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An Interview with Director Ky Nam Le Duc

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

Ky’s film The Greatest Country in the World which won the 2020 Reelworld Film Festival Audience Choice Award will hit theatres in Quebec this Friday, September 3rd, 2021. Click here to see showtimes.

When did your director's journey begin?

I grew up in a Vietnamese household and didn’t learn French until I was 5 years old. What I watched at home with my grandma were the typical Chinese (inc. wuxia) shows, dubbed in Vietnamese. When we would rent mainstream films with my dad, they would typically be dubbed in French (my father is a Hollywood sci-fiction fan) as his English wasn’t sufficient. And so, I think I only learned there were other types of movies when I was a teenager and rented by pure randomness a subtitled Wong Kar-Wai film: Chunking Express. It truly blew my mind. Subsequently, I watched late at night a movie from Robert Morin: Yes Sir Madame and it was a second revelation. Until that point, I did not know movies could be that intimate, that important because rooted in a specific society/culture (as opposed to the bland American settings) and it truly resonated with me. My own (Asian) family wasn’t very vested in culture (of course) so I began that journey to film alone, watching Antonioni movies alone in my room in the suburbs. I didn’t even think about enrolling in film school at that age, it just became something I was really interested in, but I think that’s how most directors start their journey into the brother (and sister) hood of film-making.

I was rejected from every film school when I did decide to apply, as I only had a general science formation. I remember my university applications were in math, physics, and film. But I then did a year in a small 15 credits screenwriting program, where I shot a funny black and white short about speed dating. Fortunately, that got me into all the schools the year after. Otherwise, I guess I would have ended up working for a Canadian bank (lol), I would have been wealthier but probably not happier.

When you won the Audience Choice Award at the Reelworld Film Festival, what did that mean to you?

It means a great deal to me. I always try to reach a wider audience in my work. As much as I like very pointed auteur films, I have come to cinema through the popular side of it. I am working on a comedy feature right now, I do think we have to engage with our audiences in multiples ways as filmmakers, especially when we are trying to promote diversity. There are so many dramas one can watch, especially these days. I know a lot of us to want to make people think through our work, but I think what is most lasting is what we feel when we experience art. And so, audience awards have always been the most precious to me.

Why do you think telling immigrant stories through film is important?

Our world is changing so fast this century, that many argue we are all immigrants. We all have to adapt constantly to new environments (especially these days), adjusting our jobs and skills every few years (months even) as technology and globalization advance. It’s been argued that’s why country music (and its inherent nostalgia for bygone places) is becoming ever more popular. So maybe the immigrant film is just the standard human story now, that most of us can relate to. As a son of refugees, myself, it’s only natural that I examine that stuff, it’s what constitutes a great part of my identity, and there are many questions the western world is asking itself right now. How many people can we (Canadians and others) accept? How do we want to integrate those new citizens? Is it even possible in one generation to do so? And what is national identity? How can it be positive and not be tainted by those scary far-right ideologies? As a filmmaker, I try to ask these questions, in hope that others have answers.

Any tips for directors to be?

Be frugal and accumulate experiences. The film journey is long and most interesting, but many drop out for financial reasons. If you like new cars, don’t go into film-making. It really depends on what kind of films/movies you want to make, but no one will give you a million dollars while you are in your twenties (unless you are X. Dolan in which case what are you doing reading this?). So, you have to survive in the meantime, in which case the danger is to veer into something that resembles film-making but is more lucrative. Film-making (the non-Hollywood type) is most akin to the priesthood. There are many things that will need to be sacrificed and the price can be overwhelming for some. The truth is those who succeed are mostly those who fit such a life. If it’s not for you, don’t stay just because of your pride, you have to have a real and better reason. It’s ok to do something else! Don’t believe the crap people say about pursuing your passion. Film-making in the long term is a job like any other (just way harder) in which you have to do boring things also.

I chose to make films partly because it’s by far the hardest thing I could envision myself doing. I’m not naturally a social person (and thus dread big groups i.e. film crews), I don’t like to speak in public, I don’t want to be noticed, etc. I’m often the only person of colour in Quebec festivals. But being on set helped me overcome most of those fears. Each film I made was a mountain that I didn’t know I could climb. But I enjoy the pain, the loneliness, the doubts, the despair. That’s when I truly feel alive but I know not everyone feels the same. Some are drawn to the mountain, and film-making is essentially very similar to an expedition in the wilds in which the only thing you can ever find is yourself. If you can only expect that and nothing else, then maybe this career can suit you.

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