Vietnam’s new film classification system offers new horizon of opportunities for local filmmakers

Vietnam’s new regulation on film classification will take effect on January 1st 2017. The long expected regulation is seen as a relaxation of the government’s discretion in film censorship. It is hoped that it will encourage a greater expression of creativity and allow more diverse film entertainment in an increasingly affluent Vietnam marketplace.

The new guidelines incorporate an aged-based film rating system by introducing four categories: P (accessible to all ages); C 13 (restricted to above 13-year-old viewers); C16 (restricted to above 16-year-old viewers); and C18 (restricted to above 18-year-old viewers). The new guidelines also introduce criteria for each category. While the previous film censorship system included only two categories – P and C16, the revisions could be regarded as a move towards international film rating standards. The move sees Vietnam make significant progress in film ratings.

The development of the new guidelines involved the active participation of the creative industry. The drafting authority, for example, held workshops to solicit filmmakers’ comments on the draft, and some of those recommendations were included in the final ratings system. For example, the drafting authority took into consideration the filmmakers’ criticism of the proposal to limit the duration of sex scenes and subsequently removed such limits from the draft. It was encouraging to see that the drafting authority publicly acknowledged that they learned from the film ratings experiences of other countries such as the United States, Australia and Singapore in drafting the guidelines. The exchange of information with foreign film regulators and industry associations contributed to the development of the guidelines. These were all positive signs of the authority’s willingness to structure the regulatory framework to respond to the influence of the marketplace. The filmmaking community mostly welcomes the new classification system given that it is expected to help expand the range of genres to meet audiences’ entertainment preferences, and that will likely prevent biased censorship.

Despite the improvements, much work remains to be done to implement the new guidelines. First and foremost, filmmakers urge authorities to provide detailed descriptions of the various criteria that apply to different rating’s categories. Such clarification would ensure that the new regulation achieves its objective. Currently, the language of the regulation is vague and thus is subject to interpretation by the Film Appraisal Council. For example, the meaning of ‘violence’ in the C18 category reads as follows: ‘Images, sounds, words that project violence and create strong impact on viewers are prohibited unless such images, sounds, words fit in the context of the film, and are not used in great details.’ Without further clarification of the language, the authority’s interpretation may default to the old and highly inhibiting practice of censorship.. It is important that the implementation of the new guidelines provide the necessary clarification for filmmakers submitting new film projects for classification.

In addition to seeking clarity on the criteria for each rating’s category, filmmakers hope to receive clear instructions on how to submit for a rating certificate for their film. The current regulation makes no mention of these procedures. For example, it would be helpful if filmmakers are informed of the submission process, the time expected to receive a rating decision, and procedures for appealing a decision, if needed. We believe that the participation of parents, teachers, and the film community on the Film Appraisal Council would help reflect a more balanced view, as well as a fair and transparent process. Clear procedures will also prevent unnecessary disputes.

Overall, the Vietnamese film industry is growing and looks forward to continue working with the film regulator in order to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of the new film classification system. This is an important step in supporting the ability for Vietnamese filmmakers to develop a film industry that will entertain, educate and inform audiences both at home and more widely afield.

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Phan Dang Di is an independent filmmaker who graduated from Hanoi of Theatre and Cinema. Director Di made two short features Lotus (2005) and When I am 20 (2006). When I am 20 was the first Vietnamese film selected for competition at the Venice International Film Festival in 2008. His screenplay Adrift (directed by Bui Thac Chuyen) won the FIPRESCI Prize at Venice in 2009. Bi, Don’t Be Afraid won the Busan Film Commission Award at the Busan International Film Festival in 2007. His feature Big father, small father and other stories… had its World Premiere at Berlin in 2015.

Di produced Flapping in the middle of nowhere which won the Critics Award at Critic’s Week, Venice 2014.

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