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Oct 17, 2023 / 11:58

UK film starring motorcycles, a symphony in Hanoi life

The film celebrates and shares British-Vietnamese cultural heritage while presenting audiences with a unique archival work that illuminates the country's history.

"When you travel on a two-wheeled vehicle, your view of the world opens up. Walking is too slow. Cars are too fast, too confining. Only the rhythm of motorcycles and bicycles gives us a sense of space. The mind soars. The rhythm of dreamers. On a motorcycle, we live in the present. No future, no past," the movie "Dust & Metal" takes the viewer on a journey through time with the rhythm of the bike.

 Two-wheeled vehicles are popular in Hanoi and Vietnam in general. Source: British Council 

It is a creative documentary feature film by British director Esther Johnson, produced by Johnson and Live Cinema UK and funded by the British Council.

Dust & Metal" chooses "two-wheeled vehicles" - a typical image in Vietnam, especially in big cities like Hanoi - to tell the story of "freedom" from the past to the present, especially when the restriction of motorcycles is a hot topic in the country's capital.

The sound of motorcycles and horns is a living symphony during a day in Hanoi.

Hanoi is the first cine concert with a live performance by Vietnamese electronic artist Nguyen Xinh Xo tonight [October 17]. The Dust & Metal cinematic premiere is also part of the British Council's UK/Viet Nam Season 2023, which celebrates 50 years of diplomatic relations between the UK and Vietnam and 30 years of the British Council's presence in the country.

Donna McGowan, Director of the British Council in Vietnam, said the British Council is excited to continue to contribute to developing Vietnam’s arts and culture by bringing together the most accomplished creative leaders from both countries to co-create innovative and thought-provoking projects across our two themes of Climate and the Environment and Shared Heritage.

"The UK/ Vietnam Season offers a platform for cultural exchange and creative collaborations and provides a foundation for the creation of lasting partnerships for long-term impact and mutual benefit,” said McGowan.

By presenting stories of "freedom", the film not only evokes memories or reflects on the present, but also inspires thoughts for the future. As city planners aim to limit the number of motorcycles after 2030 to reduce pollution, electric motorcycles are considered an alternative.

"Dust & Metal" celebrates and shares the British-Vietnamese cultural heritage while presenting the audience with a unique archival work that illuminates the country's history. The script incorporates excerpts from oral history interviews Johnson conducted with eminent Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Van Thuy and visual artist Dang Ai Viet. The sound design is by Hanoi-based artist Nhung Nguyen.

Created through a unique partnership between the Hanoi-based Vietnam Film Institute and the Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD), Dust & Metal has participated in many international film festivals, following a successful UK premiere at Sheffield Docfest in 2022.

With a population of almost 99 million and 45 million registered motorcycles (one of the highest figures in Southeast Asia), there is almost one motorcycle for every two Vietnamese.

Hanoi's streets are filled with goods of all shapes and sizes, from washing machines to chickens, transported on the backs of motorbikes.

Motorbikes are a representation of Vietnam and its history, depicting ideas of labor, class, travel, technology, and escape. For millions of people, having one has made travel and business possible. Motorbikes have taken the place of bicycles as a means of navigating the expanding traffic jams. 

Looking back in history, in the 1960s-1970s, motorcycles replaced the mass use of bicycles, which was crucial in making it the mode of transport of choice today. Currently, Hanoi's urban streets are filled with various forms of two-wheeled vehicles that help people navigate the many alleys that are too narrow for cars. With urban planners aiming to ban petrol/diesel motorbikes by 2030, today's traffic jams may become a thing of the past. Vietnamese businesses are responding by making electric motorbikes as an alternative mode of transportation.

The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities. The UK/Vietnam Season will showcase the best examples of UK-Vietnam collaboration in the arts, creative industries, higher education, and the English language. This initiative envisions a shared future for both sides by forging new partnerships and strengthening the bonds between the people of both countries.