Australia is a vast country, not just in terms of our physical expansiveness but the diversity of people who make up our multi-cultural society and the circumstances that brought them here. Reticent as we can be to express our stories, the experience of growing up Australian after coming here from another culture, or having a heritage that stretches beyond our borders, is both valuable and illustrative.
One of the most varied, but often underexposed, groups that form part of our national identity is the Asian Australian community. Spanning families that have multi-generation arcs here to those who comprised previous waves of resettlement and more recent migrants, the Asian Australian experience is part of our lives, although the mainstream media and popular culture don't always reflect this vibrant reality. Now a new event on the cinema calendar, the Asian Australian Film Forum, hopes to help rectify that.
“We're hoping to showcase an exciting and diverse range of speakers and films that bring the experiences of Asian-Australians to a wider audience,” explains one of the event's co-conveners, Dr. Indigo Willing. “As everyday Australians we live and breathe multi-culturalism, we grew up together – Asia is not just this place that's overseas and different, it's part of the fabric of Australian life. We're trying to expose artists and people that work in the industry that are dedicated to bring Asian Australians to the screen.”
Held in Melbourne on the weekend of Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 November, the Asian Australian Film Forum is a tightly packed two days of panel discussions and short films, feature film screenings and networking opportunities. Six months in the planning, it's hoped the event will act as an accelerant for the production process for Asian Australian stories and their makers, as well as their public exhibition.
“We go to school with Asian Australians, we work with them. We don't use the category that often, but it's very much a part of everyday Australian life,” adds Willing. “But while we see these people on the streets or in our workplaces or schools, we don't know their stories well enough. This is an opportunity to know those stories and how these people weave a sense of belonging and a visual identity into the idea of being Australian.”
With free entry to anyone who registers (although some screenings are rated 15+), the Asian Australian Film Forum will screen a variety of works. The closing night title is Khoa Do's transformative Mother Fish, the award-winning micro-budget telling of two sisters' journey to Australia from Vietnam as boat people in 1980, but by way of contrast there's Qing Xie's polished Red Water Red and Corrie Chen's Wonderboy (pictured).
“Red Water Red traverses really interesting territory. It's an opulent and complex taboo story about love and desire,” Willing notes. “Wonderboy offers a really different lens on small town Australian life through the eyes of this young Asian schoolboy in primary school.”
Straight after the latter's screening director Corrie Chen hops a plane for the Munich Film Festival, where Wonderboy will also screen, and one of the Forum's aims is to mix together the successful and the budding – directors looking to graduate from shorts to a feature can meet young actors, young documentary makers can mingle with established producers.
“We want to build networks and connections,” stresses Willing, whose own background is testament to the Asian Australian experience. Born in Vietnam, the 40-year-old doctor of sociology arrived in Australia in late 1972 as a two-year-old, adopted by an Anglo Australian couple and growing up on Sydney's northern beaches, where she felt like the only Asian person within a 20 mile radius.
That sense of isolation has changed now – so much of Asian living has migrated to Australia now, from cuisine to comic books – and with each year the experiences of Asian Australians become more diverse, to the point where definitions are less important than universal access. Director Tony Davison's Transit, for example, is a documentary short about young Asian Australians defining themselves as expatriates in Hong Kong; these journeys can now have many destinations.
The opening address is by writer, actor, producer and broadcaster Annette Shun Wah, whose long history on SBS has made a breakthrough figure for Asian Australians in the media and arts. What those behind the Asian Australian Film Forum are hoping is that they can spotlight those who will follow her, such as multi-format dynamo Maria Tran, a young actor and filmmaker who puts her spin on martial arts mayhem and comedy and will feature on the first panel of the opening day, “On The Screen Scene – getting AA Stories Seen”.
“So many connections exist, but we don't take time to reflect on them. Filmmakers see these things and they sum them up in as little as six minutes,” stresses Indigo Willing. “Everyone loves film. It's universal, and it can boil down really complex themes into something that is both accessible and enjoyable. They become these dreams and stories we keep in the pockets of our mind for long afterwards.”
The Asian Australian Film Forum is on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 November at the Centre for Adult Education, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD.
For more information and to register see www.asianaustralianfilmforum.wordpress.com.
SBS is a media partner of this event.