Water Puppetry in Vietnam: An Ancient Tradition in a Modern World

Produced by: Sam Pack

31 min. Color. 2012.

Captioned: No

Catalog #: 0182

Price: $195.00

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Product Description

The ancient tradition of water puppetry has gained worldwide attention in recent years for its lively and unique reflection of agrarian life in the wet-rice villages of northern Vietnam. As water puppetry has grown in popularity among tourists, modern practitioners have altered key components of their performances in terms of both content and format in order to appeal to Western tourists.

This insightful and original ethnographic documentary explores the complex interplay between the rise and development of the international tourism industry and the production of culture in the performance of Vietnamese water puppetry. The film, in the words of Prof. Lauren Meeker, of SUNY New Paltz, “addresses important issues in cultural heritage, tourism, reflexivity, and collaborative filmmaking. It sets up a contrast between the extractive process of ’collecting’ heritage on film in which the finished product is not shared with the film subjects, and a collaborative filmmaking process in which the subjects are given the chance to comment upon academic films that have been made about them and then to represent their own culture by making their own short films.”

The objective of the Water Puppetry filmmaking team was to return a series of government-made films about the ancient tradition of water puppetry to the village of Bao Ha in the Red River Delta in order to make this invaluable cultural heritage available to the very community recorded in the films. A community screening of these original films was organized and villagers were encouraged to express their opinions about them. Five villagers were subsequently selected and trained to make films of their own about water puppetry.

The filmmaking team then organized a second community screening, but this time, the featured films were made by community members themselves. In a powerfully symbolic way, this second set of films represents the process of digital repatriation traveling full circle. The hope was that this collaboration would serve as a model for ethnographic filmmaking, as more and more historically marginalized peoples gain the skills, technology, and need for a fuller understanding of their own past as well as a means to articulate their present and future.

Water Puppetry in Vietnam is a rich, complex, and thought-provoking work that will captivate students and generate discussion in a wide variety of courses in cultural anthropology and ethnography, Asian studies, and development and tourism studies. It was produced and directed by Sam Pack, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kenyon College.