Cannes Film Festival
25th La Cinef Selection 2022
Spring Roll Dream
May 18, 2022
Linh is a Vietnamese single mother who's successfully forged a life for herself and her son in America. But when her father visits from Vietnam and insists on cooking the family a traditional Vietnamese meal, Linh is confronted with the past and culture she left behind and the question of where it belongs in her family's new life.
Hi Mai, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange times?
For me, these last two year have been a mixture of all of the strangest things that have happened in my life. I flew across the globe to be in the UK, attending one of the best film schools, only to go straight into lockdown 2 month afterward. Making a film in and out of lockdown, while at the same time navigating a new environment was challenging, but it taught me to be flexible, and comfortable with uncertainty. Working in the film supported me through the hard time and I felt grateful to have a chance to tell this story. Now it starts to see its days in festivals, It’s a chance for me to see how it can relate to people, and a chance to reflect on what filmmaking means to me.
What has it meant to you to be able to represent your school with your film in Cannes?
It feels like a wonderful opportunity for me to get in touch with world cinema.
I came from a small country in South East Asia, and I didn’t think my narrative would be anticipated or understood. But working on the film and receiving encouragement from my tutors and fellow students at the NFTS, helped me stay true to myself and what I know, and told stories from my perspective. What I found later in telling the differences in Eastern and Western cultures, that we were actually very similar in how we love and care for people, and at the core of it we all yearned for connection and acceptance. I don’t see myself as representing my school, but more like being given a voice by the school, and by getting into La Cinef, I feel being heard. It's a chance for me to share my point of view with more people.
What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have taken from your time at NFTS?
Filmmaking it’s hard. It’s like an examination on who you are and what you believe in. But it can also be a discovery. There was a lot of time I felt like I was lost, and I didn’t know my story, so it would be time to step back and look at the story in different angles. Although, it was not easy to do it yourself. The animation department itself was a creative trust board, where we would constantly preview our works and get feedback, where we had to dissect what the problems were. It was a tough process that you had to find your own balance in listening to people, and believing in your own creative vision. Sometimes it felt like the film made itself, and some creative solution came out in the most practical way. I guess the most valuable lesson for me is to trust in the people you work with, trust yourself and trust the journey.
Congratulations on Spring Roll Dream being selected for the 25th La Cinef, where you are also nominated for the Cinéfondation Award, will there be any pressure ahead of the festival?
Thank you. This would be the first time for me to attend a world-class film festival, so there is pressure and also non-pressure from not knowing what exactly to expect, or how I should perform. I am excited to see the films and get to know other talented young filmmakers from the section. It’s a great chance to learn of what other people around the world are doing, and their different perspectives. It’s also a chance for me to share my story and navigate myself in the filmmaking world. It ‘s already out of my expectation to be in Cannes, so I think I would just enjoy it the best I can. Festival de Cannes seems strangely casual and glamorous at the same time, if there is real pressure, I hope my £25 dress is certified.
Can you tell me how Spring Roll Dream came about, what inspired you to make this animation?
During the first year of NFTS. We had many workshops in order to define and develop our creative voices. The ideas came from these workshops show us what narratives we care about, what we made of that informs our creative choices. One of these projects was creating characters. It was fun creating many strange and unique characters, but what revoked my emotions the most was a character of an old Asian father who finds himself disconnected from his daughter's family in a western city. I did recognize my own father in this character and I saw my family’s story in his. Therefore, I felt like I needed to tell his story when it comes to my graduation project. The film is a way for me to answer the question of generational gap, how not to lose connection with our parents in a fast changing world, which is also a way to understand ourselves.
What was it about Chloe White’s script that interested you so much and what was the process like working with your team on Spring Roll Dream?
Chloe and I have worked closely with each other from the beginning. In order to find the story, we had a lot of talk about our family, and what we both care about. Chloe is also from an Asian background, so we have mutual understanding about the family dynamic in a multigenerational household. It was such a delight to work with Chloe, since she was a powerhouse of strange, interesting ideas, and she had deep understanding and sensitivity for the characters. Her script was meticulously crafted that made my work so much easier.
I can say I have such a dream team, so working together is so easy. I didn’t quite know exactly what the film would be like in the beginning, so it’s a process of discovery, and everyone put themselves in it. I thought it would be hard to collaborate on a project where there was a mix of cultures, but we all reached an understanding at the heart of the story. The process then was very playful when we had a chance to experiment with the cultural elements within the design, sound, and music, which sometimes brought us wonderful surprises. For instance, we wanted the music to have a play at eastern and western elements, so we managed to connect with an artist who played “dan bau”- a monochord, which is a Vietnamese traditional instrument. It made such an emotional sound that it connected us right back to the feeling of longing, we knew instantly this is the sound that we want.
What was the biggest challenges you faced bringing Spring Roll Dream to life?
It’s probably knowing where to take the story. I didn’t start out having a very specific goal on what I intended to tell with this story. But more like an observer, I got to know this family (in the film), learning about who they were, their history, and how their relationship took place. There are a lot of feelings and conflicts unspoken in the film, so I had to find ways to show it visually, sometimes audibly. It’s a simple story, but the feelings the characters have for each other are complex, and that requires a lot of subtlety in the acting. This was a real challenge since it were puppets that we were working with, which had less emotional range expressible. This required careful study of emotions from the animators.
When directing a film like Spring Roll Dream how much flexibility do you allow yourself with the screenplay?
We worked with scripts then went straight into animatics and editing the story. We did this in parallel so sometimes the editing informed back what needed to be changed in the script. Sometimes we stuck to the script, sometimes we just changed it on the spot of shooting, however we found works. Therefore, it became an ever changing process. We went through 11 drafts of the script, even up to the final stage of editing we still experimented with different ways to cut and came back to reshoot. It was convenient to edit and shoot at the same time, it’s easier to change things. Something we can only do in animation.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
Not on the film itself. The film has its flaw, but I am proud of what we were able to do with it. I though would spend more time with friends, and take a walk regularly. Animation is a long process, and it’s easy to be consumed by the film and forget to take care of yourself. But you have to take care of your physical and mental health if you want to do it long term. I did not balance well between time to work and socialize, so I did feel missing out a bit on my last year of school. The film works out well, but I admit I do need a bit of time to recover from it.
Where did your passion for animation come from?
It comes from my lack of ability to do anything else professionally. I have no plan B, so if this fails, I am not sure of what else to do. I started doing animation straight out of high school and have stuck with it ever since. Maybe animation fits me the most to tell stories. It has no boundary to the physical world, anything of imagination can come out of it. Although I think I can teach animation as a plan B.
"Animation requires a lot of hard work and dedication. I also started out giving it all to my work, and regularly experienced burnt out, stress, mental issues."
Are there any areas of animation or filmmaking themes you are keen to explore with future films?
I want to tell stories that feel authentic to me. At the moment, I still want to pursue stories from a Vietnamese perspective. I think it ‘s important for me to tell them as a way for me to understand myself and my heritage. I make films about human relationships and what stopped us from getting connected with each other, why we do what we do, and what brings reconciliation.
At the moment, I am thinking of making a documentary about young Vietnamese illegal immigrants in Uk and how they view their role in society and their future.
Is there any advice or tips you would offer a fellow animator?
I don’t give people advice, I only share my experience. Animation requires a lot of hard work and dedication. I also started out giving it all to my work, and regularly experienced burnt out, stress, mental issues. I can’t say I have found the balance, but I am much more aware now that work is not everything. It’s no use telling stories about life if you don’t live it. So I would say, find whatever work for you, and don’t kill yourself over it.
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Spring Roll Dream?
I think our family is what makes us, and in understanding our family we can find connection to who we are. I can’t say the film has all the answers, but it’s a reminder for me that I don’t exist alone, I carry with me the love and the pain of my family, it’s a way for me to own my heritage. I do expect to see how the audience relates to it or not, what brings true and what doesn't. I have shown it to my friends and had different responses to it, some were emotional over it, some didn’t quite connect. So far, the closest review to what I intended came from my mom. I guess who would know us better than our parents.