Continuing its mission in celebrating stories from all around the Vietnamese diaspora, Viet Film Fest 2023 is excited to present the Irish Vietnamese short film, Good Chips. The film details a family of Vietnamese immigrants in Dublin who struggle to keep their business afloat. Meanwhile their 12-year-old daughter strikes up an unlikely friendship with a local Irish boy. We interviewed director Nell Hensey and screenwriter Brigid Leahy (whom Hensey described as “the driving force” and the “lead Vietnamese voice” on Good Chips) briefly about their experiences making this film. Responses from Nell will be labeled “NH”. Responses from Brigid will be labeled “BL”.
Could you tell us about your backgrounds and how you both met?
BL: I am a Vietnamese-Irish-American Actor/Writer/Filmmaker originally from Orange County, California. Nell and I met in an artist collective for POC artists called “Weft Studio”, an initiative of the Dublin Fringe Festival.
NH: And I’m an Irish-Filipino writer and director from the West of Ireland!
How did Good Chips become your first time producing and writing on a film?
BL: I moved to Ireland nine years ago to complete a Master’s degree in Public History and my research focused on the commemorative practices of different Vietnamese diasporic groups regarding the Vietnam War, particularly the group that came to Ireland in the 1970s. I became interested in the subject because my own mother came to the United States as one of the Boat People in 1979.
Nell had come across archive footage of Vietnamese Boat People arriving in Ireland and approached me with an idea for a screenplay. Inspired by my research during my Master’s degree and my own family’s story, we wrote the script Good Chips. Having forged a relationship with the Vietnamese community in Ireland over the last several years, I came on to the project as co-producer and worked to ensure that the film accurately portrayed the Vietnamese-Irish experience.
How did you come across the screenplay to Good Chips, and what drew you to it?
NH: I was researching for another project when I happened upon some old newsreels and archival footage of the 212 Vietnamese refugees who came to Ireland in 1979. The newsclip was set in 1989 and explored how they were getting on ten years later.
In the clip, they interviewed this young Vietnamese girl who had this brilliant North Dublin accent and she spoke about how she met her Irish boyfriend. I found her so endearing I knew I wanted to tell a story around a character that was inspired by that. I also really wanted to work with Brigid and thought what better project to collaborate on together!
Is Good Chips based on someone’s lived experience? If so, what were the challenges in adapting those experiences?
BL: Good Chips is not based on individuals but does draw inspiration from the true stories we researched to write the script. Additionally, we interviewed Vietnamese Irish Boat People and drew from their experiences to craft the characters in the story. The challenge was to serve the community faithfully and tell a story that would resonate with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Boat People across the world. Nell and I also drew on our own backgrounds as daughters of Asian immigrants, especially for the character of Tam, who grapples with the challenges of growing up in a Western country with immigrant parents.
How were Elly Murray and Zac Murray cast as Tam and Callum, respectively? How did you build the rapport between your two young leads?
BL: We worked with casting director Aine O’Sullivan, who did a call out for young actors in Ireland. As you might imagine, finding a young Irish actor with Vietnamese heritage proved a huge challenge. However, I worked as a receptionist in a law firm one summer over seven years ago. I had remembered that one of my colleagues had two daughters that he and his wife had adopted from Vietnam. Calculating Elly’s age, I reached out to him and asked if Elly would be interested in acting.
Lo and behold, Elly was already an accomplished actress who was studying acting and had performed onstage in theatrical productions. We were blown away by Elly’s self-tape and then we moved on to find the perfect Callum. We held auditions and chemistry tests with Elly and the moment Zac came into the room, we knew he was the one. Zac had the ability to perfectly encapsulate the charm and naïveté we needed to portray Callum. Over several rehearsal sessions, Nell and I worked with the young actors. On set, I provided acting coaching for the pair. It was so rewarding to see Elly and Zac blossom into professional, hardworking artists.
Good Chips was submitted to VFF with a note that this is the first Irish film to feature a majority Asian cast. What is the state of on- and off-screen representation in Irish cinema and what do you hope for the future in that regard?
BL: Ireland has come a long way since I moved here nine years ago. As an actress, I have seen more roles open up to minority artists. However, there is still a lot more work to do and it is rare to see minorities in lead roles or scripts that focus on minority stories. After working as primarily an actress, writing Good Chips was an opportunity to tell an Asian-Irish story, a subject that hadn’t yet been explored. Initiatives [such as] Weft Studio where Nell and I met, and Virgin Media’s Discover programme are all instrumental in bringing more diversity to Irish cinema.
Do you have any future projects you would like the audience to know about?
BL: Nell and I are working on writing the feature film script for Good Chips, so watch this space!
Good Chips will be shown in-person at VFF 2023 during the high school students’ screenings of “Storms and Silver Linings” at 10 AM and 12:30 PM on Friday, October 6 at the Frida Cinema. It is also part of the “Belonging/Unbelonging” set which will play at the Frida at 4 PM that Friday.
Good Chips is unavailable for viewers outside the United States.
“As Asian-Irish women, we wanted to tell the story of our parents, their different cultural values and how they have navigated a new culture. The film is set in 1980s Ireland but deals with modern themes that have resonance in today’s world, especially as there is a notable increase in crimes against the Asian community in Ireland and around the world” – Brigid Leahy and Nell Hensey
VIET FILM FEST 2023