(Im)material Worlds

Listening in the Dark (2018, Maeve Brennan) & How to Improve the World (2021, Nguyễn Trinh Thi)

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Set in the Central Highlands of Vietnam where a large concentration of groups of indigenous people live, How to Improve the World is a film about listening. The film reflects on the differences in how memory is processed between the culture of the eye and that of the ear, while observing the loss of land, forests, and the way of life of the indigenous people in this part of the world. ‘Do you trust sounds or images better?’ Nguyễn, off screen, asks her daughter, who replies ‘images, mum’. Of the cultural dominance of images and looking at the expense of other sensory modes, Nguyen has said: ‘As our globalised and westernised cultures have come to be dominated by visual media, I feel the need and responsibility as a filmmaker to resist this narrative power of the visual imagery, and look for a more balanced and sensitive approach in perceiving the world by paying more attention to aural landscapes, in line with my interests in the unknown, the invisible, the inaccessible, and in potentialities’. 


Nguyễn Trinh Thi is a Hanoi-based experimental filmmaker and moving image / media artist whose practice over the last 10 years has consistently engaged with the history and memory of Vietnam, and with ways to connect the moving image with sound practices, performance and alternative forms of story-telling. Her practice currently explores the power of sound and listening, and the multiple relations between image, sound, and space, with ongoing interests in memory, representation, landscape, indigeneity, and ecology. Her works have been shown at Berwick Film Festival; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Biennale Jogja XV, Yogyakarta; 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane; 21st Biennale of Sydney; International Film Festival Rotterdam; Jeu de Paume, Paris; CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux; 13th Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale; Asian Art Biennial, Taichung; 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale; 4th Singapore Biennale, and 15th Jakarta Biennale. Nguyen is also founder and director of Hanoi DOCLAB, an independent centre for documentary film and the moving image art in Hanoi since 2009. In 2022, she will participate in documenta (15) in Kassel, Germany. 

  • Year
  • Runtime
    46 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    Viet Nam
  • Note
    Includes Subtitles for d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Director
    Nguyễn Trinh Thi