Interview with the Winners of Joy House Film Festival 2018 (Youth & Diversity) – challenges being a filmmaker

JHFF on screen 2018

The Annual Joy House Film Festival was on again at Hoyts cinema on Sept 9th, 2018. The only uplifting festival Downunder that promotes stories of JOY and celebrates DIVERSITY, supported by the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s Diversity Committee.

I had the privilege of interviewing our Winners, this week our Youth & Diversity winners –   Shejuti Hossain (Creed) & Ehsan Knopf (Digby Webster)

S  Shejuti Hossain

E.  Ehsan Knopf

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1) What made you want to produce / make your short films?
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E.K. : Digby Webster is a short excerpt from a longer feature documentary called “Flying Solo”, inspired by my own diagnosis with a disability, Asperger’s syndrome.
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S.H.: For me, it was about the message that our short film conveyed. Many cross cultural youth in Australia, myself included, face issues with being caught in the middle of two clashing cultures. It becomes an internal conflict where one is torn between wanting to follow the beliefs and traditions that they’ve been brought up with at home, as well as trying to ‘fit in’ to the starkly different culture present in the country/city they live in.
The aim of the film is to contribute to building resilience and social cohesion so that different cultures aren’t seen as opposing cultures. It aims to educate non-islamic people about our side of the story, how our faith isn’t any less than their beliefs, and how we can all live in harmony if we look past our prejudices.
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Digby Digby Webster Documentary
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2) What do you consider important as a filmmaker and why?
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E.K. : Using the craft to offer a glimpse of a world largely unseen by the general public, and using that unique perspective to transforms perceptions around certain subject matter or theme – in this case disability.
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S.H.: Film is a powerful medium to spread a message as, if done well, it can captivate an audience and leave a real impression on them. Humans connect through stories, finding areas they can relate, and learning about something outside of themselves.
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Filmmaking gives one the power to invite an audience into a certain realm for at least the duration of the film, and perhaps open their mind up more, ultimately making our world a more connected and interesting place to live. It can spark discussions, present new ideas and open up space for groups or minorities that didn’t have space before. This is important for the audience as well, as the audience gets the opportunity to have an experience vicariously that they may not have had the chance to do otherwise, perhaps making them more curious about the world they live in.
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3) Did you see any challenges whilst making your short film entry?
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E.K. : The feature film was produced off my own bat – largely edited, financed, produced and directed by me over five years. It required a lot of dedication and self-sacrifice to see it through to the end.
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S.H.: We faced quite a few challenges during the process of creating the short film. We had a very low budget for film, which was the root of many of the difficulties we had.

It was also challenging to film outdoors in Melbourne’s temperamental weather. There were days where there were intense storms and hail – not ideal for shooting a soccer film.

Nevertheless, the dedicated cast and crew persistently overcame these challenges to make this film a success.

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Creed  “Creed”

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4) Who inspired you to be a filmmaker and why?
E.K.: BBC presenter David Attenborough and is passionate interest in the natural world kindled wonder in me – as well as the drive to help in turn kindle it in others.
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S.H. :My parents inspired me to be a filmmaker through their love of film. Although they are not filmmakers themselves, my parents have encouraged a culture within our family of watching movies together, and discussing them, for as long as I can remember. We wouldn’t only talk about the stories, but the interesting way the films were shot, creative decisions from the director, the music, the acting, the subtle and overt messages and so on and so on. They inspired me to look at film as something powerful and malleable, limitless in its ability to tell a story.
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5) How did you discover the annual Joy House Film Festival and why did you want to enter?
E.K. : Through a friend. I thought the festival would be a wonderful opportunity to help reach a new audience with the film – through the short film format and to film festival attendees. Compared to where it had previously had screened, as a two-part feature documentary on ABC’s Compass program.
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S.H: I discovered the Joy House Film Festival through the FilmFreeway portal. I wanted to enter as I admired the theme of ‘Spreading joy and happiness’. I think that’s important, as the day to day things we see on the television and in other media is often not very positive, and I saw this festival as wanting to change that.

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6) What’s the best thing about the Joy House Film Festival?
E.K.: It’s desire to embrace and celebrate diversity.
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S.H. : The best thing is the opportunities being part of the festival opened us up to. Being part of Joy House Film Festival gave us the opportunity to show our film to a wider audience in Sydney, network and take our film to the next level at the World Film Fair.
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JHFF crowd sitting 2018.jpg
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Joy House Film Festival is always held on the Sunday after Father’s Day in September every year.
Spread the JOY! Pay it forward.

Diversity Spotlight interview with filmmaker – Matthew Victor Pastor

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Matthew Victor Pastor (MVP) is an Australian filmmaker of Filipino heritage. An alumnus of the prestigious Victorian College of the Arts, his Master’s film I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (part 1 of the Filipino-Australian trilogy) was awarded Best Director. Bill Mousoulis the founding editor of Senses of Cinema has described Pastor as “the most dynamic young filmmaker I’ve come across in 35 years of indie film watching in Australia.”
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In 2013 he released MADE IN AUSTRALIA an independent feature film. It was awarded Best Guerrilla Film at the 14th Melbourne Underground Film Festival. In 2017 he released BUTTERFLY FLOWER (71 mins), an experimental feature film. At the 2018 Sinag Maynila Film Festival MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (81 mins), was awarded Best Original Score, and was met with positive reviews in Rappler amongst other publications. A pending release is MAGANDA: Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man (97 mins). These two films conclude the Filipino-Australian trilogy. Also in post-production is Repent or Perish (85 mins), which is the story of a young gay Filipino-Australian and his conservative family during the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite. I had the privilege to interview him for this month’s Diversity Spotlight.
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JH: What is your approach in order to make an outstanding three features in 15 months?

MVP: Social media and human are one. It’s how we communicate, and our news feed is directly linked to our emotions. It was while making MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (2018) a feature about relationships in the digital age, I decided to transform into a filmmaking machine. I threw away the conventions of filmmaking to be freer. In some way we are all now content creators, we are always making video and image for our audience. My preferred content is a narrative film, the ultimate status update!

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JH: What would most people like to know is how do you find funding for your film? Do you fund them with your own money or is it mainly sponsorships and grants?

MVP: Although I’ve received grants in the past, at this output it’s recently privately or self-funded. The positives about this method are that I keep 100% creative integrity. Melodrama is about a Filipino feminist documentarian and the misguided men around her, MAGANDA! Is about a drug-addicted filmmaker,Repent or Perish! Is about a young gay Filipino, his drug dealing sister and was made during the SSM plebiscite. We have just finished filming A Bigger Jail, about a violent man (who likens himself to an ‘Asian Jesus’) who is released from prison after 20 years. For these stories to be done justice with authenticity, our team needs complete creative control, something we retain since we do it modestly.

JH: Who were your role models growing up? 

MVP: It’s probably been said too many times but man, Jackie Chan. In terms of my aesthetic Shunji Iwai (Film Director).

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JH: How do you find your stories?

MVP: I feel if I’m not emotional about a topic it won’t have weight on the screen. For example with one of my soon to be released features Repent or Perish! (2018) we literally filmed during the SSM plebiscite. It was during an argument with my conservative Christian parents I decided to save my anger and frustration and write a script. Completed in February I am so proud of our brave Asian-Australian cast for telling a story that needs be told.

 JH: What makes a good film script? What motivates you to produce it?

MVP: If the idea has a visceral reaction in me, it’s worth pursuing. Recently my trigger emotion is fear, so I write from anxiety and fear. I’ve found solace for my own pain through watching films that I relate to, so this is my way of giving back.

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JH: What is your casting process?

MVP: Casting actors from our finally growing pool of talent in Melbourne has always been a tough process (especially with Asians)! I have a family of brave diverse actors who I’d like to do a shout out to. Celina Yuen, Alfred Nicdao, Bridget O’Brien, Yuchen Wang, Chi Nguyen, Kevin Pham, Slone Sudiro, Glenn Maynard, Joseph J, Rachel E. Zuasola, Michelle Ryel, Carol Pastor, Lisac Pham, Elliot Ng, Charlie Dao, Charlotte Nicdao, Khoa, Rachel Cecilio & Berlin Lu. When making a new film I cast from the family, and ask these people whom I trust for recommendations.

JH: What do you think about the state of Australian films and TV at the moment in terms of diversity? Do you think there’s been a change in recent years?

MVP: I’m seeing so much talent and it makes my job as a writer/director much easier. Are these talent getting a chance? I’m more interested in truth. Representing truth in the story comes from POC writers/producers/actors living inside their skin day in and out and telling it how it is. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians or shows like Fresh off the Boat mean so much to our growing communities and globally! We need more truth in Australia. Take a walk around Melbourne and see the truth. Take the truth and compare that with what gets screen time in mainstream media. Our eyes don’t lie.

JH: What is your current project?

MVP: We have just finished our first feature for 2018 titled A Bigger Jail (aka misery extravaganza) The film stars fellow VCA graduate Yuchen Wang amongst an amazing ensemble cast of Asian Australians. As for the second half of the year, I will head up to Sydney to collaborate with fellow Filipino-Aussie Felino Dolloso, who has written a great story which he will also star in!

JH: What is your goal? Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

MVP: Dead or a filmmaker. My goal is to live for another 10 years!

 

Photos were provided courtesy of Zhuo Yang, Evangeline Yin & Matthew Victor Pastor.

The Casting Game (feature film) by Joy Hopwood

The Casting Game poster sml

The Casting Game is an ensemble piece that highlights the journeys of a group of unconventional actors trying to make it big in Sydney, an Asian-Australian family trying to make a visiting relative feel at home with Might- T- mite and meat pies, and a seemingly ill-fated love.

Gary is a 35-year-old brick layer who has had no luck in love. On a night out with his high school mates – Lynn, Indigo, and Luke – he ends up in a bet to see if he can land a date with the next woman he sees. Along comes Sarah, a beautiful radio producer who is in a wheelchair.

Stacey Copas by Cassie Bedford sml

In a Love Actually meets Muriel’s Wedding in a modern day twist, this film explores what it means to find happiness and joy in a diverse, dynamic world, in a beautifully fun and meaningful way.

An Aussie story full of heart and triumph amongst a diverse group of friends, The Casting Game is a relatable story that tugs at our heartstrings while making us laugh. It reminds us that we can find belonging in unexpected places.

The Casting Game with director Pearl Tan sml

Writer / producer, Joy Hopwood, wrote the screenplay just under two weeks after watching an Australian film last September in 2016 and was inspired to write something just as good with diversity at the forefront!

“In our current modern society, I feel that it’s driven by ego, self importance and over evaluation, this film takes us on a journey and reminds us, in a subtle way, what it’s like to step in other people’s shoes from all walks of life and to be mindful of others. I feel that’s what our society is missing – mindfulness and humility. My aim is to entertain people yet bringing that sense of community back into our society, which I feel is desperately missing,” says Joy.

Stacey Copas & Cast at Christmas pre show

Leading lady, Stacey Copas says, “when Joy asked me to act in her film at our first meeting together I couldn’t believe what an amazing an opportunity it was and I pretty much jumped at the opportunity right away! I’m passionate about everyone getting an equal opportunity and I’m so inspired by Joy and the whole team who have poured blood, sweat and tears into getting the project off the ground. Our camaraderie and joint purpose on set can definitely been seen in the final edit. I’m really proud of the Casting Game; its beautifully told story which everyone will be able to relate to.”

Erica Long and puppets sml

Supporting actress Erica Long says, “During my script read, I found that with every page I turned, I became more and more immersed in the characters’ lives. The characters are all so different (in terms of their personality, ethnicity and personal background) and I loved reading about how they interacted with each other – it’s not everyday that you read a script, which reflects our multicultural society. There’s also so much warmth and hilarity in the script – I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of the transformation from paper to screen. Pearl Tan (director) and Joy Hopwood (producer, writer and actor) are champions of diversity in this country and you really see this come across in The Casting Game. Joy specifically incorporated into her script a group of friends from different ethnic backgrounds, an intelligent and beautiful woman with a mobility disability, 2 Australian-Chinese sisters (who are more Aussie than Chinese!) and their long lost sister from China. It’s quite a feat! The different characters’ backgrounds of course contribute to the story but the characters are not reduced to a stereotype (e.g. your Asian nerd). During rehearsals we created each character’s own backstory and Joy was happy to make our suggested script changes to ensure that we were each happy with the complexity of our characters. When you watch the film, you will see that Joy has weaved a series of funny and nuanced stories together into a coherent whole and, simply put, you will forget about “diversity” as such – the end result of Joy’s hard work is that you just focus on how the characters interact with each other.”

Nicholas Brown sml on set - The Casting Game. Photo by Cassie Bedford

When asked, “Why did you want to act in The Casting Game?” Supporting actor Nicholas Brown says, “I’ve been a fan of Joy Hopwood and Pearl Tan for a long time. I met Joy several years ago when we both made speeches for the Asian Alliance for parliament We both found a synergy because of our experiences as non Caucasian actors in Australia. Pearl and I have written and worked together for several years. I’m inspired by both of these amazing women, their advocacy and their creativity. Besides fluffing I’d do anything on film for them! Plus it’s rare to see a cast so diverse in Aussie cinema. The fact that there’s no major reference to anyone’s ethnicity is refreshing. The cast are all Australian who just happen to be from diverse backgrounds. My character is a brickie! I love that. The actors have been cast against type and this is exciting and rare.”

The Casting Game, written & produced by Joy Hopwood (Joy House Productions) and produced by Priya Roy (Vissi D’Arte Films) and directed by Pearl Tan (Pearly Productions) premieres at the annual Joy House Film Festival September 10th, 2017. 4.30pm at Hoyts https://Joyhousefilmfestival.eventbrite.com.au