Writer-director Le Chau was born in Vietnam, moved to the United States when she was 22, and graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 2023. Her short film Doldrums tells the story of a Vietnam War veteran’s experience in two time periods: in the midst of combat and in his modern-day civilian life.
The project was supported out of Panavision Woodland Hills with a New Filmmaker Program equipment grant. Working with New Filmmaker Program manager Aaron Saffa, the filmmakers put together a package for two days of shooting on 35mm film and two days of shooting digitally, all with Primo optics. “We went with Primos both for their sharpness on 35mm and ‘Hollywood look’ for our digitally shot scenes,” notes cinematographer Marshall Victory.
Le Chau adds, “The Primo prime lenses provided me a greater depth of field than most still lenses, which helped me to create the high contrast sharpness of the war story, reflecting how memories still vividly live in the character’s mind. They also helped keep focus with complicated handheld camera movements during action scenes.”
“Le Chau and I spoke of the film in terms of how it made us feel, rather than what it looked like, which was a combination of nostalgia, reverence, forgiveness of one's past, and lost opportunities,” Victory shares. “After realizing that all of Le Chau’s references were inspired by emotion, I began to discover how these singular moments made her feel rather than focusing on their technical specifications. From then on, I approached the film less as a visual artist and more of an empathetic one, which was entirely new for me but a fun new adaptation that catered to the director's style of working.”
Drawing on her family’s military history as well as her own experiences serving in the U.S. Army, Le Chau set out to tell a story that would speak to the hearts and minds of veterans and veterans alike. “Doldrums is the film that I put years of my training into making, in an effort of telling the Vietnam War story from my own experience as both a soldier and a Vietnamese,” she says. “As an emerging filmmaker, I challenged myself to film difficult, explosive combat scenes and long takes with complex blocking, all while shooting on 35mm film.
“I believe that you make a film firstly for yourself, giving yourself a chance to express your inner world that sometimes can’t be told with just words,” the director continues. “The endless opportunities to reflect myself in my film and share that with other human beings is what keeps me going on this journey. Film once gave me a break in my harsh childhood and gave me a meaning in life. I hope my films will do the same to anyone who needs it.”
Learn more about the making of Doldrums in this behind-the-scenes video:
Photos by Claudia Hoag, courtesy of the filmmakers.