Tomorrow You Will Leave deals with an old story that needs to be resolved, and an old encounter that begs for a reunion. Filmmaker Martin Nguyen's parents came to Austria thirty years ago, yet it was no smooth sailing. They spent many months in a Malaysian refugee camp called Pulau Bidong. A man known as Ali helped them through back then, while Mr Karlhofer who is their neighbour helped them to settle down in Furth, Lower Austria. Although Quang Nguyen is able to repay Mr Karlhofer for what he's done for the family, he feels he should also thank the ever-elusive samaritan from Malaysia. The Nguyen family sets out for a long trip with uncertain results... Imbued with a sense of sadness and intriguing for the things it leaves unsaid, Tomorrow You Will Leave is both a search of the past and an exploration of its far-reaching effects.
Currently finalizing post-production on the film, director Martin Nguyen attended the 2008 Ex Oriente Film. Tomorrow You Will Leave also won the best pitch award at the 2008 East European Forum and a trip to the Sunny Side of the Doc. In October 2011 the rough cut was included in East Silver's online video library.
Austria, 2012, 78 min, HD, Creative, Personal View, Portrait, Social Issues
The story of my Vietnamese father who was able to build up a new life in a small Austrian village, but there is still an open chapter in the past: the search for the man who once helped him.
Search Is a Risk Worth Taking
An interview with filmmaker Martin Nguyen about Tomorrow You Will Leave
How difficult was the project in terms of logistics?
First we had to check how we could work in Malaysia so we contacted a Malaysian production company to ask about the formalities required to work in Malaysia. We didn't have an exact plan where to shoot because even though we had a starting point, we didn't know where the search would take us. We needed a temporary work permit.
How many trips did you make to Malaysia?
Overall it was three trips. The first time it was just me and my cinematographer during the development. The second trip was made by the whole crew for the production. But during the second shoot, we ran out of time and didn't manage to find the person we were looking for so we had to return for the third time and in the end we finally found him.
Did you run into any other problems while making this film?
In development, I struggled with finding the right angle to tell the story. Since it's an autobiographic story, I had to decide what my role was in the story, and how to define it. And, of course, another issue was funding because travelling to Malaysia is not cheap. And the main problem revolved around finding the man we set out to find. I told the funders that I really wanted to shoot the search, and you always run the risk of not being successful in your search. So I had to convince them that it was really worth taking the risk. In the course of the shoot, there was a lot of uncertainty. We never knew where we'd be shooting the next day. We had to deal with a lot of new situations.
You managed to get backing from the Austrian Film Institute, ORF, Filmfonds Wien and the regional fund of Land Niederösterreich. What features of the story persuaded them in your mind?
I think it was the fact that it's an agreeable story. A search for someone who has helped you in the past is something that audiences can connect with. It can reach a lot of people. Even though there's an element of how immigration works, and of how people settle down in a new country, my intention was always to make a personal story which can always generate a global connection with audiences.
How difficult was having your father - or both parents - as the protagonist(s)? How did you have to adjust to it as a director?
At first it took some convincing to make my father do the film but in the end he was very natural and cooperation with him was easy. It's always like this that people who are not involved in film and it was especially my father who was wondering: Why should my story be interesting? Why would you be making a film about it? Who wants to see this? In the end he understood what I wanted and trusted me in things he didn't understand. My mom was the other way around, she was skeptical from the beginning until the end because she really didn't want to be in front of the camera. You always have a certain role in your family. Suddenly I was coming as a director and son to my parents. The hard thing was to combine both sides to be able making the film but at the same time being part of it. Especially when I am in front of the camera my cinematographer has to know what are the key points to follow.
But it was, of course, a bonding experience for us. Until now, I never asked about the past. In a way, I was too busy with my own life and my parents were too busy as well, always looking ahead, working hard, looking after us and our education. Until now, they weren't able to deal with the past. It is only now that they have established a life in Austria and no longer have to care about money and work that they are free to deal with the past.
Could you describe how you treated the visual style and rhythm of both locations - Furth, Austria vs. Malaysia?
I wanted to connect both worlds even before the journey starts. At the beginning of the film which takes part in Austria I used Malaysian landscapes. They don’t belong to this setting but you realize step by step that they belong to my father. Overall it’s a slow film with time to observe even when the journey to Malaysia starts. There is a slight change of how fast we were editing in this part to point out the new, unknown situation of the search.
What are some of the discoveries you've made along the way, in the course of this long geographical and filmmaking journey?
I've realized how much the environment can define a person. It’s a lonely remote village in Austria where my parents arrived. At the beginning they didn’t want to live there but finally my father doesn’t want to leave anymore. He got used to the life there.