Two films by André Menras
together on one DVD special edition
These two unique films about a subject shrouded in silence have made waves, as no film director has previously been allowed to film the Vietnamese fishermen-divers banned from the Paracels Archipelago occupied militarily by China since 1974.
No documentary has given the distressed widows who are shamefacedly ignored and the fishermen who are attacked and wounded a voice until now.
They represent two wake-up calls to the international community to demonstrate its solidarity.
The Knights of the Yellow Sands
Run time : 25 minutes
Format : 16:9
Year : 2017
Audio : French and Vietnamese
Subtitles : English, Chinese and Czech
15 of them take to the sea on a newly repaired wooden-hulled boat after being rammed recently, with a fragile engine which often overheats and steel-hulled Chinese juggernauts close by. Each man spends four hours a night hunting at depths of several tens of metres, breathing in the hot air from the compressor in the hold.
They are on their own, several hundred kilometres from the coast, without any technical resources to prevent decompression accidents and far from any help. They experience extreme fatigue as the days go by, and this is exacerbated by the temperamental sea.
«This documentary is the result of a 1000 km journey over 27 days with a crew of young fishermen-divers from the village of Bình Châu in the province of Quảng Ngãi in central Vietnam. I have a camera and a notepad, but there is also a real bond with these men hardened to pain, yet strong despite the danger.
The departure is organised in a strangely clandestine atmosphere where I have been guided, hidden and protected by these poor families like a guerrilla fighter during the Resistance, as my situation and theirs is illegal according to Vietnamese fishing laws. But my pride - and theirs even more so - do not stop us from braving the authorities' prohibition; quite the opposite. We are proud to have asserted fundamental rights to life, work and our citizens’ rights to sovereignty in this high-risk area.
Our return at night was just as epic. We landed on the coast in a slow-moving coracle which was starting to fill with water, and the wives of the fishermen who were waiting for me in the sea with water up to their waists took my bags. I was escorted by them from the shoreline to a neighbouring house and taken by motorbike to a remote location out of sight for my first hours while enduring landsickness. "Bác Hai", or uncle number 2, was safe and sound apart from a shoulder which had been dislocated several times.
Why "knights"? Because despite the natural or human danger, these calm and noble men are true aristocrats of the sea. This Vietnamese music played on the deck while they are fishing 35 metres under water surrounded by Chinese vessels right where they were attacked only a few months earlier, not even 7 nautical miles from the militarised island of Lincoln, will remain etched in my memory forever».
The Pain of Loss
Run time : 60 minutes
Format : 4:3
Year : 2010
Audio : French and Vietnamese
Subtitles : English and Chinese
Since time immemorial, sailors and fishermen have visited the Paracel archipelago (Hoang Sa) off the coast of central Vietnam. For centuries, the Annam Empire and then Vietnam have claimed sovereignty of them. But since 1974, the Chinese war navy has occupied these islands and their maritime space.
So the local Vietnamese fishermen are trapped in a conflict about sovereignty with a geo-strategic dimension. «Some have been taken hostage by the Chinese military, and others have had their catches confiscated or their boats destroyed. Some were even shot dead!» explains André Menras. This Franco-Vietnamese director has carried out an investigation. He questioned «these ordinary heroes who continue to fish, both because they have to and pride».
He filmed their distress and the solitude of the widows. To the despair of the region's inhabitants, the Vietnamese trawlers are gradually losing ground and are being replaced by Chinese trawlers escorted by war vessels.
«"The pain of loss" permeates the accounts of the fishermen and widows recounting the attacks on Vietnamese boats by the Chinese navy, the imprisonment of crews and their release in exchange for ransoms». L’Express.
«This documentary is a tribute to these men and their families who do not even have the resources needed to honour their dead». La Marseillaise.
(Hồ Cương Quyết)
From the moment he arrived in Vietnam during the height of the war with the USA in 1968 to teach French, this country and its people made such a profound impression on the author and son of a farmer from the south of France that he went on to become a Vietnamese national and speak the language. From being a political prisoner in Saigon to his struggles in France and his banned films, it’s been a half-century of profound love and disappointments which have continually been overcome with persistent hope. He still supports a Vietnam which refuses to lose the independence and freedom for which it has given so much. His latest film, “The Knights of the Yellow Sands”, is part of this unique saga.
1968 : A year after completing his training at the Primary teacher training college in Montpellier, André Menras went to Vietnam to teach French as member of a cooperation programme. The war was at its height, just after the Tet offensive led by the forces of the National Liberation Front. He is 23 years old.
1970 : He is arrested and imprisoned in Saigon for brandishing the NLF of South Vietnam's flag and distributing leaflets in Vietnamese demanding the withdrawal of American and foreign troops.
1973 : Under pressure from large organisations such as Le Secours Populaire Français and Amnesty International, he is released and expelled by the Saigon regime a few days before the Paris Agreements are signed.
1973-1974-1975 : He co-wrote a book ("Nous accusons" - We accuse - published by Editeurs Français Réunis) and toured the world at the invitation of various associations, trade unions and political parties to talk about prison conditions.
1975 : End of the war. He resumes his job as a teacher in a small village in Hérault, France.
1977 : Short visit to Vietnam at the invitation of the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
2001 : In its civil service records, the French Ministry of Education describes his two and a half years in prison as "leave to be with his wife". He then has a difficult fight to get official recognition from the Laurent Fabius government that he was sent to prison for peaceful, political and human rights activities. After a year of campaigning and involvement from trade unions and associations, he spends six days and nights in the bell tower in the Saint-Nazaire cathedral in Béziers in December. The government eventually acknowledges the reality behind his political imprisonment. Retirement.
2002 : He returns to Vietnam for the first time in 25 years. He is made an honorary citizen of Ho Chí Minh City and sets up a Franco-Vietnamese educational exchange association
2003 : Change of government (Raffarin) and the commitments made by the Fabius government are called into question. After a year of mobilisation and campaigning, he spends 46 days and nights in the bell tower in Béziers cathedral. The Raffarin government, in turn, ends up recognising the commitments previously made..
From 2003 to 2008 : André Menras stays multiple times in Vietnam.
2009 : He is the first foreigner to be given Vietnamese nationality by the President of the Republic, Nguyễn Minh Triết
2010 : With the help of Ho Chí Minh City Television, he directs the documentary film "Hoang Sa Vietnam: the pain of loss" on the fate of the widows of the Vietnamese fishermen attacked by Chinese forces in the Paracel archipelago. The film is prohibited from being shown in Vietnam in order to maintain good relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vietnamese Communist Party. For three years, this documentary can only be shown as a form of militant action in France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland… Under pressure from opinion inside and outside Vietnam, and when there is Chinese aggression in 2014, it is finally shown, albeit secretly, in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.
2017 : André Menras directs another film, “The Knights of the Yellow Sands” as a follow up to the first, with a crew of Vietnamese fishermen-divers in the Paracel archipelago which they are banned from by the Chinese.
Some of the author's work :
- «Rescapés des bagnes de Saigon, nous accusons» Editeurs Français Réunis, 1973.
- «Laos, Cambodge et Viêtnam : premiers dominos de l’expansionnisme chinois ?» by André Menras in Recherches internationales N°86, avril-juin 2009.
- «André Menras : "tâches d’huile" et "coups de bélier. L’affaire de la plateforme de forage chinoise». Mémoires d’Indochine
- «Mer du Sud-Est asiatique : Chronique d’un hold-up annoncé» par André Menras in Mélanges Charles Fourniau. Ed. Indes Savantes.
Thirty-four photos taken on the spur of the moment or pre-planned which show glimpses of life and, depending on the mood, the changing weather and the men at work. The photos are accompanied by a written report of the journey, a brief analysis of the geopolitical context and a map showing the route taken.
The exhibition can be limited to the number of photos you want. It can be sent on its own or accompanied by the author who can present his 25-minute film "Les Chevaliers des Sables Jaunes" (The Knights of the Yellow Sands) and host a discussion.
The photo exhibition
Technical specifications for the exhibition:
Format of the photo:
30 x 45
30 x 45 cm