Confronting stereotypes

Amy Wang inspecting a lens

Photo: Amy Wang inspecting a scene through a lens

The Clermont–Ferrand International Short Film Festival is one of the world’s most prestigious, attracting nearly 9000 entries a year from new and independent filmmakers.

One of this year’s successful entrants is UTS alumna Amy Wang. Her short film, Unnatural — which she wrote and directed herself — was one of only 74 selected for screening at the festival in February. She was the only one out of 12 who was nominated for the Grand Prix and, despite not winning the major prize, she is hopeful for what it will mean for her career.

“The world is preoccupied with putting people into boxes. If you don’t belong, you’re deemed confusing and therefore dismissed.
– Amy Wang

Born in China, Wang moved to Australia when she was six years old. “Being a Chinese–Australian filmmaker has been difficult for me. Growing up in a culture that was so different from my ethnicity made me hate who I was,” explains Wang.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I have not been the stereotypical Asian female, who is usually depicted as docile. I saw people from Caucasian backgrounds and envied how easy life was for them.”

In many ways, Unnatural is a reflection of that experience, telling the story of a teenage boy who wrestles with desires and thoughts of paedophilia.

“I wanted to explore what it’s like for a teenager to never have acted on it, yet be reduced to the same level as someone who has committed a crime,” says Wang. “I question what it’s like hating who you are and what your sexuality represents.”

She knew from the start that she’d be walking a fine line between alienating her audience and creating empathy for her character. To address this, she contacted help groups and online forums and spoke with dozens of people anonymously. She also interviewed academics and journalists in the field.

Wang’s interest in filmmaking began at the age of 12. She took up karate classes (“because at the time, all Asian female actors were good at fighting,” she explains) and attended classes at NIDA. At age 15, a viewing of Fight Club shifted her focus to being behind the camera where she could focus on the creation of stories that are political and confronting.

She took her first big step towards turning her dreams into reality when she undertook a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production) at UTS. From there, the list of filmmakers she felt inspired by expanded from the Scorseses, Finchers and PT Andersons of the world to influential female directors such as Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay and Maren Ade.

After graduating from UTS, she made a name for herself as a successful promotions producer at Channel 7 in Sydney — but her sights were ultimately set on the US, where she was awarded a scholarship to complete a master’s degree at the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI).

“My biggest fear is settling. I wanted to push my potential, to see how far I can go in my lifetime.”

Unnatural is Wang’s final work at the AFI; with her goals, beliefs and aspirations writ large at the Clermont– Ferrand Festival.

“I hope to affect change through filmmaking by telling stories about minorities,” says Wang. “The world is preoccupied with putting people into boxes. If you don’t belong, you’re deemed confusing and therefore dismissed. I want people to see others as human; not a stereotype of their sexuality or ethnicity.”

In that endeavour, Wang hopes to work with the burgeoning community of Asian–Australian and Asian–American filmmakers such as James Wan and Justin Lin. “There are many common threads among Asian filmmakers. How better to tell those stories than with people who know what it’s like to be an immigrant?”

As for the future, Wang intends to continue creating, networking and improving. While she admits to being more of a film director, she enjoys the variety of television, and isn’t prepared to be boxed into one category. She already has projects in mind for film and television, which she’ll be pitching to studios this year.

“What I learned is to never accept no for an answer. If you want to make it in this industry, especially as a minority director, you have to fight for your vision and your story.”

Making waves on screen

Amy Wang joins an impressive list of UTS alumni who are making their mark on the world of filmmaking, both in front of the camera and behind it. Troy Lum and Graeme Mason

Story by Kevin Cheung