A feel-good sports movie about a ragtag rugby team in Australia, complete with heart-swelling music and montages of cheering crowds, opens the Vietnamese International Film Festival today in Irvine. But underlying the story of the team's triumphs in "Footy Legends" -- as in many of the festival's films -- is the main character's deep ties to his past in Vietnam and the war that tore his family apart.
In the story about an unemployed Vietnamese Australian who enlists his old rugby teammates in a tournament that could change his fortunes, co-writer and director Khoa Do weaves in the narrative of a refugee family whose wrenching experiences fleeing Vietnam still define their lives in a Sydney suburb decades later. Do uses melancholic Vietnamese flute melodies to score the happy-go-lucky rugby scenes and the main character retells his grandfather's war stories to pump up his underdog team.
The fourth biannual Vietnamese film festival (www.vietfilmfest.com) continues through Sunday and then again April 9-12, with screenings in Irvine and Los Angeles. Like "Footy Legends," many of the festival's 60 films and shorts are made by young filmmakers who grew up outside Vietnam after the war but whose work acknowledges its presence in their lives.
"With myself, growing up in Australia but being born in Vietnam, the film gives you a chance to explore how I work out these issues in the world," said Do, 30. "One of the major themes for a lot of Vietnamese people is a sense of . . . trying to find stability in all of this history, war and displacement."
The desire to fit in is a part of many of the festival's films, said Huy Tran, co-chair of the screening committee.
"Because of their age, I think the filmmakers tend to deal with issues of identity, of growing up being looked at as somebody not American or French, or wherever they grew up," Tran said. "Many of us grow up in one culture at home where our parents want to retain the Vietnamese in us but, outside, we have friends who aren't Vietnamese and there is a pressure to blend and fit in."
Rifts between the older and younger generations are another theme that runs throughout the festival, as in previous years, but Tran believes this year's offerings are more optimistic about the divide.
"We are now coming of age and are understanding where our parents are coming from," Tran said. "At the same time, the older generation knows where we are coming."
The closing-night film, "All About Dad," written and directed by Mark Tran, tells of four grown children who rebel against their father's strict ways of thinking.
The festival, which has evolved in the last few years in terms of its cinematic storytelling and technical sophistication, also features a number of documentaries, including "A Village Called Versailles," by S. Leo Chiang, which follows Vietnamese Americans who rebuilt their New Orleans town after Hurricane Katrina.