Thinking Further About Diversity in Filmmaking
On June 16 2018, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) launched its thirteenth annual Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon (MAMM) competition with a special VAFF Industry Insight Panel Series event, Diversity in Filmmaking, the first of its kind to happen outside of VAFF’s regular festival programming in November. Taking place at the Museum of Vancouver, over 100 individuals attended the event to learn and share more about how people of colour are impacting various aspects of filmmaking.
The Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon (MAMM) celebrates its 13th year of supporting and showcasing emerging local filmmakers with a bigger national competition, now accepting team registrations and video pitches until July 13th, 2018. Learn more about this year’s competition and enter by visiting our official MAMM13 page.
The event, which was supported by community partners Raindance Vancouver, East Van Showcase and STORYHIVE, brought together various members of the film community, including aspiring and current filmmakers, actors and actresses, talent agents and members of the media to provide a holistic view of representation both in front and behind the camera. Organized by this year’s MAMM Creative Producers, Mayumi Yoshida and Nach Dudsdeemaytha, two accomplished writers and producers, the event comprised of four different panels, each addressing different aspects of film development and production.
“While studio executives play an important role in fostering diversity, viewers at home are voting every day for the shows they want to watch while they consume media on platforms such as Netflix.”
The day opened with the panel titled Trust Your Voice, focused on funding strategies, packaging, and ways to tackle the challenges that occur through the production process. Sharing their experiences from the industry, panelists discussed diversity at both a local and global scale. In particular, Megan Lau, Manager at STORYHIVE, noted the important role that writers have in creating “the world we want to see” reflected in film and television. Likewise, an equal emphasis was also placed by panelists on the role of viewers. Kashif Pasta, a producer, director and actor at Dunya Media also noted the important role studio executives play, but also reminded us that viewers at home are voting every day for the shows they want to watch while they consume media on platforms such as Netflix.
The second panel, The Fight for Visibility, shifted perspectives, turning to agents, union representatives, and actors for their perspectives on the industry. A deeper dive into this panel revealed from all panelists the struggle to authentically represent and portray people of colour on screen, balancing both the need to ensure that specific roles are casted with people from respective cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and that they are addressed with sensitivity, especially around the portrayal of refugees, immigrants and other communities who are often stereotyped on screen. Acknowledging these different point of views, the audience was also reminded that actors also have the agency to audition and act in any role, even if they aren’t from a particular race. Actress Aliza Vellani also noted that the movement towards more representation from people of colour is not only present within the film industry, but that the world is currently fighting for more visibility as these communities resist the pressure to be silenced.
At the lunch break, panelists and participants discussed these topics further over, through the kindness of Wakwak Burger, a Japanese-style burger stall, who generously donated time on their day off to offer infusion styled food to participants.
In the afternoon, the third panel Raising the Bar kicked off with a discussion between writers and directors. Panelists shared their personal stories of how many of their creative works were based on real life experiences. Director Joel McCarthy shared that his web series Inconceivable was based on the experiences of an accidental pregnancy and the subsequent world of parenting. Meanwhile, director Lawrence Le Lam shared how his short film The Blue Jet, which tells the story of a rebellious radio DJ in Taiwan, was actually based on the story of his own father. From all panelists, an important takeaway was the need for these storylines to connect with local communities, and that most importantly “nobody can better tell your own story better than yourself.” Giving a word of advice, UBC film graduate and director Andy Alvarez shared the importance of seizing opportunities early on in one’s career, especially in film school where everyone in the student film community is working towards similar goals.
Finally, the last panel Shaping the Conversation, turned to the advice of critics, journalists, and press representatives to examine the importance of representation on screen, and the prospect of moving towards a more progressive change of portrayal in the media. John Reviewer from About to Review based in Seattle noted the uniqueness of Vancouver as both an important filming hub and as a location where much of this important conversation surrounding diversity are being generated. Craig Takeuchi from The Georgia Straight discussed the importance of Asian male and LGBT representation while Sabrina Furminger from YVR Screen Scene and Vancouver Courier also noted the importance of films such as Moonlight, and the need to support films that feature minority representation on social media in order to show that diversity is essential.
John Reviewer (also known as That Guy Named John) has since posted an awesome recap of the event on his own blog. Check it out here:
Overall, one of the main takeaways from the Diversity in Filmmaking event was the importance of education in fostering more diversity, and that such messages can only be told by those within the film community who celebrate and share with audiences their diverse stories. Participants throughout the day noted and commended the flexible format of the panels, which encouraged free-flowing conversation among all those involved.
At the end of the day, participants were invited to continue the discussion at The Bimini Public House over drinks and food, giving everyone the opportunity to socialize and network in an informal setting. Empowered by their conversations and new friendships, participants left the session with the knowledge and skills to better address the challenges of diversity in film. While visions of diversity will ultimately vary among each of the participants, the overarching consensus that emerged was that diversity in our society is not only a strength but is something that is also necessary in media.
Photo Credits: Ruggero Romano and Gerry Gavioloa
Justin Kwan is a Digital Content Editor at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. A Torontonian turned Vancouverite, Justin graduated with degrees in the areas of political science and Asian studies and frequently writes on contemporary Asian politics, culture and current affairs. In his role at VAFF, Justin explores a variety of digital tools and communication strategies to further promote the festival and its message of diversity in film.