Vietnamese-Canadian filmmaker Carol Nguyen received international acclaim in 2019 when her documentary No Crying at the Dinner Table was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was critically lauded and earned several prestigious awards, including the Jury Prize for Short Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival as well as a place on TIFF’s list of the top 10 Canadian short films of that year.
Structured as a collection of interviews, No Crying at the Dinner Table is a strikingly effective examination of human emotions and the cultural connotations that haunt them. In the documentary, Nguyen asks her family members to share their experiences in an attempt to discover what it means to be truly vulnerable before the camera.
No Crying at the Dinner Table is revelatory because it beautifully and tragically overcomes the atmosphere of repressed emotions that is dominant in Asian cultures. By doing so, the film unmasks the true nature of intergenerational trauma and the silent but deadly consequences it has on the human psyche.
The filmmaker explained, “This film was supposed to be a documentary about something else, actually. In the midst of research for that film, I decided to ask my parents and sister about personal experiences in their lives. What I got from those conversations were stories I had never heard from them before. This affected my deeply as I had a hidden story myself. As these stories presented themselves, I knew I wanted to do something about it. I knew these were important stories to be shared in our family, but I also saw the theme of hidden secrets and traumas as something very profound and human.”
Adding, “My family are kind of special when it comes to being on camera, in the sense that they have been involved in my films since I started in high school. Because of that, there had already been a long-term trust built between the camera and to me, as a director. As for the subject matter, I tried to keep most things transparent throughout the process. I did pre-interviews with them before about the topics they talk about on camera, so they were aware of what I wanted them to discuss the day of the shoot. And before that, I made sure that I got their consent to tell their story.”
Watch Carol Nguyen’s 2019 short documentary No Crying at the Dinner Table in its entirety below.