Heartland film's high school winner

The young filmmaker who keeps taking home first place at Heartland



Carol Nguyen is probably one of the youngest filmmakers that you will meet at Heartland this year. She is 17 and has now won the high school film category twice and a runner up. Her short films are not just a hobby, they are her days at school and hopefully her career.

Nguyen attends Tomoko art school in Toronto, the same place where her sister (a visual artist) gathered her education.

"I wanted to enter the school but I didn't know what arch I should do," says Nguyen. "I am not very good at singing, dancing, acting."

Film was one of the few specialties that didn't require much prior knowledge.

"I am just incredibly lucky that I got in the program and it was right for me," says Nguyen.

The school that she goes to alternates between filming and film theory each week, while balancing all of her other classes every other day. For the piece that has won at Heartland, This Home is Not Empty, she spent every day from 3:10 until midnight building the set for the small scale house that is featured in the three minute film.


The story opens with a phone off the hook in a living room. There are things shattered on the floor and it's clear that the all white house is abandoned.

"I use very little cuts in the film because I want to accentuate anxiousness and tenseness," says Nguyen.

The camera zooms out and the viewer can see that it's a small scale model. A human hand cuts in and start to adjust things, eventually burning the paper house down.

"I had worked with paper before," says Nguyen. "I have come to find that in all of my films there is a common theme of control and lack of power ... When I work with people I am trying to find that power, where with objects it is a lot easier to manipulate. Which is something I am trying to overcome as a person and director."

She explains how the choice to use white paper was based on its archetype of hope, but in Vietnamese culture it can also represent death. Much of Nguyen's work is in touch with her Vietnamese heritage. The film that previously won at Heartland was a piece that used an interview with her father about his trip from Vietnam to America as the narration.

"I know a lot of people who are second generation can relate," says Nguyen. "You have to find a common ground that you can lie in. You aren't fully Canadian. You're not fully Vietnamese. You are a bit of both and you feel like you don't have somewhere to fit in. So I think making films about these topics helped me explore and understand both sides and myself which is in the middle.

"It helps me express and come to terms with who I am as a person," says Nguyen.

As high school is nearing an end for Nguyen finding who she is remains on her mind a lot. For now film school in the States is her plan. However film school here is about four times more expensive than in Canada. Considering she has around a dozen films under her belt and has shown at film festivals around the globe, she stands a good chance at getting scholarships.

"Heartland is definitely my favorite film festival," says Nguyen. "The experience is so great and I get to meet so many filmmakers from all around the world. They are adults and professionals who are showing their stuff and event while they are talking to me they treat me as an adult. I am treated as royalty while I am there."



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