Professor Esther Johnson’s new feature film DUST & METAL will receive its world premiere at this year’s Sheffield DocFest (2022)

Dust & Metal film poster
Professor Esther Johnson‘s new feature film DUST & METAL will receive its world premiere at this year’s Sheffield DocFest with a live soundtrack performance on Monday 27 June from 8pm at the magnificent Memorial Hall in Sheffield City Hall. The film will screen in the form of a  “cine-concert” with the film’s new electronic score performed live by Vietnamese artist Xo Xinh.  

Tickets and passes are available here.


DUST & METAL (CAT BỤI & KIM LOẠI) presents stories of ‘freedom’ in Vietnam past and present told through the lens of the country’s ubiquitous mode of transport: the motorbike. Stepping away from Hollywood’s portrayals of the American/Vietnam War, Dust & Metal offers an unorthodox perspective of Vietnam. Through a unique partnership with the Vietnam Film Institute to digitize rare archive film, this Vietnamese-British project funded by the British Council is an unmissable audio-visual live cinema experience. Through the repositioning of difficult to access archive film, contemporary footage, and a live score composed and performed by Vietnamese artist Xo Xinh, Dust & Metal will make rare archive film available to new audiences and illuminate unfamiliar histories of Vietnam.

In 2021, The British Council provided Dust & Metal with £50,000 in funding from their Digital Collaboration Fund, enabling the completion of the film in the face of the significant barriers posed by the pandemic. To complete the film in Vietnam, the Live Cinema UK-produced project partnered with the Vietnam Film Institute and Hanoi-based film collaborative TPD: The Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents, to remotely produce this innovative archive documentary, sharing never-before digitised archive materials between Vietnam and the UK.

Dust & Metal still

Says Esther Johnson,          

Much of my work is concerned with uncovering alternative social histories and this project is all about stories connected to Vietnam’s unique relationship with the motorbikeOn first arrival in Vietnam, I was hypnotised by the swarm of motorbikes and was exhilarated getting around Hà Nội on the back of a bike. Bikes are such a powerful symbol of Vietnam’s history: the popularity of motorbikes now replacing the mass bicycle use in the 1950-70s that was crucial for the transportation of supplies during the war in Vietnam. Both cycles and motorbikes are invaluable for navigating Vietnam’s ‘hẻm’ alleyways too narrow for cars. The current independence and freedom of Vietnam motorbike culture reminded me of Hồ Chí Minh’s famous quote, ‘Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence’.  

I am honoured that DUST & METAL has been selected to premiere at the eminent Sheffield DocFest, in the city where I am Professor of Film and Media Arts at Sheffield Hallam University. DUST & METAL has been a real labour of love with the majority of production completed throughout the particularly difficult conditions of the pandemic. I have been fortunate to be able to work with an amazing group of collaborators, including the first partnership between an artist filmmaker and the Vietnam Film Institute; a film crew via TPD Centre for the Development of Movie Talents in Hanoi; a dazzling score by Vietnamese composer Xo Xinh; and the expertise and enthusiasm of Live Cinema UK. It’s heartening to know that this kind of work has been funded by the British Council and I am indebted to them for believing in my film concept. I cannot wait to share the work with audiences and hope that they are inspired by the magic of Vietnam as much as I have been.

Dust & Metal film poster