic and they wondered if perhaps it would be boring.  One student even revealed they thought “it would just be a waste of time.”

Happily, this perspective would quickly change.


Sue Spencer, former Chief of Communication Programme, UNICEF Viet NamPaul and Susan Spencer, the head of UNICEF’s communication office in Ha Noi, had developed a precise plan of how to distill filmmaking into digestible bits for the students, many of whom had never even held a camera before.  They spent the first two days learning the basic steps of filmmaking - loading a tape, how to shoot an interview, and the importance of getting a variety
of shots for editing. 

At the end of second day, it was time to determine what stories they would cover.  The students from Ha Noi chose to make a story about “The Green Bee Club”, which is a group of disadvantaged children who also are members of a Junior Reporters’ Club.  The Binh Dinh group decided to compare the good and bad activities that kids do during their summer holidays.  And the group from Quang Binh would focus on the issue of street children in Ha Noi. 

After sketching out their ideas on paper and drawing storyboards, they set off to begin filming.  They were equipped with Sony digital video handy-cams, mini-shotgun microphones, a tripod, and two tapes each.  The groups had to navigate the bustling streets of Ha Noi, fight off near 38˚ C temperatures, and trouble-shoot the unexpected problems that are inherent to film production.  After two days they reassembled at the conference center to review their footage and for an in-depth lesson in editing for which each group was provided a newly configured computer loaded with Avid DV Express software.


Memeber of Junior Report Club - HanoiEditing turned out to be the kids’ favorite part of the process.  They were very adept at using the computers, as well as excited to begin putting their scenes together.  As one girl, named Mai Trinh, told me, “This is the most interesting part of making the film.  You can see and review what you have shot.”

As each group sifted through their footage, they would at times engage in heated debates over a particular shot or where to put an edit.  But these differences were quickly resolved as they had to keep moving to meet the tight deadline.  They were all surprised by how much they learned in such a short time. 

They also discovered that sometimes the results of their filming were different than they had expected, though a couple of students confided they were happily surprised by what they had captured on tape.

“This is the most interesting part of making the film.  You can see and review what you have shot.”


The two weeks passed quickly.  Unlike so many film projects, Paul kept the groups on schedule.  In the final two days, everyone dug in to fine tune the edits, add narration, and lay in the music. 

Now, it was time to show their products to an audience.  We gathered again for the closing ceremony and screening— joined by government representatives, the staff from UNICEF’s communication department, and a few other kids from Ha Noi’s Junior Reporters’ Club. 

The lights dimmed.  All eyes turned to the TV monitor in the front of the room.  The kids were eager and nervous for their debut.

“It is difficult to express.  It is beyond words.  But the loud applause made me feel very happy.”

Each film was followed by a hearty applause and when the credits came up after the final film, the cheers grew even louder. Mai Trinh described how exciting it was for people to see her film: “It is difficult to express.  It is beyond words.  But the loud applause made me feel very happy.”

Likewise, a 15-year-old boy, named Duy Anh, revealed that after hearing the response, he felt happy and proud.  “Not many people are given the opportunity to do that,” he said. 

Clearly, the opening day jitters had given way to a sense of enthusiasm and accomplishment. 

And, the opportunity was not lost on them. Thuy Duong, another girl from the Ha Noi group, told me that she thinks the course is very important.  For the Junior Reporters it offers a new way for them “to speak out for children and children’s rights.”  She continued, “Through their films they were able to express their views as children.”


Closing ceremony of the basic video production training course for Junior Reporter Club 2004The closing ceremony had arrived.  The kids sat close, many holding hands, smiling, and whispering giddily to each other.  Gifts were exchanged and they received certificates indicating their successful completion of the course.  Then, the young people were invited to speak about the two weeks they spent together.  They described how much they had learned and how emotional they felt.  One boy declared that he would always remember the other students in his heart.

It was clear that the course was a success.  The training provided an opportunity for the children to tell their stories, along with a valuable experience in working together and overcoming obstacles.

UNICEF is currently working with the Vietnam Television to try to air the films on national television.  Hopefully, the kids will go on to work on more video projects.  As another student, Thuy Giang said, she is “looking forward to making more films” and she wants more people to see her films “not just in Viet Nam, but in other places as well.”





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