Young Filmmaker Interview: Carol Nguyen

DadminFilm World, Young Filmmakers

Carol Nguyen cover photo

Name: Carol Nguyen
Age: 17
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Links to My Work
On Vimeo:
Silent Mourners
This Home is Not Empty
“How Do You Pronounce Pho?”
Uprooted
All the Broken Things (Book Trailer)
On YouTube:
Evergreen
Maybe You Are (Choreography by Carol)
One sentence of why I make films: Filmmaking allows me to express thoughts and feelings that could not otherwise be communicated.

1. Can you give us some background on how you first got into filmmaking?

The first films I made were silly animations on a DSi app called ‘Flipnote’. My cousin and I were bored one summer, so we ended up investing all of our time creating animations about our non-existent adventures. They were super weird. In one of them, we killed ourselves to turn into ghosts so that we would be able to shape-shift into a red pepper. I don’t know what we were thinking, but they ended up being one of those things that are so bad that it’s good.

My passion for filmmaking did not occur until I attended high school where I decided to major in film. Honestly, I had auditioned for the film program because it was the only major that did not require previous experience. My only intention was to attend the school. After seeing how much my sister liked it there, I made it my mission to get in. My audition was not good, but somehow, I was accepted.

We are encouraged to make personal films in the program. It’s the department’s philosophy. My first film I made in the program explored a very personal and sensitive topic. It wasn’t until that film that I addressed that issue. Making that film allowed me to express what I could not speak of. That film emptied all the bottled up feelings that I held in for so long. It changed my life. From then, I realized how powerful of a tool filmmaking can be. It expresses thoughts and feelings that could not otherwise be communicated.

Making that film allowed me to express what I could not speak of. That film emptied all the bottled up feelings that I held in for so long. It changed my life.Carol Nguyen

2. You’ve traveled to many film festivals and already won so many awards. Can you tell us about some of the highlights / favorite moments to your film festival travels?

Most of my favorite moments come from Heartland Film Festival. I’ve been lucky enough to win Grand Prize in the High School category twice and to attend the festival three times. At this point, the Heartland feels like family to me and there is not a single moment that I don’t cherish. But, one that stands out to me is meeting two incredibly inspirational filmmakers, Alexandria Bombach and Alison Klayman. They are both so talented, hardworking and passionate towards what they do. Their energy makes me want to do more. They are both adventurous too. Alexandria is quite the nomad. She just goes where ever life takes her and I think that’s pretty awesome. I hope to follow in their footsteps and to one day, inspire others the way they inspire me.

Carol Nguyen and Kira Bursky at Cucalorus
Photo by Saben Kane

Another memory that comes to mind took place at Cucalorus Film Festival. I spent most of my time at the festival with a lovely filmmaker named Kira Bursky. We became very close from those few days, sharing personal stories and dancing in random public places. I learned so much from Kira. She has love for everything and everyone around her. She as well is very inspiring. Anyways, I remember sitting on the floor at Jengo’s with Kira on my last night at Cucalorus. It must have been 2AM and my flight back home was only a couple of hours away. We just sat on the grimy floor and talked about our time together. It was cold and dark, but it was magical because at that moment, I realized that although we were separating, it was just the beginning of a long and great friendship.

3. In your film “How Do You Pronounce Pho?” you deal with the theme of cultural identity. Do you have advice for young filmmakers on telling personal stories?

Ask yourself these questions:

a. Why am I making this film?: That answer should be the core of the film.

b. Why should the audience care?: This question is crucial. Films are meant to be shared. Find a way to universalize your personal story so the audience can relate. For example, in “How Do You Pronounce Pho?” I used food as the universal idea.

4. Are you working on any projects now that you can tell us about? You’re working on your thesis film, right?

Yes, I am currently working on my thesis film. It is a short, experimental film called Facade. I’m building four customized sets for this film, which is a lot of work and quite financially straining for a student. I’ve actually started a Kickstarter in hopes to attract some money towards the sets. You can learn more about the campaign and my film here:

In the script, the girls set a car on fire. I went to bed the night after our first rehearsal and woke up to a loud crash at 3AM in the morning.

I went outside to check out what was happening and, lo and behold, there was a blazing car in the middle of my street.

Coincidence?
Carol Nguyen

5. I know you don’t go to a normal high school. Can you tell us about your high school?

I go to an arts school called Etobicoke School of the Arts. It is a high school where you can choose to specialize in an art form, which means instead of attending your major class every other day like the normal courses, you attend your major every day. Because of this, people in your major class become very tight-knit and by the end of senior year you have a very special relationship with each other.

Imagine making films, preparing for musicals or taking dance classes in school, but also still getting the opportunity to learn about chemistry or kinesiology… ESA gives you the environment to practice your craft without having to sacrifice traditional academics.

6. Do you have any stories about unexpected / surprising things that have occurred on a production of your’s?

This past summer, I collaborated on a film with my friend Nastasia. In the script, the girls set a car on fire. I went to bed the night after our first rehearsal and woke up to a loud crash at 3AM in the morning. I rushed to my window and saw a bunch of people crowding a few metres away from my house. I went outside to check out what was happening and, lo and behold, there was a blazing car in the middle of my street. Coincidence? I grabbed my camera to shoot some footage so we could use it in the film. Unfortunately, it was not included in the final cut. We did however get the bragging rights to say that ‘we set a car on fire’ for a film, which I still tell people today, so shhhhhhh…

7. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young filmmaker who wants to start taking their first filmmaking steps?

This applies to everything, not just filmmaking: Learn how to take constructive criticism. Know that It is not a personal attack, so never take it to heart. Acknowledging others’ perspectives will only allow you to better yourself and improve in your craft.

Kira Bursky

The Interviewer

About Kira

Kira Bursky, the founder of Big Little Filmmaker, is a nineteen year old filmmaker who has been pursuing her dreams for the past six years. A graduate of the Interlochen Academy of the Arts where she was a student of the school’s filmmaking program, Kira was a 2014 National YoungArts Finalist as well as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts Semi-Finalist and received the top prize for Best Overall Film at the 2014 All American High School Film Festival for We’re Okay.

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