Hanoi Love, A Lense Into Relationships in Vietnam

Vietnam is heralded as one of the most progressive countries for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) people in Southeast Asia and worldwide. The ban on same-sex marriage was abolished here before it was repealed in the United States, while last year the national assembly approved a bill legalizing gender reassignment surgery, allowing transgender people to be recognized. Despite these advances, many people point out that in more nuanced ways, Vietnam has a long way to go towards widespread acceptance.

Filmmaker and photographer Long Hoang had a simple but powerful idea to highlight the theme of “acceptance” in family relationships in Vietnam. Not just for LGBTQ people, but for everyone. Including people with disabilities, as well as people who just needed to acknowledge how grateful they are for those who love and accept them.

The result is a series of mini-docs, in collaboration with Humans of Hanoi, that capture pivotal moments in everyday-people’s intimate relationships. They’re brief, candid and incredibly powerful. Most importantly, says Hoang, they’re a form of art therapy that brings the subjects closer through communication.

We caught up with Long Hoang to talk more about his project and his vision for future work.

What was your initial goal for Hanoi Love?

“My project is about creating a platform to share stories, personal stories and stories about family. Because, in Vietnam, people don’t talk much about their feelings and their emotions. Especially in the family we rarely share with each other. It’s not like in Europe or western countries, with friends you share but not with family.”

How do you find your subjects?

“When we created the platform so many people were interested in sharing their own personal stories. Sometimes I would find people and ask them to share their story with us but with every video uploaded on Youtube, there is a link so when the audience feels connected to the stories, they contact us to share their own. We follow up, even coming to speak with them personally.”

How did you come up with this idea? Why also feature LGBTQ stories?

“So, first of all, because I am gay. But also I think it’s interesting to not just have people tell stories about themselves but share stories about their families. That’s the way we do it. Simple stories, that feature not only LGBTQ people but stories from families in general. But it became a great platform to feature the stories of people who are marginalized, too, like people with disabilities. We feature their stories alongside everyone else’s.”

Your videos are so personal and intimate, how do you get people to share those kinds of stories with you?

“When people watch the previous videos, then they have more confidence, they believe in me to share their story. We produce videos of three minutes, and in that three minutes we can only feature one story. I think the best way to feature one story is to ask people about the most memorable moment for them about their family.”

What have you learned from this project?

“Here’s an example from some of the experiences I’ve had with this series: so there was a video about a girl who transitioned to be a boy. He wanted to persuade his brother that he is a boy. He filmed a video and sent it to his brother and his brother, after watching the video and crying a lot, accepts the fact that he is a boy. It was a very happy moment to see the results. After all this, the mother also wanted to share her story. She shared her journey to acceptance and she now is really happy to have two sons.”

Here’s the original video, from brother to brother.

And here’s their Mom, reflecting on the whole experience.

“This project is about acceptance, so it’s not only about love between two sides. It’s about two-way communication, from children to their parents and parents to their children. These people that are voiceless, they have their own world but their stories aren’t often heard or given much attention from the community, so I wanted to create space for those people to share.”

Are you expanding this project? Coming to Ho Chi Minh City, by chance?

“For now we are not expanding the project to other cities but we are upgrading the way that we do the project. At the moment we invite the person to come to the studio to do the project but now we’ll come to their own space, their personal space, to film. It’s important for the person to feel comfortable to share their story. It will feel more real to the audience, those connections, it’s not like you go to the studio where there’s a screen behind you.”

What are you inspired to do next?

“Short documentary films. Like this one from Vox.

It will go much deeper into people’s personal stories, so it’s a documentary that focuses on one person, one story, but deeper into their story and we’ll spend more time to do this.”

Here are a few our favorite highlights from the series Hanoi Love:

Video 1:

Video 2:

Watch the whole series here.