Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
What motivated you to make this film?
Ka Foon Chau is a superwoman among her peers, and even more so to my brothers and I. She never had sit-down lessons with us on how to perceive struggle as motivation. She is a living example of good morals and hard work. Her liberal parenting has allowed me to expose myself to the world in a way that she never could at my age. I have spent the last few years of my life traveling and telling stories of the many cultures I have encountered. It felt like the right time to go back to the city and woman that raised me to do the same.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
ARRI Amira, C300 for Hong Kong. Canon 5D Mk ii and Go Pro Antarctica as it was light enough for one person and also for the extreme weather we were in.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
I set the tone up in the beginning as if the film was about her dream to go to Antarctica, but it was in actuality portraying her strength as a child despite the adversities she faced. Surviving her childhood, and being in Antarctica at the end became a parallel symbolism to her own lines – “The power of nature is inevitable, but living things can survive, humans can still survive, it all depends on tough you are.”
Having experienced the weight of the story first hand, I had to be especially delicate with my word choices when handling family members. They trusted in my abilities to tell the truth. I was particularly careful in balancing the perspectives I used to portray my grandmother, who happened to be the antagonist in my mother’s story.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
I have always known the story to be a powerful one. However, having grown up in its shadows, I cannot clearly say when day one of the story was. I learned of my mother’s resilience through her work ethic, and I understood her desire to learn as she falls asleep with a different book every night, despite her extreme workload. She had told me stories of her upbringing, but it was always very distant as I never felt like I was treated as less. It took some growing up for me to realize that it was her that made sure I feel independent as a woman.
When my mother and I went to Antarctica in 2015, I saw her dreams come true with my own eyes – the struggle she endured had finally paid off. I recorded snippets of those moments, and wrote an outline of this project on board in Antarctica, not knowing the direction I was heading.
Since then, the way the story unfolded before me on its own. It unveiled aspects of my mother, the superwoman I knew, that I had never seen; I heard stories of her teenage years that I have never heard. I got to understand my family members I thought I knew so much about. Naturally, the story grew to become so much more than what I had in mind.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
$30 To Antarctica is a very personal project for me. The reason behind my desire to make this film was clear – to tell my mother’s story, but to have a crew who was equally passionate about this project is something I am extremely grateful for. They were there as I went through this emotional journey finding my roots, and they pushed themselves to the best of their abilities on this film. Being able to work with such a talented group of creative individuals, who also deeply care for me and my mother, was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I had while making this film.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
When it comes to making a documentary, there is a very fine line between bringing awareness to help VS exploiting one’s story just to make a good film. Remember that you have to gain credibility with your subjects as well. They are trusting you to tell their story with dignity. Make sure to communicate and be very clear about what you are trying to achieve with the film.
Another advice would be to make sure to have a crew you trust. Having gone through a journey can sometimes be troublesome when you need to “kill your darlings”, but you also have to rely on your artistic vision when necessary because it led you to the story in the first place. Finding the balance between the two is very important.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
The most exciting thing about filmmaking is the process itself, because nothing ever stays as planned; everything is constantly evolving. Making a documentary in itself is an adventure each time. It is very humbling as it reminds me of the magnitude of the world, and the endless human experiences that are not being captured in the general popular culture.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
A shot list and a flexible attitude
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
I had never read any of my mother’s writings before, so the scene of her poetic diary entry was something I did not expect. My DP had no idea what was being said while I was hiding behind the camera, crying and trying not to make a sound. It was particularly difficult to hear of her struggle in present tense, as if it was happening right then.
Not only did I learn a lot more about my family through the making of this film, I learned a great deal about myself and my upbringing. The process tackled a lot of questions I had growing up, and it forced me to see through it. I felt the faith my family had for me to give their stories justice. And most importantly, I felt a lot closer to my mother.
When I went through the interviews and stories during post production, I was constantly reminded of her strength in me. I was watching a cut long after I had started the project, and the scene of my mother reading the diary came up – she reads, “I can never fight against my brothers for her (her mother’s) love”. It was only then I realized that she made a conscious decision to make sure I didn’t feel the same way growing up. This film did not intend to be about her motherhood, but it transformed before my eyes.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
I hope Foon’s story can inspire other women to be strong and fight for what they believe in. Gender inequality is a universal issue, and perseverance is the key to success.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
The motivation of the film. The way I approached such a personal project. The ethics in documentary filmmaking.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
Continue to support the women in your life. Pay attention to your day-to-day life. Start conversations about gender inequality with an open mind, listen to others’ experiences.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
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