Yum Chat panellist, Audrey Lam, works in film, photography and installation. She was born in Hong Kong and studied film and photography at Queensland College of Art. Her work has screened at festivals and galleries including London Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Oberhausen Kurzfilmtage and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Here she chats with Eleanor Jackson, Editor in Chief, following the BrisAsia festival event.
Thank you for participating in Yum Chattier for Peril Magazine. Just to start, I wonder if you could reflect on the conversation at Yum Chat – has the conversation stayed with you in any way since then? Does it confirm or question your understanding of how your work is read or received by audiences? Or perhaps instead, not audiences but curators and producers?
It was nice to meet the other people at Yum Chat, the speakers as well as chatting to everyone else afterwards. I liked that there were shared and different understandings, that there’s not one way of reflecting on something so broad. I especially liked that Quan’s mum got up in the audience to talk about her own views and experiences, it was such a nice, poignant thread to what we were talking about!
It is often said that there are only six stories, sometimes twelve dominant narrative tropes. Yet your work tends not to be driven by narrative, instead focusing on mood, memory and observation of details – and sometimes questions of characters displaced – noting the absence and presence of place. What defines great film for you? How do you hope to realise those qualities in your work?
I love so many differently great films. I think a lot about the kinds of limits I have, I mean that not in an inadequate way – to me that’s exciting and funny and interesting. There’s something Jean Rouch’s book, Cine-ethnography – this book is a wonderful read, and I recommend going to the source, because I’m just going from memory and my description is not nearly as thrilling – where he talks about how it astounds him how many careful and extravagant cogs are necessary to pull off a Hollywood film: all that money and people and stuff to summon/pull off something, all for something like that brief glorious moment of Gene Kelly dancing in that rain, something that makes Hollywood sense! I think it’s just as true today. Rouch is one of my favourite filmmakers – I recommend starting with Jaguar! – he made these wonderfully simple but deeply inventive, extraordinary films by modest means, and they’re so full of thought and fun and beauty.
Faraways screened at IFFR, one of the largest-audience driven film festivals in the world – do you have any sense of how the work was received by a non-Australian audience and how does this compare to reactions to Magic Miles at Melbourne International Film Festival, for example.
It’s interesting to hear people’s comments on the places in Faraways and Magic Miles, and compare the two if they’ve seen both. I like thinking about places, being in them, about how others think about places – so I definitely like to think about shared things and places. To return to your last question, I’m glad you mentioned presence and absence! I’m interested in something shared, in many ways, but not necessarily generic or universal, if only that maybe those latter two concepts might be a bit total or flattening.
To me, more often than not, one of the less remarkable things about places is whether they’re recognisably this or that or its opposite. My sense of places and things start and go elsewhere. Maybe for people not to think it as Australia can be freeing. I was glad but surprised when I was first asked – actually it was at IFFR – if Faraways was made in Australia or China – I didn’t think of it as not recognisably Australian, or Brisbane, but I wasn’t pretending it as somewhere else either. Not an opposing thought, but I’m just as happy when people – from Brisbane – tell me they recognise the places in Faraways and Magic Miles! To me they are familiar, and they’re memorable.
It is often asked of creative professionals what advice they would give to younger or other artists starting out – would you modify this advice for filmmakers who identify with a particular (non-Anglo) cultural backgrounds in Australia? What risks/challenges/benefits/opportunities arise in the Australian cultural context?
Do what means something to you – it’s really true! By that I don’t believe the work has to be personal at all, it can be a big risk and fall to think that way. So, I think: do what means something to you, and also do it conscious that it sits outside of you, that your work is not you.
To me, one of the most interesting things about Australia is that we’re so isolated geographically, and in many ways, culturally and historically. Not to be pointlessly paradoxical, but that’s so curiously and compellingly a cultural risk, challenge, benefit and opportunity. Maybe in our lives and situations, we don’t have to think about our history and relation to others, as much as elsewhere – but I think it’s richly vital to think about all this. So I think a lot about the tension between those two points, and how to reconcile that for myself and what I make.
To answer slightly differently – as valuable as it is to think independently, it’s also immeasurably nice and stimulating when you can find other people who share something similar to you, but who also think and do far different to you. These others don’t have to be filmmakers at all – it’s pretty great how that might affect your work and your way of thinking. So I think look for that! And it’s great to read, watch and experience widely, but don’t feel like you have to put it all into your frame