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5 Minutes with the Young Filmmaker Carol Nguyen

Bringing a family’s unspoken stories to the big screen.


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Carol Nguyen is a 21-year-old Vietnamese-Canadian filmmaker who was born in Toronto and currently lives in Montreal. She studied film at Etobicoke School of the Arts (2012-2016) and Concordia University (2016-2020). She is a three-time Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Jump Cuts Award winner. Jump Cuts presents short films created for young people, by young people. She is known for Tundra (2018), Every Grain of Rice (2017) and This House is not Empty (2015). Her most recent short film, No Crying at the Dinner Table, premiered at TIFF this past September. The film comprises interviews with her own family where she explores the unspoken stories of her immigrant parents and also what she and her sibling did not share with them. Carol was selected as an Adobe Creativity Scholar, a 2018 Sundance Ignite fellow and an ambassador of TIFF Share Her Journey which was launched in 2017 to increase opportunities for women who work in the entertainment industry.

What does being at TIFF 2019 mean to you and your career?

I have a long history with TIFF, starting back in high school when I volunteered for TIFF Next Wave, a film festival with free movies for anyone under 25. I attended their youth programs, such as TIFF Jump Cuts and then became an ambassador for Share Her Journey years later. All these experiences have been positive for my career. When I was young and attending all these TIFF events, I dreamed about one day being an official selection in the actual festival. It just so happened that this year was that year. It feels really special to see things culminating at this point.

Why did you name the film No Crying at the Table? What made you want to do this film?

It is a documentary that stars my family. In the film, they each tell the camera something that they had never spoken about before. The film speaks about intergenerational trauma, family, love and communication. I gave the film this title because it resonates with topics that the themes touch upon. After watching it, you are able to better understand this resonance.

Is there any message behind the film?

I am always fascinated with what others take away and how they might be able to relate to the themes, especially those who may not have the same cultural background. My stories always sprout from my experience as a Vietnamese woman in Canada, but there is a universal underlying theme to each story and it’s up to the viewers to understand and interpret for themselves.

How did you convince your family to take part?

My family is very supportive of me and my films. They have helped me along the way in front of, and behind, the camera since I was in high school. They trust me as a director and that is something for which I am grateful. I had to make sure that I didn’t break that trust in the process of making this film. I tried to be transparent each step of the way. I made sure I got consent to tell their stories on camera for the public to see. I made sure that I didn’t push their limits. There was a lot of precaution and preparation up to the day of the shoot to make things go smoothly and to make them comfortable.

Will you participate in any other film festivals?

Yes. The film heads to the Vancouver Film Festival and Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Quebec. We are also waiting to hear back from other festivals in the United States and internationally. You can keep up with our itinerary through our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ncatdt

Do you plan to do another film in the near future?

Yes. My next film will be a narrative short. I plan to shoot next spring or summer.

What inspired you to start making films?

Honestly, finding my love for filmmaking was a complete accident. I originally thought of going into business, but I was lucky enough to be able to get accepted into an arts school where I took film courses and I just fell in love with filmmaking ever since.

How has your family reacted to your choice of career?

I think at first, because I was so young when I started making films, my parents thought it was just a hobby. They showed some concern when I decided to pursue it as a career.  Naturally, as parents, they worried about how I would make a steady income in the future. As a freelancer, that is always in the back of my mind as well. It’s a difficult lifestyle, but it’s one that I have chosen and am happy with.

My parents have been supportive in so many ways. They have never pushed back at any crazy thing I wish to pursue, or any business trip I have. They spread the news articles about me to their friends. It shows me that they are really proud. As for my sister, she has always been there for me. She is gives me advice, artistic feedback and emotional support. I can’t thank her enough.

How ingrained is Vietnamese culture in you?

Being a second generation Vietnamese-Canadian, I identify with Vietnamese culture. It is part of who I am and I am proud of it.

Have you ever been in Vietnam? Would you like to go there?

I have never been to Vietnam. However, I will be going this month!

Have you ever thought of presenting your films in Vietnam or working in Vietnam as a film director?

I would love to share my work with an audience in Vietnam while I’m there. Hopefully I will be able to find someone to help me organize a screening. I would love to see how Vietnamese people in Vietnam react to my work.

Would you like to share some advice for our young readers, especially the second generation of Vietnamese in Canada like you?

Embrace your roots and dream big.

Thank you for speaking with Culture Magazin. We wish you success and happiness in your life. Best of luck to you!

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt