In 1981, Fay Kanin, the then president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (Ampas), took Cyd Charisse and other Hollywood luminaries on a trip to China.
Films including Charisse-starrer Singin' In The Rain were screened and meetings were held with representatives of the Chinese film industry. The trip was a one-off, but more recently Academy board members have lobbied for a wider, dedicated programme of international outreach inspired by the increasing scope of the foreign-language film award, the growing membership overseas and the ongoing collaboration between the Academy Film Archive with archives around the world.
Phil Alden Robinson, writer-director of Field Of Dreams, was one of the board members anxious to initiate the outreach. "The Academy is uniquely positioned to connect with film-makers around the world," he says. "It's an international organisation, and we thought it would be great to hook up with film-makers in developing countries."
It so happened that around that time, Ellen Harrington, the director of exhibitions and special events at Ampas, was approached by Tom Vick, the film programmer at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Vick himself had been approached by the Vietnamese government asking if he could help bring a programme of US films and film-makers to Vietnam. Harrington started planning a trip to the country which would become American Film Week in May this year.
"Vietnam was exactly the kind of country we were looking for," Harrington says. "It has a population of 83 million people, half of them under 30. It has a growing economy and a real desire to make more movies and have broader access to movies."
The government agreed to host the screenings and pay for print shipment, while Ampas used its own funds to fly out a team of illustrious members - namely Robinson, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, documentary film-maker Freida Lee Mock, producers William Horberg and Tom Pollock, and film-makers Susannah Grant and Curtis Hanson.
The screenings and Q&As took place in Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City. The Ampas party met with the official government cinema department, toured production facilities, visited film schools and had long sessions with film-makers in both cities to talk about their issues. In total, the trip lasted 11 days.
"Personally I felt like there is a role for us in meeting film-makers in developing countries with nascent industries to help with development of certain skills and tools and growing a film industry," says Robinson. "Very few Vietnamese film-makers, for example, shoot sync sound, so there may be a training programme we can help initiate."
Ampas is looking at other countries which could benefit from a similar outreach trip in 2009, but Robinson stresses that first the necessary follow-up will be carried out on the Vietnam trip. "It is very open-ended and we have a list of concrete steps to follow up on. We were all very keen the project didn't end with the trip."