Learn about one of our Armed with a Camera Fellows from the Class of 2018 - 2019, Chris Nguyen, who directed the short film TRAILS that premiered at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The Armed With a Camera Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists will open for submissions for its 2019-2020 cycle starting August 1st. For submission guidelines and more info, click here.
How has life been after AWC? What projects are you currently working on?
I was working on two films (A WOMAN’S WORK, WALK RUN CHA-CHA) finishing at the same time as my AWC short; so, with all the planes landing, it’s mostly been getting some breathing room. Since the program, I’ve continued my volunteer work with A-Doc, been developing various personal projects (hybrid short, installation / research project, a feature doc), and day playing on various productions while I find another doc to root myself in.
How did you first hear about AWC and what pushed you to apply?
My start in film was through UCLA’s EthnoCommunications program. I was lucky enough to go to a few AWC screenings, crewed on AWC projects as an undergrad, and met a handful of alumni. So I’ve known about the program for some time. After crewing on a number of projects, and having not directed a short of my own since that first class in the EthnoCommunications program, AWC felt like the only appropriate place to start making work again.
Tell us about the film you made as an AWC Fellow.
TRAILS is a personal and experimental portrait of Orange County’s Little Saigon. It expresses concerns of embodied memory and a history of displacement. Coming from a community that historically has not been able to write its own story, the film was a way of exploring my own role in that process.
How has the program affected your filmmaking mindset or process?
I purposely chose a project for AWC that would give me the space to explore themes, forms, and a language that had been gestating for some time. I wanted the program to be very process-oriented and fluid; yet it’s surprising how much you end up finding yourself fighting that same discovery process. So, I thank the advisors for pushing me to go deeper and deeper. I definitely came out of the program a more confident filmmaker with a greater sense of what I want to devote my time and energy to.
What was it like to have your film premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival?
I hadn’t had the opportunity to show my work in a theater before, and while I’ve supported filmmakers – I’ve learned so much experiencing it firsthand. However, the intent of the film exists beyond just the screen – and for me, that’s a signal that there is still so much for me to do, to carry that conversation to other spaces. That’s new for me as an individual maker – and VC has been there to guide us through every phase.
How did it feel to be part of the AWC Fellowship - working amongst AAPI filmmakers?
Being a part of AWC felt both safe and freeing. We all come from different backgrounds – in terms of taste and practice, but I think we all share the same values towards community, representation, and what we hope storytelling can do. There is understanding of intent and goals that does not necessarily exist in other spaces. There is a great deal of support and encouragement at VC, without which we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Plus, the fact that we can get dim sum together is a big plus!
What would you say is the importance of the AWC program?
If we believe in the power of storytelling and having narrative plenitude, then it is important to not just invest in a wide set of filmmakers – but the community that they build. Each filmmaker that passes through AWC has been brought up by so many others, and they in turn can nurture so many others. VC has always provided a space for communities to tell their own stories, and AWC is key in supporting those communities and stories – not only in the moment, but onwards - 5 and 10 years from now.
Looking back, what was the most challenging or most memorable part of the experience?
For me personally, the most challenging part of the process was to acknowledge that each film has a life of its own, and you’ll have to adapt and change with each phase and flow. In terms of the most memorable moment – it was definitely filming on Camp Pendleton.
What advice would you offer other young filmmakers or those just starting out?
There is life beyond just filmmaking! I know that there is so much urgency in making and showcasing yourself as emerging filmmakers, so that you can feel comfortable just being in the room; but, investing in things like community, causes, and issues will enrich your life and practice more than you’ll ever expect.
Visual Communications’ Armed With a Camera (AWC) Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists will begin its eighteenth season this fall, as we cultivate a new generation of Asian Pacific American artists committed to preserving the legacy and vision of our communities. Donate here to support the program!