Coffee with Lara Damiani

We sat down with Lara Damiani, the filmmaker who captured the story of Little Bang and her family in Vietnam to hear about her experiences while in filming.

You can watch Lara’s incredible film Little Bang’s New Eye here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a documentary filmmaker driven by the desire for social change

Please give the readers some details about the trip you went on with Sight For All.

My first trip was with Dr James Muecke in 2016. We went to Bangladesh and Vietnam. The idea was I would follow his trip working in the hospitals in the hope of finding a story that could become a short film. In Hanoi, on the first day there, filming examinations under anaesthesia (EUAs) of children with an eye cancer called retinoblastoma, we were told about little Bang by Dr Chau. Bang was a 2 year old Hmong girl who had an eye removed previously, the result of retinoblastoma detected too late. Bang is from the mountains in northern Vietnam and she was at the hospital that day having an EUA to look at her ‘good’ eye and her older sister Vang was also there having an EUA. It was an interesting story, given the family history that we later discovered and so we decided to follow Bang’s story. This involved filming Bang and Vang at the Vietnam National Institute in Hanoi and filming an interview with their father, where James discovered the family history of Retinoblastoma. I then followed Bang to another hospital for her regular chemotherapy and later went with Bang, Vang and their father back to their village which was an overnight bus trip.  Once off the bus, it was a motorcycle ride from the highway – the only way to get to their village.

What attracted you to Sight For All?

I’d read a story in The Australian about Sight For All’s work in Myanmar. I was very intrigued by the fact that James was from Adelaide and also the Myanmar side of the story as I’d been there in 2009 and had fallen in love with the country. I was intrigued by their work in a developing country particularly given my interest in international development and remote communities. I later emailed James introducing myself and letting him know I’d be very happy to do some work with Sight For All should the opportunity arise.

Were you surprised about what you found during the trip?

It was great to see the difference, on the ground, that Sight For All makes. This was obvious watching James teaching and sharing his knowledge with the local doctors and also seeing the difference that equipment provided by Sight For All can have by watching it in action in the operating theatre.

What moment during this trip stood out for you and why?

There were many moments. One that comes to mind was a moment when I was filming an interview with a grandfather who was holding his young granddaughter in his arms. The prognosis for her was not good. I think she had to have an eye removed. I remember seeing the love that grandfather had for his granddaughter as he sat there holding her thinking about her future. The way that he was so lovingly looking at her, full of helplessness that he couldn’t do anything to make her better. It bought tears to my eyes and I had to turn away. It was a really poignant moment because it really hit home for me the difference that the work Sight For All can make.

What is next for you?

I’m working on a feature documentary about mental illness and homelessness and another interactive documentary with an Indigenous theme.

Lara’s favourite memories from the trip:

This is a picture of the grandfather holding his little granddaughter. To the right is little Baby Chi who was only 3 months old when I filmed her having an eye removed – a decision made after the diagnosis when James was at the VNIO in Hanoi. In this room, there is no furniture. Everyone sits on the floor. This is the pre-op room where parents and grandparents stay with their children as they’re waiting for surgery or EUA.

This is a picture taken from an iPhone video clip of Bang (on the right) with her older sister Vang and their father Thé on the overnight bus from Hanoi to make the start of their long trip home. I love this picture because it shows the resilience of children but also captures the cute nature of little Bang.

This picture was taken the morning after the flash floods in Mu Cang Chai province in 2017. I’d made the trip back to Vietnam to follow up with Bang a year after last seeing her. I wanted to return to their village home to shoot more footage but unfortunately, the morning that we were supposed to leave the town to reach the village, flash floods claimed the lives of 17 people as well as made our journey to the village impossible. This picture tells the heartbreak and tragedy that can strike in a place like this and demonstrates the extreme difficulties that people like Bang and her family can face seeking medical treatment in Hanoi.

Little Bang’s Eye Accolades:

Nomination for an Impact Docs Award of Recognition in the categories: Documentary Short and Women Filmmakers

Indie Fest Film Award Category –  Award of Recognition: Nonprofit / Fundraising 

In April this year the film had its first international screening at the Indianapolis Film Festival in the USA.

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