Chinese filmmaker receives Spotlight award

Mina Shum (with Claude Joli Coeur) accepts the Spotlight Award.| Photo courtesy of NFB (National Film Board).

Mina Shum (with Claude Joli Coeur) accepts the Spotlight Award.| Photo courtesy of NFB (National Film Board).

When filmmaker Mina Shum found out she won the director-writer-producer with Finalé Artistic Achievement Award, she was elated.

Women in Film and Television Vancouver notified her of the Spotlight award in March through an email.

Last February, Teri Snelgrove at the National Film Board nominated Shum for the award. She attributes the success of her recent projects to her muse.

She’s thrilled to be acknowledged for her point of view and her work.

“For me the Spotlight Award is like the universe saying ‘You Go Girl!’” says Shum.


Shum came to Canada as a baby with her parents from Hong Kong. Growing up she was told that filmmaking was not something new immigrants did for a living. She grew up with no female Chinese directors in North America as role model. By the time she was seven, however, she knew she wanted a life in storytelling.

“When I was 19, I saw an Australian film by Peter Weir called Gallipoli and decided right then and there that filmmaking would be my medium,” she explains.

Shum’s creativity is sparked when she hears about a story or character that has been untold or unseen.

“My motivation to create has to do with expressing the unexpressed. Is it complicated, sticky, and difficult? Then I want to explore that,” she says.

Growing up with two cultures, she felt that duality is the foundation for how she sees the world.

“There’s almost always two sides (or more) to any situation. That duality is the tension that drives a narrative for me. Plus, I grew up with lots of Hong Kong humour in TV and film. My family, being an immigrant one, has a good sense of humour to get through all of life’s slings and arrows and that humour often shows up in my work,” Shum says.

She quotes Spike Lee: “By any means necessary.” “Make the work, don’t get discouraged, get the work seen and be patient with yourself and others,” she advises.

All of her work comes from her specific connection to the ideas she’s trying to present. As a Chinese-Canadian, everything she does is influenced by her roots, whether she’s aware of it or not.

As an example of this influence, she refers to her film Ninth Floor, which is a documentary about six black students who charged a white professor with racism in 1969 Montreal. To create this work, she channelled her feelings of being an ”outsider.”

“No, I’m not a black student from the ‘60s, but I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, and I used my feelings to relate the audience to the students,” she says.

Her first feature, Double Happiness, is a fictional comedic drama that connected directly to her roots, based on her experiences of trying to please her family and herself at the same time.

While directing CBC’s popular television drama, Da Vinci’s Inquest, she is always looking for what is private and what is public for the character: “What’s not being said in dialogue that I can tease out in the visuals or, by giving a specific note for performance, how can I help make those stories unforgettable?”

Future work

In her next film, Meditation Park, she is literally making a fiction film about the Chinese women she sees in the park every day.

“Those grandma’s – or Po-po’s – who I believe must have rich internal lives, but mostly we see them taking care of others. I was sparked by the idea of a late in life coming of age story and a true life event that happened to my Auntie,” she says.

Most recently, Shum completed an art project in super 8mm. The film is two minutes long. Since the entire project was a do-it-yourself type of film, she is extremely proud of how it turned out, creatively.

“That do-it-yourself ability has to do with my punk rock background, married with my resourcefulness as an immigrant. Or at least that’s how I think of it,” Shum says.