How do you talk about something you have live with for years? Like any relationship there are ups and downs but hopefully, at the end, some warmth affection and love remains. For me this must be deep in the story and grow from the people connected with it.
I started to consider making a film about characters of Asian background after talking to Citizen’s Director of Photography Daniel Yun about the fact that there are few films about Asians coming from Australia. People from these backgrounds make up around 10% of our population.
From that point I started to look at what were the big issues for these people. They are diverse in their backgrounds: some had come just yesterday to study others were 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Australian and beyond, their parents and ancestors arriving at different times in successive immigration waves to make new homes here. What I found tied them together was that when they came here and for whatever length of time, they were making a home.
What is it like to make a home in another country? From personal experience I know that living in another country with no friends and only a goal can be very difficult. It can change you, for good and for bad. One thing it does do is forces you to redefine the idea of home. Either you long for the one gone, make a new home or remain displaced.
These ideas of home brought up further ideas of identity and the needs and wants of the individual; and gave me the premise for the story of a young woman who had come to Australia to create a foundation for her family to start a new life. Caught up in that goal she has forgotten herself and what she might need or, heaven forbid, want.
With my story in hand I attempted to get inside the character both narratively and visually. I decided on approaching the film from the perspective of the individuals of the story rather than a Western observer. One of the greatest compliments that attest to this attempt I received from several parties, people who did not know me personally, was that they thought the screenwriter was female and Chinese. They were surprised to find me male and Anglo Saxon.
Having dealt with the script, I then looked at how we could create a world ‘through Asian eyes’ when shooting the film. One way was engaging Daniel Yun who had a clear understanding of the Asian aesthetic we would attempt.
In casting Citizen I sought out young actors of Asian background who could bring a level of realism to their performances that would make the audience believe they were going through the experiences portrayed. In Claudia Teh, Chris Pang and Susanna Qian I found actors who were willing to trust me and that I in turn could trust their skill and commitment to a story that for them was personal in that it was to some extent their story, one that they felt to be an opportunity to voice where they come from.”