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Hear from The Kaleidoscope Project creatives

The filmmakers behind The Kaleidoscope Project on their learnings, advice and the making of the four ABC ME films.

In 2021, from a competitive pool of applicants across the country, ABC and Screen Australia announced the creatives selected for the joint initiative The Kaleidoscope Project.

Those creatives - Mary Duong, Rae Choi, Taku Mbudzi, Ravi Chand and Lara Köse – have since crafted four unique, entertaining films for ABC ME about life for Australian people growing up in communities often underrepresented in the media. Each of the teams were mentored and collaborated with experienced executive producers, with editorial guidance from ABC Children’s and Screen Australia. Their films – Viv’s Silly Mango, Gugu naGogo, Namaste Yoga and Yaz Queens – can now be enjoyed when they air on Sunday, November 20 at 9am AEDT on ABC ME and ABC iview.

To coincide with the launch, the creatives behind each of the projects talk through the making of their films, why each brings together music or dance, key learnings from The Kaleidoscope Project and what they hope audiences take away. Also see here for a video from the group talking through the process.

L- R: Rae Choi, Mary Duong, Rachel Maxine Anderson, Taku Mbudzi, Ravi Chand, Lara Köse, William Duan

THE CREATIVES

Viv's Silly Mango

  • Mary Duong (Writer/Producer)
  • Rae Choi (Writer/Producer)
  • Rachel Maxine Anderson (Director)

Gugu naGogo

  • Taku Mbudzi (Writer/Director/Producer)

Namaste Yoga

  • Ravi Chand (Writer/Producer/Director)

Yaz Queens

  • Lara Köse (Writer/Director)
  • William Duan (Producer)

THE FILMS

  • Viv’s Silly Mango is a vibrant coming-of-age story, inspired by the 90s riot grrrl DIY ethos, exploring friendship, music, and self-discovery through an intersectional Asian-Australian lens. Viv Nguyen’s world completely erupts when Nikki Tu, the rebellious new girl, arrives and threatens her dynamic with best friend, Esther Kelly. After a rival boy band reveals Viv’s deepest secrets, the mismatched trio must work together to reclaim what’s theirs.
  • Gugu naGogo is set in a small Australian town, where 12-year-old astronomer Gugu secretly taps the moon and posts letters to her Gogo (grandmother) who lives far away in Zimbabwe. Gugu longs to be like her best friend who sees her grandma all the time, but her overly-superstitious mother has vowed they’ll never return to Zimbabwe. When a lunar eclipse suddenly stops her late-night letter exchanges, the young stargazer must find a way to reconnect with her beloved grandmother.
  • Namaste Yoga is about 10-year-old Shiv, who lives in Australia and is ashamed of being Indian. When he gets into a fight in school, the only way to avoid suspension is by doing mandatory lunchtime yoga classes. Namaste Yoga is about the cultural appropriation of yoga and the effect that has on young Brown kids and their self-worth when their Culture is appropriated, commoditised and sold back to them. 
  • In Yaz Queens, Yaz is an 11-year-old rap music fanatic, and has started a rap crew with her best friends at school, the Yaz Queens. Her world totally shifts when her Turkish father immigrates to Australia and rejoins the family after eight years of living apart. They struggle to reconcile their cultural differences but ultimately, a shared love of music bridges the divide and brings them closer together.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO TELL THIS STORY?

Mary Duong/Rae Choi/Rachel Maxine Anderson: This story is very near and dear to our hearts! It lives and breathes within us. Inspired by our own experiences, Viv’s Silly Mango re-imagines what growing up might feel like for young Asian-Australians and LGBTQIA+ people today. We set out to tell a story about finding your voice through burgeoning queerness. We wanted to celebrate rebellion, especially against the paths expected of us, and we wanted to capture those moments of daydreaming and fantasy that somehow feel so real. And we wanted to portray the growing pains and joys of doing all that while honouring friendship and yourself. At the beginning, we wrote a manifesto inspired by 90s riot grrrl zines. The last line is:

“BECAUSE we all want to belong, to be understood, to be seen, and EVERYONE EVERYWHERE deserves this.”

Thinking about the young people our film has been made for, this has been our guiding light.

Taku Mbudzi: Gugu naGogo celebrates the sweet friendship of a young girl and her grandmother, who are separated between Australia and Zimbabwe. I wrote the story at the beginning of the pandemic curious to explore how children stay connected to their Gogos (grandmothers) when they can’t see them. In my film, it’s estrangement that strains the family’s connection. My vision was to show how children of Zimbabwean heritage living in Australia have similar experiences to other kids around the world — missing family, handling parents and navigating friendship. Growing up in Zimbabwe, I was very close to my maternal Gogo, who passed away after I moved to Australia for study. Now living in Melbourne and watching my daughter’s relationship with my mother who still lives in Zimbabwe, I wrote this film as a celebration of the matriarchal bloodline that will forever bind us together.

Ravi Chand: Namaste Yoga’s lead characters Shiv (10) and Kali (10) are two sides of my personality and life growing up. Their world, IS my world. I was either getting into fights after being called racist names or sometimes I’d be very quiet and just try to go under the radar. When I was quiet, I’d have this internal self-loathing for laughing off the racism. When I was angry and fighting, I came to realise that those saying the racist names were doing it because they thought it was funny how triggered I’d get. It became a game to them. Sometimes I’d just come home exhausted. Then to add another layer to it, because I was trying my hardest to fit into the “Australian way of life”, people from my own Community wanted nothing to do with me. I’d always be excluded. Namaste Yoga is honouring my mother (who passed away in a car accident a week from my 11th birthday), honouring my Elders and Community that have helped me decolonise back to my Indigenous Culture (to anchor my centre) and a heartfelt message to our kids that they are enough. They don’t need to change and their strength is in their Culture.

Lara Köse: Distance, separation and displacement are all familiar notions to immigrant families. Talking to a close Turkish friend of mine, she told me of how she lived the first year of her life with her grandmother, separated from her mother because she had to go to Turkey and arrange a visa for her father to come to Australia. This is only one story, and some families are separated for decades or are in exile and never able to return. This is what inspired Yaz Queens, and I wanted to tell an ultimately triumphant story of a resilient family reunited after a forced separation. These are important stories, Australian stories, that audiences must know about.

WHAT WAS THE SHOOT LIKE?

Mary Duong/Rae Choi/Rachel Maxine Anderson: For Viv’s Silly Mango, we had a seven-day shoot at multiple locations across Meanjin in April 2022. With shorter days due to our young cast and 26 pages/24 scenes to cover, we moved pretty quickly! We were blessed with an incredible crew so we managed to pull it off. Our main location, St Peter’s Lutheran College, was a dream with amazing staff! We also filmed at Darra Big Fresh, a wonderful Vietnamese grocery store Mary frequented as a kid. Finding locations for our main characters’ homes proved trickier as we had a very specific vision based on their cultural background and from a socio-economic standpoint. After weeks of researching and scouting, nothing felt quite right until we realised they were right under our noses! We used Rachel’s apartment for Viv’s house and Rae’s house for both Nikki’s and Esther’s places. Big props to the folks they live with and our art department!

Taku Mbudzi: A major creative challenge was figuring out how Gugu and Gogo would physically exchange their letters via the moon. Our team worked hard to pull it together and I want to give special thanks to our cinematographer Shyam Ediriweera, production designer Bianca Milani, visual effects artist Johnson Nguyen, editor Meri Blazevski and colourist Candice Mars Williamson for their magic! Melbourne’s lockdowns and ever-changing restrictions were another challenging thing we faced in trying to shoot the film. By the time we finally made it to set, everyone excitedly worked well together and we had fun. Over the course of our four-day shoot, we filmed at a local house in Preston, at Craigieburn Secondary College and Woodlands Homestead in Greenvale.

Ravi Chand: We filmed Namaste Yoga in a quaint cottage and a primary school South-East and Eastern suburbs. We shot for five days with a break in-between the Easter holiday break in April 2022 to make use of school access during school holidays. Challenges were COVID! After postponing shoots three times, we had two crew go down one day before the shoot with COVID. There are also a lot of protocols around child safety and continual breaks to account for. I spent a lot of time working with the actors. They did such a fantastic job. With the way I wanted to tell the story, the acting performances needed to be raw, real and natural. So there was quite a bit of work done building characters step by step, relationship building between the kids so they seemed naturally like best friends and brother/sister and of course Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) choreography. Thinking back now, it was one very ambitious script.

Lara Köse: It was so surreal to finally be on set for Yaz Queens. William and I faced a lot of hurdles in pre and finally getting there felt like a massive accomplishment. Telling a story about my community and with my community felt like I had family on set with me all the time; that was so special. The actors who play Yaz and her father Ahmet, Elif Saka and Engin Çelik, have known each other since Elif was born! They are close family friends and so the two of them had a real authentic bond you can’t fake. Being around them, as well as Neslihan who plays Yaz’s mum, and my community elders who enabled us to film at our Alevi Community Centre, made the experience mirror the feelings Yaz goes through as she learns to fully accept herself and her culture.

William Duan: The shoot for Yaz Queens happened across five days in several locations across Naarm. We were really lucky to shoot on location at some real community owned sites that lent authenticity to the story. Due to budgetary restrictions, we had to capture 26 minutes of content in only five days of shooting, which proved to be especially challenging since we only had eight hours with the young cast each day. Nevertheless, we were able to overcome this thanks to our absolutely stunning and talented team, who worked so efficiently whilst maintaining utter respect for the story and cast.

l-r: Viv's Silly Mango, Yaz Queens, Namaste Yoga, Gugu naGogo

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT INCORPORATING MUSIC/DANCE/LYRICS IN THE STORYTELLING?

Mary Duong: Music has always been a dear friend so it’s fitting that it’s central to it’s central to the story of Viv’s Silly Mango. As I struggled with my identity and sexuality as a teen, music provided an escape. I’d listen to riot grrrl bands and dream of being somewhere else, transported by their revolutionary energy. During development, we brought on our friend Kate Dillon of Full Flower Moon Band to write original music for our film. She perfectly captured that punk energy, instilling our themes and characters into her lyrics. We worked with music supervisor Tyler McLoughlan, who sourced so many incredible songs for our distinctive and catchy soundtrack, scoring the emotional beats of our film. And after getting to know Ixara Dorizac (Nikki) better, we amended our script to include an original song of hers. It is so clear to me that music has given us a sense of freedom and evolution to the creative process.

Taku Mbudzi: One of my personal dreams came true on Gugu naGogo because I got to collaborate with Zimbabwe-born Audius Mtawarira, one of Australia’s most successful music writer/producers. A multiple ARIA and APRA award winner, he has worked with Australian and global artists including Delta Goodrem, Flo Rida, Jessica Mauboy, Rahsaan Patterson, Ricki Lee Coulter, Stan Walker, Dami Im, Alfie Acuri, Sha Sha, DJ Fresh and more. When Audius came on as composer, he magically turned one of Gugu’s lines into the lyrics for our film’s catchy Afro House theme tune. It was a thrilling experience watching his creative process and collaborating with him in our mother tongue, Shona. Audius and I also worked closely with experimental musician and sound designer Dale Gorfinkel, to blend the sounds of Zimbabwe, Australia and outer space to create a unique sonic experience for our audience.

Ravi Chand: The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit work “yuj” which means “to unify”. So yoga is the union of the Spirit to all Energy or Consciousness. As an Indigenous Knowledge to India, it is what we call the union of the “Atma” (our Spirit / true Self / Consciousness) to the “Paramatma” (the Super Soul that connects and resides in all aspects of the Universe). Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) as it is told in Namaste Yoga is another form of yoga through dance and storytelling that is done in union with the Atma and Paramatma, as an offering to the Paramatma. When there is Oneness in this union, it is called Samadhi. They are very sacred practices. It is presented this way through Namaste Yoga to highlight that yoga is not just about the asanas (postures). Imagine if you took the Haka and turned it into Zumba. That is what has been done with yoga. There is also a beautiful dance scene in Namaste Yoga where characters and their Atmas dance in union together, in Samadhi.

Lara Köse: The rap music element of Yaz Queens was inspired by a local community program for young people aged 8-13 called Real Youth Music Studios (RYMS). RYMS, a program by The Drum youth services, runs music writing and recording workshops after school and is an amazing youth-led program that fosters community, friendship and creativity. It’s also where iconic young rap crews Girlzone and Lit Queens originated from and one of the Yaz Queens cast members, Adhol Monychol is an original member of Lit Queens! We were thrilled to collaborate with Christobel Eliot, Youth Development Practitioner of RYMS, to create the Yaz Queens songs. In a music workshop held in pre-production, our cast were able to write their own lyrics and learn the process of recording their own original songs. It was so fun and a great way for the cast to bond before filming began.

WHAT WERE SOME KEY LEARNINGS FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?

Rae Choi: My biggest learnings working on Viv’s Silly Mango came from working with young people and the humbling reminder of how incredibly rich their inner worlds are. From focus group sessions in our development stage to working closely with our young cast in pre-production and the shoot, and finally test screenings with various schools as part of post, it was important to us to centre young people every step of the way. In turn, their humour, honesty, and intuitive nature never ceases to amaze, proving that there’s so much to learn from young people today. I also feel incredibly blessed to have connected with the other filmmakers in The Kaleidoscope Project. They inspire me with their warmth, deep insights and fiery dedication and with them, I feel so seen and heard. Together, we’ve found a sense of community, the very kind I know I’ve been yearning for.

Taku Mbudzi: Gugu naGogo is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but our cast and crew were a joy to collaborate with. I learnt so much from everyone who generously shared their knowledge, wisdom and creativity with me. I’d like to especially thank my executive producers Tania Chambers and Sian Davies, and my producer Diana Ward. A few key things I learnt through the production process: always lead with kindness, it’s fine to not understand everything and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m excited to share more behind-the-scenes insights about Gugu naGogo on my writing podcast Two Words with Taku. Lastly, I am grateful for the delightful and unexpected things I discovered about my Zimbabwean culture, my family and myself through making this film.

Ravi Chand: That I’m surrounded by an incredible bunch of filmmakers that understand the complexities of telling diverse stories. Initiatives like The Kaleidoscope Project are extremely important for filmmakers like us that want to create structural change for others coming through, for our Communities and the way they are represented.  The industry has many blind spots when it comes to diverse storytelling. It needs those with a lived experience that are aware of intersectionality and decolonisation work to create structural change. It’s very hard to know what you don’t know but each time you get to create at this level you understand so much more of the detail. The devil truly is in the detail. Knowing that in advance before stepping into the next project is so valuable because it allows me to plan, adjust and be quite clear in what I won’t compromise for my Culture, Community or our future generations.

Lara Köse: Community over commodity, all the way. I’ve learned, again, that community storytelling is at the core of what drives me as a filmmaker. I’ve come away from this project with the most incredible filmmaking partner, William Duan, and I hope the two of us can keep getting better at what we do in order to empower our communities.

William Duan: My key takeaway from Yaz Queens is the power of community storytelling and how important it is to have that support network as an underrepresented person in this industry. Beyond the incredible contributions of the Anatolian community which we engaged in the making of Yaz Queens, the other Kaleidoscope filmmakers were also an amazing source of inspiration and comradery through this entire process. We’re honestly so thrilled to be able to exhibit Yaz Queens beside the other magical Kaleidoscope films!

WHAT DO YOU HOPE AUSTRALIAN AUDIENCES TAKE AWAY?

Rachel Maxine Anderson: I hope that young people see parts of themselves in Viv’s Silly Mango – regardless of whether that happens to be the hidden away or celebrated parts of themselves. I hope they feel not only seen but inspired to continue on their own journeys of self-discovery. The film asks the ‘what ifs’ that we never allowed ourselves to ponder when we were young and I hope it teaches our young audience that whoever they are is enough, whatever they desire in life is okay, and that what they have to say matters. I hope that our adult audience sees the importance of holding space for our kids to discover themselves freely and truthfully and to develop their own sense of agency.

Taku Mbudzi: That no matter how hard we try to, there are important parts of ourselves we can’t deny or hide — because they’re sewn into our DNA.

Ravi Chand: Growing up I never felt “Australian” enough and I never felt enough for my own Community. I was always chipping away at myself. Shedding away to fit an ever-changing construct of identity that is the product of colonialism. It wasn’t going to ever end well. Namaste Yoga is telling our kids that they are enough. They don’t need to shed away at themselves. I remember when racist things were said to me when I was younger and I didn’t have the language to argue back. Even as you get older it plays on repeat for the next time it happens (which it does). You beat yourself up about why you didn’t say something. Namaste Yoga is talking about complex themes in a language kids can understand. It’s giving them a language to start having the conversations with their loved ones. For them to realise their Culture is their strength. Lastly, yoga is not about postures, your vanity, expensive mats or contortions for your social media account. It is a deeply sacred, Indigenous knowledge and our Ancestors were tortured and slaughtered for it. Each time you walk into a space that erases this Indigenous knowledge, you become the coloniser. Instead learn from somewhere that has lineage and has earnt the struggle of our Ancestors.

William Duan: As Asian people, Lara and I never had the privilege to see ourselves and our experiences represented on screen when we were young, and so it’s so incredibly moving to imagine Yaz Queens reaching West Asian young people now, who have never before seen their experiences on Australian screens. Beyond this film’s core community, we hope Yaz’s story resonates with the wider Australian community and helps shift the understanding of what it means to be “Australian”.