Kristina Wong is a Scarborough film director who uses her international award-winning work to examine the Chinese-Canadian experience while providing opportunities for females on both sides of the camera.
“I see myself pushing towards female teams and Asian-based stories,” she says.
This is the spirit that fuels her filmmaking as she focuses on hiring women who are from minority groups to star in her films and work as her crew. “For my film I wanted to make sure my key crews were minority females,” she said.
Providing opportunities for women is helping break stereotype and prove that women have what it takes to make movies, whether as a director, cinematographer or as crew members moving around heavy gear, Wong said.
“Growing up in Scarborough everyone around me was very diverse,” said the fourth year York University film production student.
However, the Hollywood films she’d watched since childhood did not reflect her reality.
“I found it shocking that I would make a film about a group I didn’t know anything about.”
This insight inspired her to create films about her personal cross-cultural experience. “That’s why in this film, Knots, I wanted to do something Asian based, which is something I know,” she said.
The self-funded production resonates with many second generation Chinese-Canadians - especially those growing up in Scarborough - because of the language, identity and cultural barriers, said Wong.
At the same time, the motif of the knot keeps the generations together with themes of family, acceptance and crossing cultures.
Knots is the story of Scarlett’s Gong Gong, grandpa, who visits for her high school graduation. She must come to terms with the loss of her mother and mend her relationship with her father.
“I explore different generations. I can’t speak to my grandparents because I grew up speaking English. It explores that element,” she said.
“Growing up that’s what a lot of my friends can relate too - not Hollywood.”
The film’s popularity has crossed local borders as it has been featured in film festivals such as the Phoenix Film Festival Melbourne, Black Bird Film Festival, Cinesiege 2015 (York University’s showcase of best student films) and Victoria Film Festival. And it was at the Joey Awards where Nicole Samantha Huff, who plays Scarlett, won for best actress.
Wong said showing her work on screens worldwide at film festivals is important for the recognition because a lot of people from Scarborough simply don’t go into filmmaking.
She said being born and raised in Scarborough helped set the foundation of how she views the world, however, it was her time at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute where she started to learn the art of film production.
Wen her sister attended Albert Campbell, the school had a film festival, “I remember her making films with her friends and that inspired me to make some as well because growing up I was a pretty quiet kid,” Wong said.
Although the film festival was no longer at the school when she attended, there was a communication technology course with a small segment on how to make a project, such as a music video. “Having that experience really inspired me to move forward with film,” Wong said.
She used every opportunity she had to make films - and instead of doing a class presentation she made a film.
The natural path for this filmmaker - with a wealth of experience - would be to further her education. She is now a fourth year student at York University in the film production program. It is also the place she met cinematographer Jessica De Los Santos during her first-year production class and they were assigned partner work. Wong chose to work with De Los Santos because of her Scarborough roots and that she went to Stephen Leacock Collegiate for the broadcasting program.
“In a strange way, just being from the same neighbourhood has been fundamental to our strong director/cinematographer relationship because we have the same mind set, we see the world from this east end perspective.”
In her latest film, Tidal Waves, Wong continues to stick to breaking the stereotype of women in film as she tells the story of her personal experience with scoliosis.