A virtual reality event and Q&A with Alastair Evans and Huong Nguyen Thien Le – The Upcoming

A Crack in the Mountain: A Virtual Reality Event and Q&A Featuring Alastair Evans and Huong Nguyen Thien Le

May 25, 2023

It’s an intimate gathering at the W Hotel in London, with a select selection of guests enjoying wine in champagne glasses and a bright yellow glow illuminating the venue’s red and black seats. Hosted by Alastair Evans (director/cameraman) and Huong Nguyen Thien Le (lead actor), the virtual reality event celebrating the release of “A Crack in the Mountain” exudes a pleasant atmosphere. It’s peaceful, like the Hang Son Doong cave in question, but full of soft chatter that mimics the white noise of nature that surrounds us at all times. The event begins with small talk with Evans and the documentary’s main protagonist, Huong Nguyen. They greet the guests, get to know them and tell them a little bit about their journey through the film and the cave.

A Crack in the Mountain explores Hang Son Doong, a mountain cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam’s Quang Binh province. Known as the largest cave in the world, it is often referred to as “the eighth wonder”. It has remained a peaceful entity that has existed for millions of years without a single disturbance. The wondrous Hang Son Doong includes a cave lake and two large sinkholes, one of which bears the name “Garden of Edam” – a title inspired by the Garden of Eden. That peace may not last long, however, as plans to build a cable car emerge, threatening the delicate balance of Hang Son Doong’s ecosystem. Huong Nguyen is an activist and co-founder of #SaveSonDoong, a group working to save the cave from commercialization and industrial development. She has given several TED Talks on the subject and is the main interviewee on Evans’ film.

Guests are led into the screening room where the VR experience takes place. Huong Nguyen first explains the procedures for the event (putting on the headgear, navigating the virtual reality, notes to be observed, buttons that may be useful and operation of the device) and then takes the time to introduce himself and explain the situation in relation to the Höhle, her work with #SaveSonDoong, the film, and Evans’ help in amplifying her voices. She explains that the VR experience is especially important for people who can’t travel to Vietnam and visit the cave in person, so they can learn more about not only its beauty, but also its ecological and scientific value. After her speech, she asks the small crowd a few questions about her campaign, with Evans occasionally interjecting with comments on the feature’s role in it all.

One of the bigger questions that arises is what Huong Nguyen can and can’t say in the film. Evans takes the reins, explaining that his top priority is her safety: “She said a lot in the interview – there were a lot of things she said that we couldn’t include. There was a point where I felt I had to make sure she made it clear that this was an environmental campaign. So that’s probably the only thing that’s somewhat contrived. Because I said to her, “You have to say that on camera and I have to have it filmed.” That was key for me: trying to get her a ticket to get her out of prison.”

Another big discussion is how #SaveSonDoong survives over the years with only seven members. Huong Nguyen talks a lot about how difficult it is to keep everyone together and how useful the film was in supporting their struggle: “When we started there were a lot of people who wanted to join the group. As with any environmental campaign, many people are enthusiastic and passionate about it, but it’s hard to keep something going for so long. The number of people who follow us on social media is around 200,000 in Vietnam who support us. I can’t expect all my teammates to continue like this. They all have jobs; They all have their private lives. So I am very grateful that Alastair helped us carry the spirit of the campaign further by making it a documentary and showing people around the world what we are doing here in Vietnam.”

After the short questions and answers, the VR experience begins. The piece was created by Swedish National Geographic photographer Martin Edström, who donated it to the #SaveSonDoong group for educational purposes. It is beautifully captured with exceptional lighting. It’s not so blindingly bright that it overwhelms the viewer, but it’s also not so dark that it obscures detail – there’s just the right amount of shadow and light to mimic the authentic experience of walking through the cave. It’s a short but very fulfilling experience. VR guides the viewer into the two sinkholes and provides commentary on the geographic structure of the cave, as well as explanations of why certain things happen, such as the forest within the cave, stalagmites, and the cross-sections decorating the walls of the second sinkholes. Looking at it, it’s easy to see why there is so much fighting to preserve Hang Son Doong. Viewers will champion the cause and hope for its success.

Mae Trumata

A Crack in the Mountain will be released in select theaters on May 26, 2023.

Watch the trailer for A Crack in the Mountain here: