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Lights! Camera! Action! A candid close-up of Oscar-nominated director Kim Nguyen

The Concordia graduate talks about his latest film Eye On Juliet and future projects
June 28, 2018
By Richard Burnett

Life sometimes feels like a surreal Hollywood film reel for director Kim Nguyen, BFA 97, ever since his critically hailed film Rebelle was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

“Being nominated for an Oscar really opened up a lot of doors,” says Nguyen.

Poster for Eye On Juliet Kim Nguyen’s latest feature film is Eye On Juliet.

His latest film Eye On Juliet — about a drone operator who falls in love with a young Middle Eastern woman during a remote mission — recently opened in theatres.

Nguyen recently answered questions about his rising film career and time at Concordia when he studied at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.

You wrote and directed Eye on Juliet. What message do you want to communicate with your new film?

Kim Nguyen: “The script went through a lot of iterations. At a certain point, you get a good feeling about a movie but you can’t explain it empirically.

In the end, I wanted to address solitudes around the world, which are growing for a lot of different reasons. As a global society we must try to find each other, get back in touch and communicate with one another.”

Your next film, The Hummingbird Project, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård and Salma Hayek and is scheduled to be released in 2019. What’s it about?

KN: “It’s a story about two cousins, second-generation Russian Jewish immigrants who live in New York. They decide to build this 1,000-mile-long fibre optic line between Kansas and New York to try to beat the stock market and make millions.”

Rebelle was nominated for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Oscar. What was that experience like?

KN: “It was surreal. It’s like having a door open before you and have access to a different scope of projects and casts which you never thought you’d have access to.

It’s a cliché but it’s true: being nominated for an Oscar really opened up a lot of doors, such as my joining one of the larger agencies, CAA. I’ve learned it’s a strange world, but here you have access to all sorts of things.”

Kim Nguyen, BFA 97 Film director Kim Nguyen says being nominated for an Oscar opened doors in Hollywood.

Were you nervous at the Oscar ceremonies?

KN: “I have so much respect for [director] Michael Haneke, whose film Amour I thought might win and did, and he totally deserved it.

I went to the Oscars lighthearted but extremely nervous. You know those 30-second interviews on television? Those are the ones I suck most at, so I don’t like them very much. I knew there were going to be a lot of those at the Oscars!

But the weirdest, coolest, most surreal moment was waiting in my limo in line as security checked each limo for bombs, and then having snipers let you in. For that small moment, we were all together.”

Was having your film Two Lovers and a Bear screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 another surreal experience?

KN: “Yes it was. Truth be told, it’s a tense festival if your film is in competition. There is nothing relaxed about it. But being in La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs [the Directors’ Fortnight, an independent section held in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival] — rather than being in competition — was a very welcoming experience.”

Eye On Juliet had its world premiere at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and its North American premiere at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, in 2017. How important is it for you to earn a slot at these festivals?

KN: “One of the sadder things, I find, is the declining coverage of film festivals by newspapers because they cannot afford it like they used to. So it’s really important now to get into the main competitions.”

You are a child of mixed race — your father is Vietnamese-Canadian and your mother is French Canadian. Because of your family background, are you more sensitive to casting visible minorities, or writing and filming stories that are out-of-the-box?

KN: “I hope it’s not because I am of mixed origin that I cast different people in my films. What is interesting about all of this is you try to represent our society as realistically as possible, and it’s insane how much we don’t reflect society on film.

I once asked an assistant to get the census and photo shop where we all come from. What would it look like in a picture? And we are so far from that. There is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to representation and diversity on film.”

How did your studies and your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?

KN: “A friend of mine went to see some student films from Concordia recently and he said the films are much better than the ones we did when we were at Concordia, in the sense of completion.

I did some horrible movies at Concordia and I am really thankful for that. I made huge mistakes, my movies were really awful. But I had those painful lessons very early.

Concordia let us make flawed movies and learn from the critiques afterwards. Concordia was good for me. I learned a lot.”

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