Spotlight on Film: Carol Nguyen’s “Facade”

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Carol Nguyen is only 18 years old but her impressive resume includes best documentary at TIFF Jumpcuts  & Grand Prize Winner at Heartland Film Festival. She understands the cinematic language. Her visual acuity and strong artistic voice mimic that of a filmmaker twice her age. As such, Facade may be a student film, but that is hardly a criticism or indication of naivety. Facade bubbles with the repressed, trying to close the viewer out but ultimately understanding precisely how to draw them in. Nguyen’s strident cinematography and deliberate mise-en-scene are immediately arresting, she skilfully uses her beautifully crafted sets to create a world that is both visually pleasing but emotionally vacant. Facade tackles some heavy personal conflicts for the filmmaker as it strives to stratify the gaps between the culture Nguyen grew up in, and the culture she lives in. Facade‘s sets may appear reminiscent of the deliberate staging of Wes Anderson , but her ideas are not cute, nor do they exist in a storybook. These sets and compositions aim to indicate distance rather than invitation. Carol Ngyuen is an artist to watch out for: skillful, honest, young, and new. We had the opportunity to speak with this emerging filmmaker about her vision, life, &  influences.

Your cinematographic style is particular. What are some of your artistic influences?

For this piece, I was inspired by an art installation called “The Visitors” by Ragnar Kjartansson. The piece documents several musicians creating music together in a mansion. They all are located in different rooms of the house but as you walk though the installation, they unite beautifully through their music. That was the main inspiration for Facade. Other than that –  I really admire the experimental style in Daisies by Vera Chytilova and films with a distinct art direction.

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Is there a specific film that got you interested in filmmaking?

My love for filmmaking was [an] accident. I went to an arts high school [Etobicoke School of the Arts]  where I choose to major in film because it looked the most cool compared to all the other departments. I joined the program with the intention of making fun little videos, but ended up falling in love with the art. I give complete credit to the film teachers at that school. Without their passion, love for teaching and learning, it wouldn’t be possible for me to be where I am today.

Tell me about the cultural influences in Facade. Particularly the communal dinner scene:

I am constantly trying to define what it means to be a second-generation Vietnamese-Canadian woman. One of the most defining aspects of it for me is the clash between collectivism and individualism. Going home to one culture and going out in another makes the family dynamic unique and indescribable – it is more of a feeling and an experience. The dinner scene represents the moment when the values clash – a moment where things are left unacknowledged or ignored because sometimes it is better to play pretend. Even though their one communal moment goes ablaze, they continue to live as if nothing has happened. What helps ease the tension is that they have a mutual understanding of [their flawed relationships].

I really enjoyed the sound-design of Facade. I find sound-design is something often overlooked by emerging filmmakers. Can you tell me more about your intentions & process?

I really wanted to keep the sound minimal for the beginning and middle part to emphasize the distinct diagetic and atmospheric sounds in each room. I wanted to completely indulge the viewers into the characters’ world, which includes hearing exactly what they hear.  Not adding music or any non-diagetic sound is a risky thing to do as a filmmaker because you risk your audience losing interest. I have complete trust in my audience and am willing to leave the responsibility in their hands.
For the ending it was, again, inspired by “The Visitors”. Music is a  universal language. It has the ability to connect anyone with its presence. This is the first time in [Facade where] non-diagetic sound comes in. It represents the characters looking beyond enclosed spaces and connecting to the outworld.

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As a filmmaker, what are your goals? Do you want to continue with art pieces like Facade or transition more into traditional narrative?

My ultimate goal is to inspire people through film. As cheesy as this sounds, knowing that your work has touched someone or made them feel is the best [thing] in the world.  I’m pretty young so I hope to find a way to maneuverer my way into adulthood with a stable income on creating films. I want to continue making unconventional films. Maybe not as ambiguous as Facade, maybe more ambiguous. Traditional narrative it great, but it doesn’t appeal to me as a filmmaker.

Facade can be seen @ Videodunk Film Festival December 1, 2016 at 8:15pm. 

Article contributed by Lex Corbett

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