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Concordia student film exploring grief, intergenerational trauma now in Oscar conversation

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A film that began as a class project from students at Concordia University in Montreal is now pushing for Oscar consideration.

No Crying at the Dinner Table, 22-year-old Toronto-born filmmaker Carol Nguyen’s short documentary about her own family’s grief and trauma, has resonated with audiences at multiple high-profile film festivals.

“It was a very vulnerable experience for all of us,” Nguyen told Global News in an interview. “I would say I’m very lucky that my parents and my sister are very trusting in me as their family member and as a filmmaker.”

In the opening minutes of the film, full of pain and regret, Nguyen’s mother Thao talks about her relationship with her mother growing up in Vietnam.

Nguyen’s sister Michelle grieves the loss of her grandparents years after their passing. No Crying at the Dinner Table is full of powerful, honest moments, and they all come from the filmmaker’s own immediate family.

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“I think it really resonated with people because families are complex and imperfect. It was, I guess, refreshing to see,” Nguyen said.

The film sees her interview her parents and sister about some of their deepest feelings. It started as a class project for her studies at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, but became a whole lot more.

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“It was surreal to see how universal the film is and how people can relate to it and see their lives reflected on screen,” Nguyen said.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, won a Grand Jury Award at South by South West and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, among other honours.

“We all knew the film was special, but… you can’t really expect such a success,” said 25-year-old Aziz Zoromba, who co-produced No Crying at the Dinner Table.

The film explores intergenerational trauma and other complex emotions. Nguyen’s own parents fled the Vietnam War as refugees.

“After the film, my parents and my sister started saying, ‘I love you,’ which is something that we never said before,” Nguyen said.

The film has been as powerful for her family as it has been for others.

“Not being able to express your feelings to your parents and vice versa is something I totally relate to,” said Zoromba.

Nguyen and Zoromba originally made the film for Concordia professor and filmmaker Daniel Cross’s class. Their teacher is thrilled about the success of the film.

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“The best thing about filmmaking and teaching is mentoring and helping young voices find their way to an audience,” said Cross, a professor at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.

“Carol’s film is an excellent example, because it speaks to so many things. It speaks to inclusion and diversity, it speaks to racialized individuals trying to establish and find their way forward and it talks intimately about family at the dinner table, what’s more inclusive than that? It’s great, and a great honour for Concordia.”

Cross said Nguyen and Zoromba are among about 12 students who have had their careers propelled forward by the success of No Crying at the Dinner Table.

The journey is still not over. The filmmakers are hoping it will be nominated for a Best Short Documentary Academy Award.

“We’re qualified for the Oscars, so we’re on an Oscar journey, campaigning and seeing where the film goes from there,” Nguyen said.

The filmmakers are not allowing themselves to even think of the possibility of being nominated yet, but their professor is hopeful the duo make it to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards.

For now, Nguyen and Zoromba just want as many people as possible to see No Crying at the Dinner Table.

As of this week, it’s available to watch for free at the Vimeo staff picks section.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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