Asian Australian Film Forum and Network (AAFF) co-Chairs Indigo ‘Indi’ Willing and Amadeo Marquez-Perez
Amadeo Marquez-Perez has over 15 years experience as a local and international film festival organizer, including with the Bayside Film Festival and 15/15 Film Festival, as well as a Digital Media Workshop Coordinator. He also has a passion for supporting and promoting the stories of a range of communities that are primarily not reflected within the Australian Film Industry. This is reflected in numerous digital story and filmmaking workshops he has conducted with a range of communities with diverse backgrounds both in urban and rural towns in Australia and internationally. Recent workshops included a project on Australian cultural identities and belonging called ‘Identity: Yours, Mine, Ours’ sponsored by the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. He is also the co-producer of The Songs They Sang a powerful documentary that explored the music and songs generated by the Jewish community forced into the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the Second World War.
Indigo ‘Indi’ Willing was born in Vietnam and later adopted from an orphanage into an Australian family. This experience has influenced her deep commitment to promoting diverse identities and forms of belonging, and exploring the transnational and cross-cultural ties that can emerge. Now based in Brisbane, she grew up in Sydney and has a PhD in sociology, studied film for a BA in Communication, and is a performing arts school graduate. She is also a former Rockefeller Research Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Massachusetts in their Vietnamese Diaspora project and volunteers for many community projects including Adopted Vietnamese International. Indigo has also facilitated and co-organised several film festivals and workshops, including the An Asian Australian Occasion Short Film Festival in 2007, and Transcultural Adoptee Films in 2009 and 2011, where Amadeo was a Special Workshop Lecturer.
The Asian Australian Film Forum 2011 (also known as the AAFF 2011) in Melbourne was their first event working together as co-conveners. They both talk to Lian Low about their experiences and future hopes for the newly formed Asian Australian Film Forum and Network (AAFFN).
Lian: Why AAFFN? Why is it important to have AAFFN?
The Asian Australian Film Forum and Network offers a ‘one stop shop’ type of setting for seeing great stories, developing ideas and building networks. It’s important to support pathways for stronger inclusion and representation of Asian Australian content and participation through showcasing producers, actors, writers, directors, and marketers in the television and film industry. There is so much we can learn from this creative community, from the industry pioneers to independent and emerging talent, and so many beautiful, poignant, funny and entertaining stories that are being made which rarely get to be seen.
Given how diverse the social and cultural fabric of our nation really is, Australian cinema and television should be able to weave an incredibly vibrant tapestry made up of many voices and stories, including Asian Australian ones. But sadly, audiences only get a glimpse of how richly diverse and powerful the creative output of this particular part of the Australian population. When you flick on the television, or buy your movie tickets and have that wonderful sensation of the cinema darkening and opening titles rolling, what you see on the screen barely reflects this reality. And for Asian Australians, the absence of opportunities to be seen on the screen and to tell our stories is also frustrating, because, as a diverse population, we are ready, skilled at and open to telling really great stories. The desire to see our communities is important not just for ourselves but for future generations to be proud of their sense of identity and belonging, including our younger siblings, children, the school kids we may do outreach work with and so on.
Of course, we need to be careful not to homogenize Asian Australians as all being ‘the same’. As the feature articles and vox pops in this special issue illustrate, there are many Asian Australian stories and each one will be filled with richness, and almost certainly with differences. But the term also conveniently fits as a description and short cut to our many identity stories, and as a descriptor of a creative movement arising from people with the connections, skills, dreams and desires to nurture, explore and bring particular stories out of the shadows. Asian Australian stories and identities are not strangers to us, but if we were to think about how many films and TV shows in the mainstream showcase Asian Australian stories, we might be able to list some, but not in a way that truly represents the people and worlds we know as an everyday reality.
Although our focus is on Asian Australians, we want to be inclusive, not exclusive in everything we do. Our belief is that all Australians, from Indigenous peoples to people from all parts of the globe who come to live here, need to be represented equally and in a diverse manner. Groups like the AAFFN have been formed because some representations and opportunities are still very disproportionate considering the numbers of talented actors, directors, scriptwriters and other industry people, and this includes people of Asian Australian heritage that exist and are eager to contribute. This is why we are also in talks with a range of communities on how we might support what they’re doing, and also look at overlaps and rich areas for future collaboration.
Lian: How was the collaboration born?
The AAFFN event in 2011 arose when the wonderfully pioneering Dr Tseen Khoo, the founder of The Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), invited us to co-chair a film forum to explore Asian Australian stories on and behind the screen. The film forum event was also held in association with another AASRN sponsored event, the Asian Australian Identities 4 Conference, ‘New Communities, New Racisms’. While the main aim of the conference was to explore Asian Australian issues in an academic context, the AAFF 2011 was more community and industry focused. But both events were firmly committed to Asian Australian themes of representation of community experiences and constructions of identity and belonging.
From our own experiences and also seeing the impact of racism on others, we feel we can understand the frustration of being stereotyped and how easy it is to be marginalized and made invisible. We all have stories to tell, and the idea of holding an Asian Australian film forum seemed to provide a great way for assisting people from a range of backgrounds to be empowered to tell share and their own stories through visual storytelling. Film and video are our windows into understanding both everyday experiences and remarkably complex issues relating to Asian Australian communities.
We truly believe that films, TV and videos, including online content, are some of the most excellent mediums to tell Asian Australian stories, not only about where ‘we’ might ‘come from’ by way of heritage and ancestry, but also ‘where we are coming from’ in our multiple affiliations and ties.
Lian: How did dreams become reality?
After being invited by Tseen to join this innovative project, we jumped at the chance to work with some of really exciting filmmakers, performers and arts facilitators. We saw the first event we held in 2011 as a way to bring the focus on Asian Australian stories and filmmakers to the general public, and to begin a great conversation and networking opportunity for screen creatives that we feel needs to continue.
We have been very fortunate to find such an amazing group of people that have been extremely generous with their time and expertise. The Asian Australian film and television community were so very generous and supportive of creating a more inclusive future, not only for themselves and their peers, but for future generations.
During our call for submissions we kept the genres wide open since the idea of our 2011 event was to illustrate the diversity, complexity and unlimited realms of imaginative engagement that exists out there in the Asian Australian screen scene. The films that came in reflected that diversity, complexity and imagination and themes ranged from family and belonging, love and desire, generational perspectives and transformations, comedy and action. Furthermore, we also received documentaries about expatriates, refugees, transmigrants and some very special reunions.
We also had a quite pointed but trustworthy criteria based on their demonstrating originality, perceptiveness and boldness. The final program certainly reflected this and we hope people gained a sense of surprise, connection, engagement, and most importantly, understanding of the stories they saw, and with an appetite for more Asian Australian film related events and cultural productions.
For example, there were a number of hauntingly poignant short documentaries where filmmakers, many in their debut, allowed us to witness some very unique life transformations and reunions such as in TRO VE by Quan Tran, SHORT TIME by Sofie Kim, DEADLINE by Joy Hopwood, OPERATION REUNITE by Dominic Golding and the 2006 AFI nominated TRANSIT by Tony Davison. In terms of animation, there was an intimate family story between mother and child in FORGET ME NOT by Emily Dean, the gentle scrolling artwork of LION DANCERS by Matt Huynh offering its dreamy streetscapes and everyday observations of Chinatown, and the high energy exploration of photographs, music and travel in NO DIRECTION KNOWN by Michael ‘Tokyo Love In’ Chin and his collaborators in Plum Jungle.
There were also award winning drama short films such as RED WATER RED by Qing Xie, and WONDER BOY by Corrie Chen, which have attracted both local and international attention for their rich visual styles and high originality. The traditional action genre was taken on with THE PROBATIONER by Huu Tran, demonstrating some incredible stunt work, and the twists on traditional horror as seen with the trailer we showed ROSES ARE DEAD by Min Tran. Audiences also got to have a great laugh viewing the you-tube favourite action comedy, BULLIES by Somchay Phakonkham and Maria Tran; a family tale in BABY CAKE by Pearl Tan; and a Hong Kong arts satire CHUNKING ALL STATION by Jack Ngu.
We were also lucky to garner two feature length films: CITIZEN JIA LI, which cast a loving eye over our event’s host city of Melbourne placing a story about Asian Australians in the centre stage. This screening was followed by a special Q and A with director Sky Crompton, and with the star power and generous insights offered by actors Chris Pang and Susanna Qian, (Pang recently starred in the blockbuster TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN and Qian in RED WATER RED). The second feature was MOTHER FISH directed by the acclaimed filmmaker and former Young Australian of the Year, Khoa Do. MOTHERFISH was the official closing film of our 2011 event, and left audiences deeply touched and engaged with its haunting performances and timely themes about refugees who have to flee their country to save their lives and to protect those they love.
More than a film festival though, the event also brought together a national network of creative practitioners, educators and cultural community workers together for various panel sessions. The keynote and our very special guest was Annette Shun Wah, a pioneer in Australian TV and film. Her opening speech made the room come alive with recognition as she talked about some of the challenges Asian Australians face in both TV and cinema, and also on some of their great achievements and positive ways forward. This includes the 4A Performance Website and Directory she is a part of, which is the first such register for Asian Australian screen professionals.
Other speakers we were really excited to showcase included Corrie Chen who flew to the Munich Film Festival to screen her short film ‘WONDER BOY’ straight after our event, as well as Jiao Chen, Heng Tang, Maria Tran, Kieran Tully, Andy Minh Trieu, Susanna Qian, Joyce Yuen, PJ Madam, Jane Park, Sofie Kim, Joy Hopwood, Pearl Tan, Dominic Golding, Min Tran, Huu Tran, Somchay Phakonkham and Yu Ye Wu, plus David Nguyen and Hoang Tran Nguyen in conversation with Scott Brook. The panel discussions, chaired by Annette, Maria and both of us, focused on ideas and angles such as emerging Asian Australian experiences, representations and transformations on the screen, how storytelling via film and video provide education about challenging racism and how such creative work can also assist individuals and communities to express multiple forms of belonging, and cross-cultural understanding.
Were you happy with the AAAFFN?
We are so grateful to have worked with everyone involved, including Tseen, Amadeo’s amazingly generous family Carlos and Nuria, and our other event volunteers, Matt Pastor and Jacqueline Erasmus, our special advisory committee, plus all our speakers and filmmakers who were outstanding. And a big thank you to the audiences too, with some coming as far as Perth and New Zealand to catch our event. Also attending were some of the filmmakers like Quan Tran, and we also had some more senior legends in Asian Australian screen history in our audience, like Alfredo Nicdao who was in the early Australian drama The Sullivans and his daughter who is also an actor, along with Ferdinand Hoang, who has starred in numerous films including THE QUIET AMERICAN where he features in a highly memorable, stand out scene with Michael Caine and whose family also feature actors, including Zohar Hoang who stars in WONDER BOY.
The AAFF 2011 program hopefully appealed to and brought together a range of people interested in Asian Australian stories told through imaginative narrative driven films, action films, comedies, independent documentaries and that the inclusion of panel sessions that reflect film programming was also of interest to people working on and behind the screen in the film and video industry, film students, scholars in the humanities and social sciences, individuals and communities with connections to Asian Australian heritages and professionals whose work covers this population.
Big thanks to all the fantastic people who have come on board and given us their time and support. We were also really delighted and grateful to have SBS Film, along with the AASRN as our major sponsors, plus Gung Ho Productions, Village Cinemas, Madman Entertainment, KOFFIA and many more, plus we also got a lot of love from a range of folks, organizations and businesses who are just really keen and proud to support Asian Australians on and behind the screen. The public have also been amazing, tweeting our news, Facebooking and so on, and writing in with super feedback. Clearly Australia is ready for Asian Australian stories and faces on and behind the screen.
Where to next?
Like all projects, there’s always room to develop further and certain limitations that need to be overcome. Our inaugural event did not represent as many Asian Australian communities as we’d have hoped, both on the film program and speaker list. We also have a deep wish to work more closely with cross-cultural stories between Asian Australians and Indigenous Australian communities. So that’s on our minds for the future. The themes explored could also continue to expand, but at the same time, we’ll continue to let the community shape them rather than having any rigidly structured and ultimately narrow and dogmatic notions about what constitutes Asian Australian content and experiences.
We’d also really like to be able to soar and nurture some great collaborations with further funding via film and arts sectors, industry and by increasing our public reach and visibility with support by various cinemas and film press.
It would be great for the AAFFN to continue to work with and increase the exposure for Asian Australian film and video makers, television presenters and actors, and creators of youtube and new media content, as well as the strengthening of creative, community and academic networks. By re-shaping the film forum to also be a network, the opportunities for all kinds of future events and projects is now open. As our keynote speaker Annette Shun Wah also suggested, as a very new network high on ideas and enthusiasm, we are in a great position to think broadly and outside the box and hold something like an Asian Australian stories pitch competition, and to partner with various film festivals, industry bodies, production companies, TV networks and film schools, and community groups to create and nurture a range of opportunities for Asian Australians to get their stories seen. It would be a pleasure to see more film forums, workshops and film festival programs focused on Asian Australian content touring capital cities and regional areas in various forms, and to develop wherever the opportunities and ideas arise. One way to do this is to also continue to reach out and work with the great range of talented and passionate people out there in the screen community.
Asian Australian Film Forum & Network (AAFFN)
Co-founders: Amadeo Marquez-Perez, Indigo Willing and Tseen Khoo
Facebook at: facebook.com/AsianAustralianFilmForum
Twitter at: twitter.com/AAFFN