Bite-size stories full of flavour

Bite-size stories
full of flavour

Director and writer, Mia Maramara, sits down with Aimee Jones Watson to share the inspiration behind #NZWF18 finalist Foodie, and how Mia used it to shed light on the migrant experience.

Foodie tells the story of an immigrant father and daughter who struggle to build a new life for themselves in New Zealand. It explores the compromises migrants are forced to make in order to fit in. The story is told through the eyes of Flo, the six year old daughter of a baker who must compromise and adapt his menu in order to appeal to the local appetite.

The story is based on Florence Lam’s experiences growing up. Florence’s family migrated from Hong Kong and established their own takeaway bar in Otara. Many of the events that take place in Foodie parallel Florence’s own experiences. Her parents’ business was robbed on several occasions and during one incident, Florence’s father had to lock her in a room to protect her from a menacing intruder, wielding a machete.

Upon hearing Florence disclose these harrowing recollections, Mia asked if she could tell her story on film. Florence agreed and not only offered her insights and experiences that informed the story but also decided to produce the film. While in the process of location scouting, the pair learned that these burglaries sadly remain all too common and the targeting of migrant businesses has not ceased.

“When we were shooting this, that was the year that a slew of dairy owners had been beaten up,” explained Mia. “It was an actual issue, where they were targeting Indian dairy owners. Then, when we were looking for a location, the guy who owned the bakery we used was Chinese and he was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been robbed a few times.’

“Like, it’s still happening! I think people target migrants because they don’t have the support systems that a lot of Kiwis have and migrants are less likely to kick up a fuss, because they don’t want police at their door.”

Jenesis Au-Yeung on locaton for Foodie
Photo: Amp Sripimanwat

Foodie not only explores how migrant business owners are targeted by thieves, but also demonstrates how food can help to retain an important connection to one’s cultural identity and community. The film was commissioned as part of The Outlook for Someday’s initiative, Someday Stories, designed to help develop emerging filmmakers in New Zealand. Foodie was nominated at last year’s New Zealand Web Fest for Best Actor (Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee) and Best Director (Mia).

“The energy of the New Zealand Web Fest was really great. Really open,” said Mia. I think it’s a good platform for things like diversity, for example, because the web is a place for experimentation. It’s great that the Web Fest reflects that and I hope that it continues to do that, moving forward.”

Mia has encountered some pushback with regard to documenting migrant stories, and was grateful that there was a place for her work at the New Zealand Web Fest.

“It’s always kind of strange tackling migrant stories because there’s almost a feeling that they’re not Kiwi stories,” Mia said. “So I never know where I stand on those things, on those kinds of platforms. Being part of a New Zealand Web Fest helped, because it’s an acknowledgement that Foodie is a Kiwi story.”

In addition to making Foodie last year, Mia was also a finalist in TVNZ’s New Blood competition for pilot web series episodes. Her entry, The Year of Yes, came in third place. The pilot explored the story of a Filipino immigrant in his early twenties, who struggles to find his way in Auckland and decides to say yes to every opportunity he encounters in order to try and fit in. This story was also based on the experience of a friend of Mia’s.

“All my stories seem to come from my friends,” she said. “I was playing with the idea of doing a Filipino story because I’m a Filipino migrant so I was like, how do Filipino stories fly in New Zealand?

“So I asked my friend if I could adapt his life story and that’s what we came up with.”

The Year of Yes

Mia is currently working on a documentary with photographer Jenny Gao about the colour green. “We do a deep dive on the colour and what it means to people.”

Jenny and Mia are also in development with doco project Kaimanawa, which they’ve just pitched at Doc Edge Forum. On the same day, Mia and AFK amd Ao-terror-oa producer Hweiling Ow were announced as recipients of a NZ Writers Guild Seed grant for Grafted.

Watch Foodie on The Outlook for Someday and The Year of Yes on YouTube.

Top image:
Mia Maramara and Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee on location for Foodie
Photo: Amp Sripimanwat

Published on 31 May 2019