A triumphant film about a clash of cultures

Director Vee Shi on his 2023 Multicultural Film Festival short movie

Value systems collide with emotional consequences in the winner of the “Popular Vote” category - sponsored by Segmento magazine - at 2023 Multicultural Film Festival.

Vee Shi was born and raised in a working-class family in a small town in China. His journey to becoming a filmmaker was a long one. “The idea of pursuing a career in a creative industry never crossed my mind until I moved to Melbourne at 18,” explains Vee. “That’s when I was exposed to arts and media that were bold, unapologetic, and unfiltered. It inspired me to apply to RMIT, where I initially studied Interior and Product Design. However, I soon realised my growing passion for film and TV.”

Film director Vee Shi

Vee couldnʼt afford to study full-time, so he volunteered to work on student and independent films. He tried his hand at almost every department to learn the craft. For several years, Vee juggled his job at a camera store with gigs on film sets and even managed to make a few self-funded short films. He later returned to RMIT and enrolled in the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting.

He then did an internship at Big and Little Films, which led to an assistant role, followed by a 12-month stint as an associate producer, a role supported by VicScreen’s Key Talent in a Company Placement. Vee currently works as a Development Executive with the same firm. Jia was made possible after winning a pitch competition hosted by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) in collaboration with Sony, which provided the majority of the funding and equipment for the film.

“Jia means home in Chinese. Sixteen years ago, I moved to Australia from a village in China. The familiar has become distant and exists only as memories in photographs. But the sound of my mother’s voice and the love in her eyes still feel like home.”

A scene from the short film Jia

Vee explains that his film is about how to communicate when expressing oneself in words has its limitations.

There are 500,000 words in Chinese, but my mother doesn’t know many because she never went to school. Over the years, we have fewer and fewer words to communicate as my Chinese deteriorates. But our love deepens despite the language, generational, and cultural barriers. So, I made Jia with almost no dialogue. It’s a letter to my mother. It encapsulates my deepest love for her but also my most terrifying fear and a secret that I am unable to tell in words.

Jia is the story of a mother who arrives in Australia to mourn her late son Yao. She embarks on a road trip with Eric, who she learns was in a romantic relationship with Yao—a shock to the system of a woman with traditional values from rural China. Vee says: “The film is my attempt to express the conviction that I know my mother wouldn’t love me any less just because I am gay. The challenges that the older generations face often stem from cultural and societal conditioning, which requires time, patience, and effort to amend.” Vee’s mother has yet to see the f ilm because she is still in China.

Film poster for Jia by Vee Shi

Vee’s sensitive portrayal of a mother’s journey of love and acceptance garnered the popular vote and won the film the Multicultural Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award. “I challenged myself to have minimal dialogue in the film, so audiences could understand no matter what language they speak,” says Vee. “It’s very gratifying and reassuring as a filmmaker to see the film resonate with so many people. It’s a reminder that despite our unique backgrounds, there are universal truths in our experiences that bind us together.”

Images provided by Vee Shi