“I’m starting to get the confidence”
Agent Orange still affects the Vietnamese population four decades after its dispersal because it’s taken that long to find a mode with which to begin destroying its remnants. South Vietnam with American help sprayed the herbicide (US Air Force’s own initiative Operation Ranch Hand later continued) looking to take out enemy crops and jungle camouflage. It also contaminated water supplies and food sources for the entire nation so that some estimates are as high as five million dead as a result. The number grows until eradication is complete and not every victim dies. Chau’s disabilities, for instance, stem from his mother drinking river water and exposing him in the womb (his siblings weren’t affected). Despite being dealt this bad hand, he refuses to let it define him.
Courtney Marsh‘s short Chau, Beyond the Lines is a document about humanity’s strength to overcome long odds and constant ridicule. It follows Chau for a few years from his mid-teens at the Lang Hoa Binh Agent Orange Camp in Ho Chi Minh City where his passion for drawing bolstered a dream to become an artist to his time back home in the desolate jungle to his rolling the dice and moving to the city for a go at life independently. Many aren’t able to transcend the obstacles in front of them and find their lives tethered to the secluded camp of their youth forever. And even if the capacity to push forward exists, success isn’t generally found in a vocation as tumultuous and unstable as art.
Chau’s story is therefore an important one because it gives hope to those who don’t believe. His success may not quiet the nurses at the camp from shooting down the dreams of their wards, but it may get the children to ignore the dissent. The film isn’t constructed to simply serve this goal either. It doesn’t look to make Chau a heroic famous celebrity by glossing over the hard work in lieu of easy checkpoints towards a career. We actually see the process of Chau’s work ethic and the amazing progress of his aesthetic. From shaky pencil drawings he needed friends to color due to lack of arm strength to elaborate paintings with precise details created with brush in mouth, the old adage “practice makes perfect” applies.
If you put in the work and conquer your demons, inside and out, your dreams will never die. The end result may not be exactly how you envisioned it, but the journey will discover new and better avenues along the way. Unknown opportunities come out of the woodwork and people who care about you help steer you in the right direction because they see your dedication. There’s a contagious sense of modesty and humility that Chau exudes, one that made him respected by his peers at the camp and the type of person strangers see with hopeful optimism. He may believe it is the luck of the “number 3” and to a point it may be exactly that, but in the end we inevitably make our own luck.
courtesy of Shorts HD