Arts·Short Film Face Off

'I had this instinct to just cast my mom': this director's emotional film is a family affair

Her instinct paid off. Carol Nguyen's mother gives a standout performance in the Short Film Face Off contender Tundra.

Carol Nguyen's mother gives a standout performance in the Short Film Face Off contender Tundra

Carol Nguyen's mother and lead actor Thao Nguyen-Duong in a still from Tundra. (Courtesy of Carol Nguyen)

At just 21, filmmaker Carol Nguyen has already directed eight short films and shows no sign of slowing down. She was just 19 when she wrote and directed her stunning short film, Tundra, that was a finalist in Short Film Face Off and stars an acting newcomer in the lead role -- Nguyen's own mother, Thao Nguyen-Duong.

Nguyen has involved her family in filmmaking before. Her films often explore themes of family and identity and her mother and sister (artist Michelle Nguyen) were both featured in her short documentary Every Grain of Rice. But the role in Tundra would be an emotionally intense part and she needed to be sure that her mom was up for it. 

Nguyen explains, "I went through all my casting options and it just wasn't doing it for me and I wasn't really sure why. And then I had this instinct to just cast my mom. So I auditioned her and she did fantastic" 

Filmmaker Carol Nguyen on the set of her film Tundra. (Courtesy: Carol Nguyen)

Her instinct paid off. Nguyen-Duong gives a standout performance as a mother who experiences dreams and hallucinations while coping with the loss of her daughter. Her performance is heartbreaking.

WATCH: Amanda Parris finds out how Carol Nguyen cast her mom as the lead in Tundra

The film is based on a traumatic experience that happened in Nguyen's own life. She says that directing her mother in the film helped her share what she had experienced with Nguyen-Duong in ways that she hadn't before. 

"I think having to work with her really forced me to you know explain to her what I had been going through and what the character is going through because it really reflected the stages that I went through," Nguyen explains. 

Filmmaker Carol Nguyen and her mother Thao Nguyen-Duong (Courtesy Carol Nguyen)

"Being an Asian Canadian there are I feel like barriers that you don't really approach when it comes to parental and child relationships. And it was something that I felt like I cracked open a little." 

Nguyen's latest documentary No Crying at the Dinner Table, which also features Nguyen-Duong as well as Nguyen's father and her sister, will have its world premiere at TIFF in September. 

When asked if her mother is going to continue acting Nguyen says, "I secretly hope she becomes famous."

So do we!

Watch the full film Tundra and Carol Nguyen on Short Film Face Off  on CBC Gem.

About the Author

Mercedes Grundy has been producing videos for CBC Arts and Exhibitionists since 2015. She is a unabashed Leonardo DiCaprio enthusiast with an educational background in photography, and produces film and theatre when not busy here at the CBC. And while her love for the arts does not discriminate, she openly acknowledges she is a horrible dancer.