The Hanoi Film Festival began last night at a large government building two or three blocks from the Movenpick. I was happy to attend in my natty suit-and-tie and be part of the throng. The opening-night event was professionally handled and designed, and it was entirely pleasant to hang with Hanoi’s elite and learn a little about this and that. People clapped as I walked up the red carpet for no reason other than it was the polite or spirited thing to do. I smiled and felt mildly embarassed.

Opening-night festivities of film festivals are exactly the same the world over, and if I was running a film festival I would deliver the exact same routine. And opening-night attendees are the same; ditto the pre-screening schmooze hour and the post-screening after-party. With a few minor cosmetic chances I could have been at any film festival anywhere. Everybody wants to be famous and well-dressed and respected and desired.

Anyway, I was standing in the upstairs hall and listening to Hoang Tuan Anht, Vietnam’s Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, give a speech about the aspirations of the festival and of Vietnam in general, and a thought occured. I looked around at the middle-aged men in tuxedos and women in beautiful ball gowns and various expats and guests amiably chatting and the waiters and busboys running around, and I thought to myself, “The United States fought a war and lost the lives of 58,000 men to stop this?”

The people running this event are technically Communists and that was once a fearsome term to some, but who cares now? There was once reason to be concerned about the bureaucratic rigidity and corruption of a system dedicated to fighting capitalism but look at this country now, just trying to survive and prosper and get along. People are the same the world over. People change, societies adapt, money ebbs and flows, prejudice fades.

The U.S. fought a ruinous and tragic war so that the fathers of the people currently running things in Vietnam could be prevented from unifying the country and, in the minds of the U.S. hawks and conservatives, from helping to perpetuate worldwide Communist domination, which of course went out the window in 1989 and ’90. The left saw through the crap in the ’60s and early ’70s but now even the dimmest people in the world realize that the Vietnam War was an appalling and sickening tragedy caused by blindness and obstinacy and willful ignorance.

I wish I could say that the opening-night film, a fanciful thing called Hot Sand about a magical mermaid, was good or even half-decent. I’d hoped it might aspire to the level of Neil Jordan‘s Ondine (’09) or Ron Howard‘s Splash (’84)…nope.

Sonja Heinen of the World Cinema Fudn and Berlinale co-production market