Vietnamese Czech director Diana Cam Van Nguyen talked with NextShark about the inspiration behind the short film “Love, Dad” and how it has helped her own personal journey.
Letters of Love
“Love, Dad” is a short animated film based on Nguyen’s personal relationship with her physically and emotionally distant father.
The film was inspired by old letters that Nguyen’s father had once written to her from prison when she was 11 years old. It presents Nguyen’s will to reconnect with him given their lost connection and strained relationship.
“I kept the letters from my dad from 2004 to 2005,” Nguyen told NextShark. “During these years as I got older, I just forgot that I was keeping them. I found them again recently and that is where the first idea of making this film came from.”
“When I was 11 years old, my dad wrote letters to me from prison that were full of love. I grew up, our relationship changed and such acts of love seem to disappear,” Nguyen added. She explained that “Love, Dad” was created as a graduation film for the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts she attended in Prague.
“Love, Dad” involves Nguyen’s idea of writing back to her father in the hopes of reconnecting with him. She writes what she has trouble saying out loud, brings back the past, questions his actions and blames him for their family’s breakup while also trying to understand him and free herself from her pain and negative emotions.
An Unexpected Therapy
While creating the film, Nguyen encountered different challenges, such as issues with live shooting and animation techniques. However, she shared with NextShark that her personal journey in creating the short film has given her a sense of freedom. Through the film’s production, she was also able to handle being both a director and the protagonist of her own story.
“Thanks to the film, I had to focus on my feelings about my relationship with my father,” she shared. “It was a big therapy for me, but it wasn’t my intention from the beginning. It just happened. Now when I am watching the film, I have some kind of distance from it. I watched it like it was not my own story.”
Besides directing, Nguyen also narrated, co-wrote and worked on the animations of “Love, Dad.” While she had also received suggestions that she portray her own character in the film, she did not consider this to be necessary since her film is already very personal.
“When you decide for such a personal story then you always have some apprehensions,” she said. “My biggest fear was my dad’s reaction, of course. But I knew from the beginning that my dad would be the first viewer of the film. His reaction was OK — he commented more about the film in general. He had some quite funny questions about the film — for example, how much the film cost or where I found actors. He didn’t comment on the personal topic in the film, and I felt that he didn’t want to. But in the end, it is not about his reaction. I am glad that he knows about my feelings, and that is important for me.”
Film Festivals and Awards
“Love, Dad” has been selected by several festivals such as the 74th Locarno Film Festival, the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the American Film Institute Fest. The short film has also won multiple awards including “Best Short Film” at the 2021 BFI London Film Festival, “Best Animated Film in the Experimental Competition” at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma and an honorable mention at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
“When we finished the film, I wasn’t really sure at all if it was good or not. I had a big doubt about it,” Nguyen shared. “So selections at prestigious festivals was confirmation to me that the film is good. That is a really good feeling. I saw so many great shorts in the festivals and being in the same selection is such an honor.”
Nguyen told NextShark that “Love, Dad” is her most personal and professional film. It was co-written by Lukáš Janičík and produced by Karolína Davidová, 13ka.
“My goal is to be honest with the emotions I put in my films,” Nguyen concluded. “I hope that my film can bring some emotion to the audience. And for the ones who have some family issues that they can find courage in themself to change something.”
All Images via Diana Cam Van Nguyen