Meet Corrie Chen – director
AAFFN Interview with Dir. Corrie Chen http://www.corriechen.com
by Indigo Willing
Corrie is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at numerous festivals around the world. Upon graduating from the Victorian College of Arts in 2010, her student films have won numerous awards, garnered an ADG Best student film nomination and she came runner up in the QANTAS SOYA awards. Consequently Corrie was invited to participate in talent labs as part of Melbourne International Film Festival (Accelerator), and Munich Film Festival (Film Schools).
Corrie’s latest directing work includes her first documentary in Suicide and Me – a 1/2 hour documentary commissioned by the ABC. On the night it was broadcast, the show title trended across Australia and a clip from the documentary went viral internationally. She has also recently completed the short comedy Bloomers – a 2013 recipient of Screen Australia’s Short Film Completion Fund.
The start of 2014 sees Corrie invited to Berlinale Talents (as part of the Berlin Film Festival) to receive mentoring from internationally acclaimed filmmakers. She will also direct Reg Makes Contact – a short film developed and financed with the support of Screen Australia’s Hot Shots program.
Current project: REG MAKES CONTACT. On the eve of being admitted to a nursing home, a space-obsessed dementia sufferer unearths a mysterious object from the sky.
- What are some of the key goals that drive you to do what you do?
CC: I have always been interested in the idea of cultural collisions – too often a topic portrayed with seriousness. I want to give audience the permission to laugh at themselves and others in situations they recognise and relate to, instead of being threatened by what they don’t understand. I grew up in an era when it wasn’t completely safe to be Asian-Australian. Having to always question my own cultural identity, it is something that is hugely prevalent in my work. Boundaries between east & west are mixing together as never before. I wanted to reflect this and move beyond old stereotypes – to be more hybrid in form, and more accessible to a bigger audience.
I am interested in the current and the future – the stories of how the Chinese have dispersed across the world, and ultimately the effect of the East moving into the West, rather than the reverse. I believe cinema is perfectly placed to reflect this next phase in our history, and these are the stories that can truly cater for both the Eastern and western audiences.
- Can you list one or a couple of films with multicultural cast members or content would your recommend to others? Why?
CC: Generally speaking, I find TV does a far better job at representing multiculturalism than films do – I think the domesticated nature of television grounds the stories in recognisable settings and characters, and it also responds faster to what audiences want. I tend to find American TV much better at colour blind casting – famously on GREY’S ANATOMY, and the earlier season of GLEE played on the stereotypes of the “typical Asian teen” to great comedic effect.
In Australia, reality TV does multiculturalism particularly well – though unfortunately a lot of the time they are portrayed as conniving! It was great to see Dami on X-FACTOR, and many recognisable Asian identities such as Poh and Adam were from MASTER CHEF. In drama, I think the portrayal of Asian-Australians still have a long way to go, but I’m heartened by the strength of indigenous talent on shows such as REDFERN NOW as a possible future for AA stories
- Who are some of the key filmmakers overseas or here that make a difference to how we appreciate diversity in film?
CC: For me personally, Ang Lee’s early 90’s trilogy of films really opened my eyes on what it meant to an Asian in the West. Even though he’s moved away from that topic since then, I still think he remains crucial in breaking down barriers for Asian filmmakers, and the kinds of stories they can/are allowed to tell. Another interesting filmmaker is Justin Lin (director of FAST & FURIOUS franchise). Now he may not be the “art house” type of filmmaker that critics like to talk about, but I think he’s immensely talented and FAST & FURIOUS films he directed (5-7) remain some of the most multicultural Hollywood films made in recent years. AND with billions in box office takings, lots and lots of people obviously saw them. His earlier indie films are definitely worth checking out, especially his AA breakthrough BETTER LUCK TOMORROW.
And for me, I think that’s the next step – when Asian people are on screen, it doesn’t neccesarily have to be about their “plight”. Most Asians I know are fully integrated and have very nice or comparatively ordinary lives in the West.
- People sometimes say there’s simply not the talent pool or viewing public for diverse casting and stories. From your experience, how easy is it to cast for your films?
CC: Unfortunately I do have to agree somewhat – it is quite hard to cast, and that’s why you keep seeing the same actors playing “international student 2” or “restaurant owner” on TV all the time. Not to say it’s impossible – it just requires a lot more time and effort, which means money, etc. I think this will change and more 2nd/3rd gen Asian-Australians join the creative industry, both in front and behind the camera.
- Who are some of the mentors and supporters who have backed diversity in films in Australia?
CC: I do see a sense of energy building for more screen diversity in Australia. The more we start to see visible AA on screen, the quicker the momentum will build. People such as Tony Ayres, Lawrence Leung, Alice Pung and Benjamin Law help to promote authenticity in telling these stories, which is the most crucial part. And of course, AAFFN is definitely the biggest supporter of any AA’s in the industry.
It’s not the fault of anyone in particular – it’s easy to blame the producers or networks but there are so many reasons why there aren’t more AA stories on screen; from not enough talent behind the scenes to give it that truthfulness that audiences expect and crave, through to the bottom line – will people actually watch it? In the end, film and TV is big business and it would be naïve to ignore that.
- What is some of the most useful and encouraging feedback you’ve had from public and industry that have seen your own works?
CC: This was something I was told this year by someone high up in the industry – that my work displayed a true picture of 21st century Australia. It’s something I never set out to do, but just came naturally to me. It’s very flattering, because when I was young I remember I always wanted to be white and blonde, because that was what it was like on Neighbours so that must be the only way I can fit in.
I can only hope in the next decade, young AA kids can watch TV and realise that being themselves, whatever east-west fusion they are, is the best thing in the world.
- What kinds of stories do you want to see in the future?
CC: Oh…so many. More multiculturalism in comedy would be fantastic. I think they have plenty of multiculturalism in crime dramas (unfortunately), but comedies is sadly lacking.
- Any advice for up and coming filmmakers and actors?
CC: Know what it is you want to say and why you want to do this – and reflect it in your work. This industry is so tough there will be many times you want to quit, but if you remember why it is you want to make movies or TV in the first place, that is the thought that will help you hold on in your low or stressful moments when you have parents breathing down your neck, demanding reasons for why you don’t have a second house yet like so-and-so’s kid from down the street. For me, I simply cannot imagine doing anything else that would make me even half as happy as I do when I write or direct. Well, actually I CAN’T do anything else because my only other skill is making dumplings, and god forbid I conform to any stereotypes (laughs).