The best stories can be found on the street. That may be a well-worn saying, but it proved true for participants of a DW Akademie workshop in Ho Chi Minh City. Trainer Patrick Benning describes their sweet discovery.
She's the "sweet soup seller" and you can’t miss her. She sets up shop outside the broadcasting center and we always see her during our workshop breaks. She packs everything she needs for her "mobile restaurant" in big baskets balanced on a bamboo pole - typical for Vietnam street vendors. Her specialties are sweet snacks and desserts.
It's more than obvious that the staff at the state TV broadcaster VTV loves her sweet soy broth, green and brown beans cooked in sugar, mango puree with ice and homemade lime custard. At lunchtime her colorful plastic stools quickly fill up and her numerous pots overflow with ingredients. The customer-service concept behind the portable dessert bar corresponds to the well-established western coffee shops and fast-food chains in the country; you can have your goodies on the spot or for take away - in a handy plastic cup with a spoon and small bag.
We decide that this hardworking, talkative woman is perfect for one of our hands-on exercises. On the second day of our "Short Documentaries" workshop some participants spend an afternoon observing her with the camera. So far, there's no storyboard or script. Participants have to shoot simple actions in short sequences: a mango puree with ice in three cuts.
Dignity and pride of a street vendor
A few days later we're looking for film ideas and everyone's forgotten the street vendor - everyone except Pham Quoc Mau, a bright young reporter and cameraman. He comes from the remote Phu Yen province where VTV state television has a regional studio.
"We started talking one lunchtime while I was eating sweet soup," Mau tells us. "She told me her story after I recognized her dialect. My family comes from the same area."
Mau then pitches us his story idea the way he’d learned in our workshop: A mother of two kids, born in the countryside, moves into town on her own to make money for the family. She works hard as a soup seller to help her sons graduate and even attend university in the big city. Her name - by the way - is Mai Thi Sy.
The training group quickly agrees that this is a very contemporary, very Vietnamese story. It's about deprivation and hope, loyalty and responsibility, separation and solitude - and about the dignity and pride of a woman in modern-day Vietnam.
And for us as the DW Akademie project team we're quietly proud as well - to be part of this joint production and quite remarkable workshop.