How to Improve the World

(Cải tiến Thế giới)

Resisting the westernised reliance on images for creating narratives, telling stories and experiencing the world, How to Improve the World turns to music and sound as a way of perceiving through listening. Originally a 3-channel installation, this aurally centred work reflects on the past, present and future of indigenous cultures of the people in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

“Do you trust sounds or images better?” Nguyễn, off screen, asks her daughter, who confidently replies “images, mum”. In another scene, a man tells the filmmaker how his memory doesn’t attach to images, or looking, but rather to listening. He describes shamanic ear blowing rituals, and how singing and storytelling has declined in his village since Catholicism has increased, lost alongside bird and field sounds as land has been taken and extracted. The two conversations represent and speak to different specificities, cultural legacies, and sensory perceptions of the world.

Set in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and drawing on the aural culture and gong music of the indigenous Jarai people living there, the film foregrounds voice, music and sound as traditions considered secondary to (and often replaced by) the cultural dominance of looking and the image. Listening, for Nguyễn, goes beyond the senses, as the film explores issues of assimilation, alienation, and the loss of indigenous land in Vietnam. The work itself is an act of listening, open to song as story, to silence, and to the in-between of translation. —Christina Demetriou

Director Biography

Nguyễn Trinh Thi (1973, Vietnam) is a Hanoi-based independent filmmaker and video/media artist. Nguyễn studied journalism, photography, international relations and ethnographic film in the United States. Her diverse practice has consistently investigated the role of memory in the necessary unveiling of hidden, displaced or misinterpreted histories; and examined the position of artists in the Vietnamese society. Nguyễn is the founder and director of Hanoi DOCLAB, an independent centre for documentary film and the moving image art in Hanoi since 2009. Her films and video art works have been shown at festivals and art exhibitions including Jeu de Paume (Paris); CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux; the Lyon Biennale 2015; Asian Art Biennial 2015 (Taiwan); Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial 2014; Singapore Biennale 2013; Jakarta Biennale 2013; Oberhausen International Film Festival; Bangkok Experimental Film Festival; Artist Films International; DEN FRIE Centre of Contemporary Art (Copenhagen); and Kuandu Biennale (Taipei).

Nguyễn’s film Eleven Men (Mười một người đàn ông) screened at BFMAF 2016.

Director Filmography

How to Improve the World (2021), Fifth Cinema (2018), Everyday’s the Seventies (2018), Eleven Men (2016), Vietnam The Movie (2016), Letters from Panduranga (2015), Landscape Series #1 (2013) SOLO for a Choir (2013) Que Faire (2012), Jo Ha Kyu, (2012) I Died for Beauty (2012), Song to the Front (2011), Unsubtitled (2011), Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over (2011), Terminal (2009), Spring Comes Winter After (2009), 93 Years, 1383 Days (2008), Love Man Love Woman (2007), A Chungking Road Opening (2005)

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World Premiere


Nguyễn Trinh Thi



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Primary Contact

Nguyễn Trinh Thi