With my friend Anna, I've been running a series of events called Winter Warmers at the Auckland Art Gallery. Every Saturday afternoon we invite a set of artists from different disciplines to talk about and demonstrate their work. For the last two months it's been a rolling feast of poets, writers, musicians, spoken word artists, theatre makers and arts organisers. And now, finally, I've invited my sister Roseanne in to talk about filmmaking, along with her friend and mentor, Shuchi.
Although Boz and I hang out at events together quite often, it's probably the first time we've appeared on stage together. It wasn't too hard asking her questions though - I know she's a confident speaker, and able to put a good argument together, and Shuchi of course is well known as an inspiring teacher.
The idea with Winter Warmers is to break down the barriers between artist and audience and talk about the creative process. Also, hopefully, people from different disciplines will mix during the breaks. I think it's been happening, which is cool - among the audience today we had poets, theatre makers, musicians, writers, and arts organisers, as well as a healthy turn out of independent film types.
It was weird interviewing my own sister at first, but I got used to it. Knowing what to ask was the easy part. We already have lots of conversations about things like what to write about, whether it's OK to put really personal things in our work (me: absolutely! she: a bit too close to home sometimes). I also knew she hated being asked questions around whether she felt she was representing the Asian community (the short answer: no, not really...she's just telling the stories she's interested in.) But really she'd prefer not to talk about it at all, it's been done to death.
Clearly though, Shuchi wanted to talk about the issue of Asian representation. We agreed it's a double edged sword: there seems to be a surge of interest in it right now, and it would be silly not to ride the wave and attract attention and audiences while the going's good. At the same time being "ethnic" can be more of a chain than wings, because of the way it can box you in with people's expectation. However, we can't escape it - we wear ethnicity on the outside, even if we forget others will remind us - so we might as well embrace it.
Shuchi said she was tired of being told scripts had to contain a victimised Asian woman or a cultural clash followed by suicide. Apparently if it doesn't contain enough of these cliches then it's not "Asian" enough and therefore doesn't fit funding criteria/audience profile rahrahrah. Huh?!! Who trains these programming people?? I think a lot of "ethnic" (don't get me started) writers have to deal with this kind of ignorance, and I think there are two approaches - the "softly softly" way where you use the cliches as a way in to get people listening before hitting them with the real stuff, or the "ok then, I'm going to wait until you're ready to listen" approach.
Shuchi said that she wanted to tell the ordinary, real stories, and to show the light along with the dark. She said that the thing that distinguished a good script for her was more whether it had something to say or got at the emotional truth of a character. We started talking about universality of themes, and whether it was possible to isolate or classify an audience. For example media executives are fond of using the term "middle New Zealand". Shuchi pointed out that no one would self define as "middle NZ". Everyone thinks they are a little bit different from everyone else, and with immigration and cultural drift "middle NZ" may not be white, Anglican and middle class anymore.
We moved from there into a discussion of the new Asian comedy skit show that Roseanne, Shuchi and a bunch of other Asian filmmakers have been working on. A Thousand Apologies looks at Pakeha attitudes to Asians, Asian attitudes to themselves and the hilarious misunderstandings that can result, and while this is lighthearted, underneath there are some fairly serious statements. It's also remarkable that although the series is written and made by people who, it is fair to say, are not "mainstream" media content makers (not really a label I would chase), it has scored itself a primetime slot on TV3 - 9.30 on Fridays. So although I'm unlikely to break my embargo on TV watching just to watch it, it's a great acheivement!