A STAR IN THE MAKING
interviewed by Ty Mattheson and Kat Yeh
At TCFF (Third Culture Film Festival)
We believe that there is so much more to the
“film world” than what you get at your average Sunday jaunt to the local cinema.
One of the greatest aspects about hosting an independent film festival is the raw,
young talent that we discover in the process. At a mere sixteen years young, Hong
Kong’s own Tiffany Ng has created four independent short films to date, the latest of
which, titled, A Film For My Grandparents, was featured at TCFF 2017 last April and
won the “Oram-Jaffri Award”.
A Film For My Grandparents – by Tiffany Ng
It is passionate young dreamers like Tiffany that truly embody TCFF’s mission to
grow Hong Kong’s independent film industry by developing homegrown talent, and
exposing them and tempting them onto an international stage. We hope to provide a
platform for local and international creators from all walks of life to have a voice, to
network and learn from each other, but also to allow local audiences the chance to
experience films of a different nature other than just the usual big screen
blockbusters. It is often films that challenge conventional thought or aren’t instantly
appealing that generate passionate discourse and dialogue. The process allows us
to grow as audiences, as filmmakers, and as people.
TC sat down with Tiffany to discuss “A Film For My Grandparents”, her inspirations,
and her views on Hong Kong’s independent film industry.
Tiffany with her parents at TCFF 2017
Interview with Tiffany:
How did you first hear about TCFF?
TCFF’s co-founder and curator, Faiyaz Jafri, came to my school to talk about it. I first heard about it then.
How did A Film For My Grandparents come about?
When I was fourteen, I took a Chinese class where we were asked to talk to our
grandparents: it was about talking to the elderly to better understand your roots,
ancestry, and culture. I realized I had never really talked about my parents’ pasts
with my grandparents, or heard any funny stories about my dad’s childhood. Even
though I’m close to my grandmother, we had never talked about how they settled
and began their life in Hong Kong. She had also just had heart surgery, which was
very scary for my family, and my grandfather is slowly losing his memory as well, so I
thought that making a film that captured the way they told their stories would be a
cool way to preserve their memories of the past.
How did you feel about the final result?
I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t expect a lot to come out of it. I expected a
one-take video of my grandparents speaking, but as the day progressed they were
doing these things that I thought I could document. I didn’t expect to make a
documentary out of it, but at the end of the day I had enough footage. I was happy
with the result, although had a documentary been the initial intention, the quality
could have been a bit better, I could have planned to use more shots, but it was
actually kind of nice as it was something i just did.
Has anyone else seen it?
My grandparents, family and friends have seen it, but that’s it. I am excited about
other people seeing it – I want to see their reaction. It’d be interesting to see if it has
the same impact that it does on my family, and whether it’d be as interesting to them
as it is to us.
The platform that TCFF provides is encouraging. The kind of films that I
am interested in making are more experimental in that I try a lot of newer techniques
instead of sticking to a basic narrative story, so it’s always interesting to see what
people think, even if they don’t like it. The platform is a nice way to find out what
people enjoy and what they don’t, and finding my voice from that.
How did you feel about submitting your film to the festival?
I wasn’t really expecting anything. I was a little nervous – I have always made films
for myself but I’ve never really had anybody critique them before.
What made you want to be a filmmaker?
An exposure to films, my film teacher… it sounds cheesy, but I saw a way of
expression through film that I hadn’t really seen before in art or writing. I watch a lot
of films as well, so it’s always been an interesting medium to me as I believe it’s
something that hasn’t been explored as much as other art forms.
What was the first complete film you made?
The first film I made was when I was 10 or 11. I saw a documentary about Tim
Burton’s journey as a filmmaker, where he drew a stop motion picture of a scientist
that later become the inspiration for many of his major blockbuster films. At the time,
my dad also bought a new camera for my mom for her birthday and I was bored
during summer. I had just seen Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, in which everything was
made out of clay, and decided to make a stop motion animation of a flower
blossoming from a tree, which became a character that went around and did stuff
around the house.
How do you find your inspiration?
I come across a lot of films on social media or through recommendations. Two summers ago, I was watching classic films that everybody knows: textbook films
such as Casablanca or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Last summer, though, I wanted to see
what current filmmakers are making instead of just watching blockbuster films. I have
also just created a Vimeo account where I upload my films. There, I started browsing
a lot of featured films; I’d then look at their directors, and then at the other films the
One director I really like on Vimeo is a guy called AJ Molle. He
makes a lot of films about his life. He has a different way of telling stories and I found
the way he uses colour, for example, very interesting. I looked at what directors he
likes, and from there, I just spent days clicking, watching 5-10 minute short films. I
also read magazines: for example, Dazed Magazine recommended a film about
feminism created by a new experimental filmmaker which was interesting. You do a lot of research to find out these films.
Do you think people are interested in having a film festival?
I think people are actually very interested. The filmmakers and enthusiasts that I am
surrounded by are always looking out for new films. Even though we follow major
filmmakers like Wes Anderson or Hiyao Mizayaki, we constantly try to find inspiration
for films that we can make: films that are produced at a level that doesn’t require the
budget necessary for a big budget film. We don’t have CGI capabilities, for example.
We look for smaller filmmakers that express themselves in interesting ways that do
not require millions of dollars.
How do you feel about short films versus feature films?
To a certain extent, I prefer short films over feature films. There are pros and cons to
both. For example, the fact that anybody can make short films dilutes the quality out
there. In comparison, feature films require a lot of money so a certain level of quality
needs to be there for someone to fund them. Short films creates the opportunity for
somebody to tell a story in a way that isn’t what the public are accustomed to. For
example, superhero movies follow a very specific formula: it’s almost as if they have
a list of how many explosions there have to be, how many CGI characters there
have to be, or a mysterious hero that has to dress a certain way. In short films, those
audience-pleasing ‘requirements’ are gone.
A film can depict somebody screaming or expressing genuine emotions without trying to impress or cater to a certain
demographic of audience. If you have a film festival that curates films that effectively
use individual ways to showcase beautiful or interesting stories, that in itself is worth
it. I really appreciate well-made short films instead of big blockbuster films that
please the masses. The former are special and made in a way that hasn’t been seen
How does your family feel about you being a filmmaker?
It’s funny because I started out wanting to be a lawyer. i liked public speaking and
debate, and I told my mom that I wanted to be a lawyer, which she held onto for
some time. But my family is in the creative industry, so they understand the attraction
but also recognize the risks. They’re really supportive. I want to make sure they feel
secure, so being a filmmaker is something that I’m conflicted about because it’s not a
very secure career path. I want to find a way that I can generate a stable income
while still doing what I like to do.
What do you think the general consensus is?
A friend said something very interesting. She commented that our parents are
supportive of what we do because they can afford it based on current circumstances:
the scholarships and other resources that are available to everybody from all
demographics, which is very different compared to what was available in our parents’
generation. A lot of Chinese families that moved here from mainland China didn’t
have jobs, so following a creative path was difficult. For instance, my grandpa came
to Hong Kong from Guangzhou with a creative job, and everybody around him had a
secure job. It was difficult for him because his family wouldn’t accept it. It’s the same
for my dad’s generation.
Now, there is an abundance of resources from charities, and schools offer scholarships, so I believe parents are less against the idea of their
kids aspiring to be in the creative industry compared to the previous generation.
Despite that, I still think that there are negative connotations to the creative industry,
especially in Hong Kong where film making isn’t very prominent. For example, if a
western person practiced Kung Fu, someone would likely say that that person would
never be as good as an Asian practicing Kung Fu. To an Asian – or at least to my
family – film-making is a western thing. The exposure that Hong Kong films have
across the international market is much smaller compared to American or European
films. Before Third Culture, there wasn’t even a legitimate film festival in Hong Kong.
The Sundance Film Festival started three years ago and not a lot of people knew
about it apart from niche, indie filmmakers, but that’s not what film is about. It’s about
gathering audiences from all demographics and occupations. Anybody can watch
films. A film festival isn’t meant to be just for filmmakers or people in the industry.
The arts industry isn’t celebrated in Hong Kong, so naturally the film industry isn’t
celebrated as much either.
What is the best thing about watching short films, to the standard mass movie-
The beauty of short films is that they don’t necessarily follow a distinctive, linear
narrative. You can have multiple interpretations of the same thing. Filmmakers can
relate to something and express themselves uniquely. A conceptual artist once told
me, “Imagine a room with a painting of Elsa from Frozen. There are two people
looking at the painting: a young girl and her grandmother. The emotions stirred from
this painting are totally different in both people. The girl is happy as she sees her idol
and dreams of being a princess, whereas the grandmother is happy because she
sees the joy the painting brings to her granddaughter.” The same happens in
independent films, which are open to interpretation. It’s a way for filmmakers to
express themselves as well as to communicate certain concepts through artistic
A lot of LGBTQ films or social realist films, for instance, are spreading in
Hong Kong, which bring to light serious issues that are discussed and open to
debate. To me, film is communicating an idea in an interesting way. A lot of
innovative ideas come out as a result and I think that’s really cool to see at a film
What would you say to people who want to make a film but don’t know where
To anyone who wants to make a film: it doesn’t matter what type of camera you have
or how much you know about film or the range of techniques. The more films you
make, the better you get. Film-making is not necessarily based on textbook formulas
or ideas set in the past – it’s more about how you feel when you make the film.
Literally just go out and experiment and keep learning. I believe that if you want to be
a filmmaker, going to film school isn’t 100% necessary.
SUBMISSIONS FOR NEXT FILM FESTIVAL
Submissions for TCFF 2018 will begin by the end of AUGUST 2017. Stay tuned to
www.tcff.tv to remain updated.