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Victoria Film Festival Interview: EVERYTHING WILL BE director Julia Kwan

by Jason Whyte

"A year in the life, observational documentary about the rapidly transitioning Chinatown in Vancouver through the eyes of a dozen locals who live and/or work there, from the 90 year old Chinese newspaper vendor to a real estate marketer." Director Julia Kwan on EVERYTHING WILL BE which screens at the 2015 Victoria Film Festival.

Tell us about previous film festival experiences and when are you coming to Victoria to show the movie?

One of the biggest rewards of making a film is getting to go on the festival circuit. I especially love the niche festivals because of this great sense of community and meeting passionate, like-minded people. My most significant film festival experience was being interviewed by the late, great Roger Ebert in the Telefilm hospitality suite at Sundance. He was warm, thoughtful and funny. When he left, I sat on the edge of the bed and cried with joy for a full five minutes!

The film screens on Valentine's Day (Feb 14th at 2 pm) at the Victoria Film Festival.

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into movies and film festivals.

Second generation Chinese Canadian "banana"; daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, who worked in a restaurant and laundry factory. Even as a child, I knew I wanted to be some kind of writer and being a visual writer, I gravitated towards writing screenplays and went to Ryerson to study film. That's where I discovered how much I enjoyed the directing process and working with actors. It's funny that my immigrant Mother thought I was studying calligraphy for the longest time because I told her I was going to school for writing!

How did this whole project come together from your perspective?

I was approached by David Christensen from the National Film Board to make a feature documentary with the loose theme of greed and they were talking to directors who don't normally work in the documentary genre. At the time, I began noticing the significant changes that were happening in Chinatown and the luxury condos that were starting to be erected. David liked my proposal and we developed the idea. As the film took shape, it no longer became about greed but intimate portraitures about people dealing with change, memory and legacy.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film? And the most rewarding moment?

So many challenges! One of the biggest challenge was just coaxing the local Chinatown community to participate in the film, especially the local shop-owners, who were reticent and were afraid the shooting would interrupt their already modest business. It took us almost a year to convince Mr. Lai, the Chinese herbalist to agree to participate. We even hired his daughter, who was an art student, to be a PA, and he still said no. One of the most rewarding moments was when he relented and allowed us to shoot in his shop. His scenes remain one of my favourites.

What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?

I am a tea drinker. Thank God that one of my subjects, Olivia at Treasure Green, is a Chinese tea master! She supplied me with a lot of great tea to keep me going. My favourite one right now is the Organic White Peony, but Iron Buddha is great for those times when I need a perk-me-up.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

The look of the film was very much inspired by Fred Herzog's Kodachrome photos of Vancouver's street life in the 50s and 60s. Like Herzog, I wanted to capture the grittiness and humanity through a thoughtful, compassionate eye. Of course, the grittiness is awash with Herzog's warm, Kodachrome glow. My DP, Patrick McLaughin and I poured through Herzog's photos. He has a beautiful cinematic eye and a great sensibility and when it came to shooting, I put a lot of trust in him. We mostly shot on a Sony F3. I'm so proud that Patrick recently received a cinematography nomination at the Canadian Screen Awards this year.

This film had a tremendous response at the Vancouver International Film Festival last fall. Were you expecting this to happen, and what were some of the stories that came out of the Vancouver screenings?

Not at all! I felt the film would resonate with people who grew up in Vancouver and remembered the Chinatown from their childhood but it seemed to touch a chord with many people. I think people are recognizing that the film is a microcosm of what's happening in ethnic enclaves across North America and Europe. It's a universal topic

What are you looking forward to the most about having your screening in Victoria?

I am excited to screen the film in Victoria because Victoria has the second largest Chinatown in North America and I think the film will especially resonate with the locals. I am hoping the family of Kwan Popo, the newspaper vendor in the film, will come to the screening.

I would love to hear about the journey this movie has had on the fest circuit, and the plans you have for the movie after it plays in Victoria.

The film had its premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto. The film has screened to sold out audiences at various film festivals in the country, and has garnered awards at the Montreal International Doc Festival as well as VIFF.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film in a cinema?

I am not sure what I do but it reminds me one of the funniest interruptions I have experienced. We screened my last feature film at the legendary Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. An amazing theatre where they actually serve food. The servers crouch down the aisles and deliver the food. During one of the more emotional moments of the film, my producer, Erik and I heard a server whisper to someone, "Do you want fries with that?" We had a work hard to stifle the laughter!

There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Probably the same thing most filmmakers would advise; stay passionate, focused and have patience. I asked Lea Poole, a Quebec filmmaker I admire, this question once and she told me to wear sensible shoes on set. So there's that, too!

And finally, what would you say is your favorite movie?

One of my favourites would be Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love but there are so many.

For additional information on the Victoria Film Festival including screening times, ticketing information and other events happening around the city in the next ten days, point your browser to

Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @jasonwhyte for live updates throughout the fest including Instagram updates, commentary and links to upcoming interviews and coverage. If you see me in line, please say hi!

Jason Whyte,

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 02/14/15 19:47:32
last updated: 02/14/15 19:55:01
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