VIETNAM

The Next Generation

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The Film

L-R: 

A farmer holding a package walks across a large green field, as seen from behind. 

Men and women ride mopeds down a city street.

Thirty years ago, the only future that awaited young Vietnamese was war. But how have those born in the war’s aftermath capitalized on the dividends of peace? The final film in Sandy Northrop's trilogy on Vietnam today, VIETNAM: The Next Generation profiles the lives of seven young Vietnamese, revealing the challenges, choices and dreams that shape their lives, and that of their generation.

Vietnam's first postwar generation is coming of age, and its members—now in their 20s and 30s—are seizing opportunities unimaginable in their parents' time. Communism is losing its relevancy, the doors of a free-market economy are opening and memories of the war are being relegated to the distant past. This generation, representing 80 percent of Vietnam's population, is making up for lost time, exploring all the benefits and costs of their country's new economic and cultural future.

A woman dressed in a white shirt and gray skirt, carrying a handbag, pauses to look into a shop window.

A man in glasses and button-down shirt talks to a young woman at a restaurant table full of people, food, and beer.

A man and a woman bow with their hands held together in front of them. They are dressed in bright traditional clothing—red for her, blue for him—with round headpieces and flowing sleeves embroidered with designs.

Several construction vehicles drive down an empty paved road surrounded by shrubbery.

Two young children, a boy and a girl, sit on a city bench, holding slips of paper.

A young boy reads a book as his mother sits next to him.

The same young Vietnamese who once might have stood in line clutching ration coupons for their family's rice allotment—people like refugee-turned-entrepreneur A Lan Duong and American-raised businessman Henry Nguyen—now believe that living standards will be better tomorrow than they are today. Many start on a second college degree before they have completed the first. They finish their day jobs as waiters and head off for evening school to study English. Like voice student and newlywed Tran Minh Dang, they flood into the cities from the countryside—15,000 of them each month—and the money they send back to their villages keeps millions of families off poverty's doorstep.

Yet prosperity is nowhere close to reaching all young Vietnamese. VIETNAM: The Next Generation also follows construction engineer Le Viet Tien, who works to rebuild the Ho Chi Minh Highway far from his wife and newborn child; Pham Van Vinh and his sister Loan, two of the thousands of children living on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City; and Le Thi Phuong, a rural farmer who lost a leg in a landmine accident and now struggles as the sole supporter of her entire family.

The new generation gap is perplexing to the old guard leadership in Hanoi, underscoring the immense challenges the government faces in meeting the aspirations of the young. How much freedom can the Communist Party give the postwar generation without stirring demands for political change? How can it annually create the one million jobs needed just to accommodate each year's school graduates? As the people featured in VIETNAM: The Next Generation prove, the social and economic answers ultimately lie with this generation, the future leaders of Vietnam.

Update

Filmmaker Sandy Northrop filmed VIETNAM: The Next Generation from June 2002 to June 2003. In March 2005, she reported:

Phoung, who lost her leg in a landmine accident, has gone on to win four gold medals in track and field events both in the Vietnam and Pan Asian games.

Henry never returned to the U.S. He is still passionate about Vietnam’s future, and is now working with a venture capital group that plans to invest millions of dollars in Vietnam.

Loan and Vinh are still on the streets selling lottery tickets. Although offered a scholarship for both to go to school, Vinh turned it down, feeling he could not go to school and support his family at the same time.

Tien and his wife have a young son. His section of the Ho Chi Minh Highway is almost complete. Tien has been invited to join the communist party.

A Lan’s business continues to grow. She has a new shop in Ho Chi Minh City, and owns a popular club in Hanoi.

Dang completed his studies at the Ho Chi Minh City conservatory and was offered a teaching position there.

Meet the people featured in the film >>

Go behind the scenes. Read the filmmaker Q&A >>

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