To those familiar with Saigon and Vietnam, Bùi Viện’s reputation precedes itself. On a street lined with never-ending tourist delights and round-the-clock entertainment, where a sea of vendors, performers, and overflowing clubs are a fixture, even a single night of quiet would be a spectacle all its own.
In ‘Lockdown Bui Vien,’ filmmaker Louis Corallo examines the street and the people who rely on its non-stop influx of tourists and night-after-night revelry during a time of unprecedented silence. As COVID-19 took hold, Bùi Viện, like most other heavily-trafficked tourist destinations, was brought to a standstill.
Corallo’s film focuses on the scenes of the street during April’s city-wide social distancing campaign and the implications—both social and economic—that came along with it. ‘Lockdown Bui Vien’ features the perspectives of shop owners, the residents of the street’s surrounding alleys and neighborhood, and those caught up in the middle of the freeze.
“I remember, near the beginning of the pandemic, driving by and seeing Bùi Viện in a state of haunting quiet. I had to stop and take a second look. That contrast stuck with me, and I knew it was a unique time in which I’d be able to capture something that really showed this brief but historic period,” he says. The film also provides an on-the-ground view of Vietnam’s unified response to combat COVID-19, a success story which extends all the way down to the last street stall.
As Corallo notes, “It was, and still is, obviously a tough time economically for so many people. But everyone I spoke with and met while filming took things incredibly seriously, and they really stood together. Everyone did their part even when things were so uncertain.”
The stark differences of pre- and post-lockdown are presented by those who know the street best. A city of some 9 million people was described as feeling, “like a small province,” with a huge sector of jobs being put on hold. Another resident, however, highlights a small consolation as a group of kids play a football match on the once-packed street: “the city was very busy… but now it’s quiet and the kids at least have some space to play around.”
For Corallo, chronicling Bùi Viện’s shutdown is a way to not only bring attention to how Vietnam was able to contain the pandemic, but to show, “the unique attitude of people dealing with its effects on a personal level and, in a way, to hold onto this piece of history.”