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‘Who Am I’, directed by Adhel Arop

‘Who Am I’ tells the story of Adhel Arop’s quest for identity as she reconciles with her mother’s past as a child soldier in South Sudan.

 

Adhel Arop is a two-time award-winning documentary filmmaker residing in Vancouver, BC. Her career began in 2018 when she was awarded the TELUS Storyhive documentary film grant, with additional funding from Creative BC and mentorship from the National Screen Institute, which led her to complete her first 20-minute documentary, ‘Who Am I.”

 

Who Am I (2019) Directed by Adhel Arop

 

The film premiered and sold out in July 2019 in Vancouver, BC, going on to win two awards at festivals for outstanding achievements in the short documentary category. This film provided a platform to showcase the Canadian immigrant experience, something she authentically achieved by embracing her narrative of being a child born in the Kakuma refugee camp and drawing from her own stories of immigrating to Canada at the age of four. Her work aims to explore a social justice narrative, focusing on the untold stories of refugees and immigrants that are a part of Canada’s diverse identity. Through the medium of documentary filmmaking, she captures stories, many close to her heart and home, which would otherwise go untold.

Adhel now aims to pursue a career in filmmaking and advocating for renewable energy options in developing countries.

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Martyna Czaplak hopes A-Yi inspires you to create community

A-Yi, Directed by Martyna Czaplak

When a group of friends moved into their traditional East Vancouver home eight years ago, they couldn’t have known about a new mysterious roommate, a staple of the neighbourhood, who slowly occupied the empty spaces around their home and then their hearts. A-Yi (Auntie, in Cantonese) collects cans at all hours and tends to the garden that she has built on their rented property, where she also operates her personal ’bottle depot‘. With the help of a translator, the housemates finally get a chance to communicate with A-Yi, straightening out hilarious assumptions and, most importantly, letting her know that they’re moving out. What will A-Yi do once they’ve gone?

A-Yi will take you on a journey of friendship, familiarity and storytelling that will warm your heart. We connected with the director of A-Yi, Martyna Czaplak, about her work on the CBC Digital Original Short.

 

Tell us about A-Yi and your process and influence in the creation of the film.
I met A-Yi when I moved into the Whale House about 7 years ago. Over the years, she not only stored her cans under the deck, but also started a huge vegetable garden on the property. Because we didn’t share a common language, we couldn’t communicate any other way besides using our hands and feet, and over the years my roommates and I found ourselves wanting to find out more about her. Google translate was not an option for the unique dialect of Cantonese she spoke as we discovered over multiple attempts to communicate through the app. Back then I didn’t work in film and didn’t have the tools or resources to make a documentary. Fast forward 5 years, I had changed my career and worked on a number of films in different departments, as well as started a production company with my husband. In January of 2019, the last of the original roommates moved out and this marked the end of an era at the Whale House. I had a sense of urgency to tell this story before everyone left, including A-Yi, who was told to take down her garden once everyone moved out. We weren’t sure what the future would hold for the house, the garden, and A-Yi and the chaos of the Whale House being emptied out was the perfect visual setting for the film so I grabbed a little Handycam we had around and captured those early moments. A little after, I approached Gregory Czaplak and Nicolas Ayerbe Barona with my idea and started building my production team. With the help of translators and cultural advisors April Liu and Dong Yue Su, we were finally able to communicate via spoken language for the very first time. And so our documentary began.

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I moved here from Germany in 2007 to pursue a career in the snowboard industry. Little did I know, I would end up becoming a filmmaker after a freak accident on a bicycle. I worked in different departments starting out in art and moving to Camera as an Assistant Camera and then into Post as an Assistant Editor. In 2018, I started a production company with my husband (www.adanacfilms.ca – coming soon!). That same year, I began working for the Documentary Organization of Canada, BC Chapter. Working for DOC BC allowed me to dive into the documentary world; understanding funding structures and building my network. This led us to pitch A-Yi to the CBC/Creative BC digital production fund.

 

What were the early days of your career like? How did you get to where you are now?
I would say that I am still in the early days of my career in above-the-line positions like producer and director. I started out in multiple departments on set, which I see as a blessing, as it gave me the ability to understand the many moving parts of a film and the importance of each and every one of these positions. Being able to create and express myself through the medium of film became important to me as I was learning and working in all these departments at the service of someone else’s vision. I am lucky to be surrounded by talented filmmakers who are guiding and mentoring me on a journey to find my voice in the documentary world. Working for DOC BC has given me the opportunity to build a great network of inspiring people who are always willing to share their wisdom, encourage, and support me when things get tough.

 

What inspires you as a creator? What are your influences?
When I first moved to Canada 13 years ago I found it difficult at first to know my place. Very soon I noticed I was just one of many immigrants in this multicultural country. I was fascinated by how different cultures seemed to live together so seamlessly in micro-neighborhoods in Vancouver. I was inspired to dig deeper and find stories that are never spoken of but should be told. In this sea of catastrophic topics (be it political, environmental, or crime-related), I am here to tell the stories that are meant to leave you smiling and seeing the good in everyday life. I am also inspired by my badass female filmmaker friends, who are constantly pushing to create wonderful content, be it in directing, camera, producing, or working in any other department. In this male-dominated industry, it is them who open up doors and create opportunities for all of us – you know who you are :).

 

What impact do you hope to achieve with those who watch A-Yi?
This film was made to showcase how beautiful friendships can flourish despite language, age, and cultural barriers, so long as people treat each other with respect and kindness. I want to provoke people to create community, to meet and know each other with curiosity rather than judgment. But most of all, in this sea of documentaries that deal with harsh and devastating topics, I want this to be a bright and positive experience that leaves you with a feeling of connection and perhaps makes you shed a cheeky happy tear. Since our documentary has been released, we have received an overwhelming amount of comments, many of which were quite emotional and triggered some wonderful memories of other A-Yis.

Here are a couple of our favourite comments from YouTube where over 180,000 people have watched the film so far:

“Stories like this make me proud to be a Canadian, that’s what being Canadian is all about. It just shows we have so much we can learn from each other and so much we can learn about ourselves. This is a great story in a troubling time, it helps to remind us who we are and what we can be.”

“My heart is so full from this! Love this story and the local content.”

“My nana was from Guangdong as well. When I was born, she quit her job to stay home and take care of me so my mom could go back to work. She passed away in 2016. This video brings it all back for me. I still love her. I miss her. Cherish the moments you have with your elderly family and friends while you can. Ask all the questions you can. Because if you don’t, and they pass away, you’ll regret not taking the chance to talk to them more.”

“This is so wholesome. I’m gonna cry. Finally watching something about the young in North America being so nice to an old Chinese grandma. It just shows you that language isn’t a difficult barrier to cross if you’re sincere and open-minded.”

 

 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Be prepared to work hard! As in every other aspect of life, everyone has personal opinions and not everyone will like what you make – be ready to be rejected and sometimes even criticized. When I nervously pitched my idea for the first time, I was told that this movie would never be funded and no one would want to watch it, yet here we are. I took this opinion as a challenge to improve my work. I think constructive criticism and opinions can be painful at times, but don’t ever let them discourage you from doing what you love, but rather take them and make your project better, your pitch stronger, and your voice louder. Also, in documentaries, sound is your best friend :).

 

Are there any other upcoming projects or initiatives you’re working on? 
Yes, there is some exciting stuff coming down the pipeline, which I cannot fully discuss yet. Let’s just say that my husband Greg and I have been busy working on development during the quarantine. Small hint: it has something to do with the Night Skies. Look out (or up)! Other than that, we are just excited to continue building our portfolio for Adanac Film Production Inc. , not only in documentary but also in narrative and commercial, offering pre, production, and post-production services.

 

Are you doing any innovative creating from home during this time?
It is a great time to pick up on those old projects that have been set aside due to work. We are both working on scripts at the moment, which will hopefully lead to some short and feature films in the future. I’m taking this time to build our demo reel, a new website, develop and pitch new projects for production next year. Aside from film, we have become avid balcony gardeners, and apartment furniture movers and gourmet cooks.

 

Watch A-Yi with Chinese subtitles and learn more about Adanac Films here.

Heather Perluzzo frees herself through filmmaking

Heather Perluzzo is a film director originally from Montreal, Quebec. Her desire to tell female-driven narratives and reimagine traumatic life experiences through sci-fi brought her to Vancouver Film School in 2017. Since then, she has directed multiple short films, including Girl in the Galactic Sun, which received Best Sci-Fi Short from Women in Horror and was an official selection at Whistler Film Festival.

Late last year, Heather was awarded the MPPIA Short Film Award, presented by Whistler Film Festival and Creative BC in partnership to assist emerging talent to develop their career. Heather is now currently working on the short, Wildflower, which follows a woman who creates an AI version of herself to escape an abusive relationship.

Heather is an advocate for balanced gender representation on and off the screen and prides herself on reinventing her struggles as a woman into strange yet meaningful films.

 


Tell us about yourself and your work

I am a female-forward director and writer from Montreal, though I have moved around quite a bit. I was bullied for being weird as a kid, a true victim of the classic stereotype of pre-pubescent “mean girls”. I’ve never stopped being a weirdo though, and now surprisingly it’s been embraced here in the indie film scene. My work up to this point have been trials and errors of communicating my imagination and mashing it with a dose of personal trauma.

What were the early days of your career like? How did you get to where you are now?

Well, honestly, I still believe I’m in my early days. I have a lot of passion and as someone who has worked hard for everything in my life, I value how important these opportunities are. I don’t want to make another version of a film everyone’s already seen, I want to put myself, my true vision on the screen and I want to talk about the hard things. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be my calling card, I feel happy that I tried something different. And I think that’s why I am where I am now, by stepping out of the box and being real about it.

What inspires you as a creator?

Thus far, most of the inspirations for my films have come from personal experiences. I am rather anti-social and introverted, and most of my life I’ve kept all the bad things that have happened to me in my head. I never really figured out how to communicate and grow from them until I started filmmaking. Film has given me a way to express myself and, in some ways, “free” myself from those negative moments in my life. I’m also very influenced by music; artists like Banks, Allie X and Grimes inspire me to push boundaries and not be afraid to let my freak flag fly.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Surround yourself with an environment that allows you to focus. Don’t be afraid to explore yourself and say yes to your gut, remember this is your perspective. And just put the work in, no one is going to hand you a career. That being said, you’ll do your best work when you make time getting to know yourself, so set time aside every now and then to reconnect with who you are and what you want. And on top of that, unfortunately for us introverts, networking! I know it can be hard when you’re socially awkward, but they’re good people I promise. Vancouver has a wonderful indie scene and we all want to succeed together!

 

 

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

My student film, Girl in the Galactic Sun, is one of my biggest accomplishments. I know that’s strange to say, most people want their student films to go away forever. But for the first time in my life, I was in an environment that encouraged me to be creative and in turn, I made something entirely unique, powerful and proved to myself that I’m worth something. Since film school, I’ve been a part of two Crazy 8s films and just won the MPPIA Short Film Award. I feel so humbled but also proud of myself. I never thought anyone would ever really see value in me, and this community in Vancouver has really helped me grow.

What milestones have you achieved or are you focusing on now?

After Wildflower, my sights are set on a feature. While I love short films, I know the large, gated doors will only truly open once I dive into that new territory. That is the biggest, scariest milestone ahead. I’ve also found an amazing production company, Aimer Films, that have taken me under their wing and are pushing me to better not only my career but myself. I’d always wanted to have that core film family here, and I feel that I’ve found that in them. But yeah, just keep going until I can maybe make a living off of doing what I love.

Are there any upcoming projects we should know about that we can promote for you?

Well my upcoming MPPIA short film Wildflower is something I’ve been waiting to make for a while now. It’s about a woman who creates an AI replica in her image and the two form a romantic relationship, reflecting on how romance is something we can feel for ourselves. I’ve been saying, “This is the one, the last short that I need to make before I make a feature”. And we are making it this year.  My feature, New Places to Hide, is in the script stages. So, if anyone has any advice for someone starting out in the big bad feature-length woods, I’d love to hear it.