5 Questions: Nikki Tran
Nikki Tran is a filmmaker and a member of Footscray Community Arts Centre's West Writers Group. She has created FRESH! an online dramedy series available on YouTube.
In the world of FRESH! the staff of a Melbourne fresh food market struggle to keep things professional in a world where businesses are family-run, bargains are bellowed in several languages, and no one gets served without first winning an elbow fight.
What was the inspiration for Fresh! - what drove you to create this series?
Like many of my peers published here on Liminal, I had grown tired of the scarcity of Asian-Australian representation, especially in Australian television and film. It wasn’t until Benjamin Law’s The Family Law arrived on SBS in 2016 that I finally felt some form of recognition of me, my family and my experiences as belonging to the wider Australian narrative.
I joined the Footscray Community Arts Centre’s West Writers Group at the beginning of the same year – a collective that emphasises and supports voices of storytellers who live, work or have a connection to Melbourne’s west. Whilst applying to join the group, I had been thinking a lot about stories of the local area, of Footscray, where I have lived all my life, and wanted to create something for screen that not only reflected the community, but spoke about the migrant experience in Australia, touching on issues that are specific to a community where people of many cultures co-exist. I also wanted to see more stories that placed people of colour and women at the centre, as characters with agency, rather than relegated to the fringe or background of white male narratives.
I’ve noticed that it circles around the concept of the market, which is such an interesting space within Australia, as a strong site for the meeting of ostensibly disparate cultures. Watching it, it was so incredible to see Footscray Market in a film setting! Why did you choose this specific location?
The marketplace is something that has been the cornerstone of civilisations for many, many years, and its longevity in societies has a lot to do with the fact that food is a something that’s easily understood across all cultures. So, it’s natural that in Australia, our markets are where, as you said, different cultures cross paths – it’s a microcosm reflecting the make-up of the wider community.
We not only filmed the series in Footscray Market, but also in Preston and Dandenong markets. Each has its own character, influenced by the people and the cultures that live within the area. Even so, what is common to all three, is that most stalls are family-owned and operated by those who have migrated to Melbourne over the years. It’s the perfect location to set the stories I want to tell.
Growing up, I accompanied my family to the Footscray Market a lot, so it’s a familiar world to me. I appreciate the frankness of how business is conducted; the work ethic of the staff and the fact that there are no bells and whistles with service and branding. However, this is also an ‘old world’ that fits less and less with the now gentrifying neighbourhood around it. So, I wanted to capture this changing time and hope FRESH! provides a different perspective of modern Australia, one that stands in contrast to the many stories we see from rural Australia or white-collar middle class workplaces and families, but still has an equal place in the national narrative.
Growing up, I accompanied my family to the Footscray Market a lot, so it’s a familiar world to me. I appreciate the frankness of how business is conducted; the work ethic of the staff and the fact that there are no bells and whistles with service and branding.
You’ve noted that it’s important to create something that honours the migrant experience, yet you are also wary of romanticising it. Can you speak more to this?
There are nuances to living in an area that’s considered a 'melting pot'. We tend to celebrate the positives; diversity of cuisines, the diversity of faces, the feeling of togetherness and the opportunity learn from other cultures. These are things we see from the outside looking in, and it’s easy to buy into the positives to the point of romanticisation.
The reality is that there are underlying problems. For example, a so-called melting pot community isn’t without prejudice between individual community groups, as people from different cultures can be travelling and working together but still socialise and live in silos. We also rarely talk about the isolation and anxiety felt by those who struggle with the language barrier and the difficulty of navigating the English-speaking western world. I have family and relatives who experience this even after decades of living in the country, the impact of displacement is long-lasting. I also feel that the disconnect between generations is more pronounced between migrant parents and their children who are born and raised in Australia.
These are things I try to touch on in FRESH!, and bring a more considered portrayal of what multiculturalism and the migrant experience means in Australia. I admit it’s a subject matter that deserves more depth and attention than the six short episodes of comedy-drama we’ve created, but hopefully it’s a series that raises awareness of these matters and adds to a wider conversation.
You’ve chosen to make the series easily accessible—something close to Liminal’s own digital heart!
Initially, we did our research on many other Australian web series and their release/distribution strategies. We considered and pursued various options, we knew that from the perspective of our careers as filmmakers, there’s value in having your work streaming on an established platform, such as ABC iView or Netflix, as it provides credibility to us as creatives. It is also tempting to find ways of monetising the release in order to recuperate some of the cost of production, as this was a self-funded project.
In the end, we realised what was most important to us is that the series, at least during the initial release, is viewed by as many people as possible and accessible to the people we made the show for - those who have family, or who are from migrant backgrounds and may speak a language other than English. So, we’ve chosen to meet them on a platform that they are most likely to be familiar with—YouTube. We have about eighty talented cast and crew members who dedicated their time and effort to the project and their friends and family living all over Australia and the world, it made sense that the series would be free and available to them as well.
What would you want your audience to take away from watching FRESH! ?
I think I’d like our audience to feel the same way I felt when watching The Family Law for the first time. It was unexpectedly touching to see a family like my own on screen speaking the same language and having the same arguments on Australian television. It was a sense of validation that I had previously thought I didn’t need but subconsciously craved—an acknowledgement that even though I’m not Australian in the way that Nicole Kidman or Ned Kelly or Cathy Freeman is Australian—my story still belonged in the national narrative. I hope people’s take away from watching FRESH! is that there are multiple definitions of what it means to be Australian and that the show sees you and acknowledges you.