Before he made movies, Vietnam-born Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo was a physicist in the United States developing laser energy to shoot down missiles in the 1980s.
He seems slightly bemused by the turn his life has taken. However, speaking over the telephone from Los Angeles where he is based, he says his background has shaped him as a film-maker.
Nguyen-Vo, 59, points out: "As a research scientist, you would try to do new things, find a new way to do things more efficiently or do something which nobody has done before.
"I also try to find something new in my film projects. In 2030, I tried to mix genres of romance, mystery and murder, playing around with magic realism, as well as futuristic and speculative elements."
The film 2030 is set in Vietnam in the titular year. Rising water levels have swallowed up huge tracts of farmland and vegetables have become highly priced commodities. Against this backdrop, Sao (Quynh Hoa) embarks on a journey to find out the truth behind her husband's death.
The screening of the film tomorrow as part of the Southeast Asian Film Festival is sold out. It had opened the Panorama section of the Berlin International Film Festival last year.
While he hopes the work can help to raise awareness on topics such as climate change and genetic engineering, he does not want to come across as being preachy.
He notes: "Global climate change is still a hotly debated subject and there's still a lot of unknowns."
Indeed, the movie asks if one can ever find out the absolute truth and Nguyen-Vo says he was deeply influenced by Akira Kurosawa's revered classic Rashomon (1950), which presented conflicting accounts of the same incident.
He adds: "Abnormal weather patterns may be a totally random process.
Throughout history, we have been through cold and hot periods and that is normal fluctuation. Everything is uncertain, so I thought maybe I didn't want to make the ending that clear."
The movie was made on a budget of less than US$400,000 (S$528,300) and, in fact, money ran out towards the end. So, Nguyen-Vo had to film an underwater scene himself.
He says with a laugh: "I took scuba-diving lessons in 31/2 days, dived into the water and worked with the actors to shoot it."
His debut feature was the rural drama The Buffalo Boy (2004). It was chosen as Vietnam's official entry for the best foreign language film category for the Oscars and it won 15 awards around the world, including the New Directors Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival.
It has taken a decade to make his follow-up because he was searching for the right project and it was tough getting financing.
However, having gone into film-making relatively late in life, it is also clear that this is what he wants to do.
When he was about 10, he witnessed the horrors of the Vietnam War around him in a small town in Vietnam and his form of escape was his parents' tiny one-room cinema.
It was his window to the outside world and he was "safest, most comfortable" in there.
As film-making was not seen as a viable career, he was steered towards engineering instead.
He earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Poitiers in France and then got his PhD in applied physics from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) in 1984.
Then, he recalls: "One day, I woke up and maybe cinema found me or something."
He completed UCLA's screenwriting and directing certificate programme in 1998 and has not looked back since.
Married with two children, he is juggling a few projects at different stages of development. He hopes that something will take off. "I'll keep working on it," he says. "When I switched to film-making, I found it comfortable."
SOUTHEAST ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL
Where: Moving Image Gallery, SAM at 8Q
When: Till Sunday
Admission: $10 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
The screening of 2030 tomorrow is sold out.
This article was first published on May 1, 2015.
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