'Outsider' is October's Film of the Month winner

21 Dec 2017 in Film of the Month

6 mins
'Outsider' is October's Film of the Month winner

We're pleased to announce that our Film of the Month winner for October 2017 is Outsider, made by 17-year-old James from Lancashire.

Engaging for audiences aged 11+, Outsider is an intelligent, superbly shot portrayal of racial identity in which its British-born Chinese protagonist feels caught between two cultures.

Note: please be aware that the film deals with issues of racism and contains racial slurs

A brilliant film, which takes one central idea and maximises it very cleverly. Displays excellent filmmaking techniques, particularly in editing and sound design. Tackles an important social issue in an imaginative way, which defies easy resolutions. Superb.

Film of the Month judge on 'Outsider'

We got in touch with James to find out more about his incredible short film. 

How does it feel to win the Film of the Month competition?

I'm absolutely buzzing, really happy that my short was chosen for Film of the Month! I'm just grateful that the film resonated with people and has the chance to be shown to more people!

How long have you been making films, and how did you start?

I've been making films for around 10 years now. I started making shorts with my friends because it was just something fun we wanted to do. In 2011, I managed to get one little action short I made with my brothers called Call of Dom Dom onto Machinima! The positive response to something we had worked hard on was really heartwarming.

What inspired you to make Outsider?

I'd been wanting to make something about the experience of being Chinese in the UK for a while, but couldn't find a specific area I wanted to focus on. I got the idea to explore identity after watching JJ DOOM's music video for his song 'Guv'nor.' In the video, there was a weird effect used on a front facing shot of DOOM walking towards the camera. The screen was split down the middle and each half of the rapper was moving independently. It reminded me of the duality of my identity, and clicked with what I was already thinking about. It helped me funnel my idea into a single concept. I wanted to use the same effect in my short film, as symbolism for the two clashing cultures of my protagonist.

After splurging my ideas for the film onto paper, the video got me thinking about my cultural identity. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, but came over to the UK when I was a few months old. A lot of the time we're perceived as perpetual foreigners - I've been complimented for my English many times (it's my first language!). Racism combined with a glaring lack of representation in the media, can make us feel like we don't really belong or fit in. However, at the same time we can feel distant and not connected to Asian culture, especially if you can't speak the language. This puts us in a weird limbo, to sum it up crudely - too Asian for the whites, and too white for the Asians.

What message would you like people to take from Outsider?

The message and whole point of the film is to address and draw attention to the fact that some British born Chinese people and other people of colour who grew up in the UK can feel like outsiders to both cultures. Addressing the problem is the first step to improving it, because ideally we want to be in a position where we can experience the best of both worlds.

As BBCs [British-born Chinese], we can be more connected to Asian culture by learning the language, as you can usually practice with your parents or grandparents (I'm trying to improve my Mandarin and Cantonese). Alternatively, you could immerse yourself in the culture through film and music, or by visiting the country.

As for becoming more of a part of British society, I think that more positive representation in the media will help young POC [people of colour] growing up feel a sense of belonging. Although representation of minorities has improved over time, it's ridiculous that there are still cases of whitewashing going on today. Whitewashing, improper representation and toxic stereotypes are subtly telling kids of colour that they're not good enough, which is absolutely unacceptable. I think by bringing more POC talent into the industry, there will be more stories involving original characters of colour who don't perpetuate damaging stereotypes. 

Outsider uses a very dynamic form of editing. Where did you get the idea for this?

I wanted to try to recreate the effect from JJ DOOM's music video, but I couldn't get the effect to work with the way I'd shot my footage. So I had to find an alternative solution to drive home the idea of feeling like an outsider. I was re-watching Fight Club whilst looking for inspiration, and I got an idea when I saw the chemical burn scene. There are lots of quick cutaways used to reflect the narrator's panicked thoughts. I thought that I could use this dynamic editing to express the duality of the identity of BBCs.

What advice would you give to other young people who want to start making films?

Just go out and make it! Stop making excuses and write scripts around the resources that you have. Lower your expectations. Everyone's early films are awful, because they are just starting out, and that's okay. If you set yourself up by forcing yourself to create something you're not capable of yet, you'll get stuck. Aim to fail now, so when people expect more from you, you'll have already learnt from your past mistakes.

If you could make Outsider again what would you do differently, and why?

If I could make it again, I would shoot it in a way in which the split screen DOOM effect would work, and use it in combination with quick cuts. I'd also shoot it in a more streamlined way. The way I shot the scene in the kitchen was really clunky, and I suffered in the editing room because of it. It was really hard for me to keep the pace moving quickly, whilst preserving spatial continuity.

What are some of your favourite films, and why?

I'm a big fan of Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz is probably one of my favourite films that he's directed. I love how much attention to detail there is in his films. Every time I re-watch them I always pick up on tiny little visual jokes he's put in there. Giving typical Hollywood action film tropes a very British twist was very entertaining for me. Paying homage to other films with both subtle and overt references is something I really like to see in films. I think it's really cool to wear your influences on your sleeve, and using what inspires you to forge your own style.

I also love Kung Fu Hustle, directed by Stephen Chow. This is definitely one of my favourite films of all time. Cartoonish, over-the-top visual and special effects coupled with slick, satisfying fight scenes, create a really unique, enjoyable cinematic experience. The fight scenes are choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung, who have crafted some of the best fight scenes in cinema. I also really like the classical Chinese orchestral soundtrack, it adds a lot of depth and believability to the era the film is set in. The humour is very Cantonese, but there are plenty of hilarious scenes everyone can enjoy. If you like kung fu films and cartoons, please watch this film if you haven't already.

Outsider will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films for October are now available on the Into Film YouTube channel, and James has won a £100 Amazon voucher and a DVD! If you've been inspired by October's winner, find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you liked Outsider why not try these related films:

  • Lilting (2014, 15, 86 mins) Engaging for 14+
    After Kai dies, his lover and mother attempt to grieve together and form a connection, despite having no shared language with which to communicate.
  • Dear White People (2014, 15, 104 mins) Engaging for 16+
    Satirical college campus comedy which tackles the subject of contemporary racial identity.
  • Persepolis (2007, 12, 91 mins) Engaging for 11+
    Based on an autobiographical graphic novel, this is a coming-of-age film which sees an outspoken Iranian girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution.
  • A United Kingdom (2016, 12, 111 mins) Engaging for 11+
    When King Seretse Khama of Botswana controversially marries a British white woman, the two experience intolerance and prejudice from every direction.

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