Earlier this month at the 67th Sydney Film Festival, Canberra-born and raised filmmaker Alex Wu received the prestigious Dendy Live Action Short Award for best Australian short film for Idol.
The 18-minute film explores the inner workings of the idol entertainment industry in China, a restrictive industry where celebrities are allowed very little freedom after signing contracts at a young age.
The film’s main character is an idol who goes against company policy and is found out to have a secret relationship. That’s leaked to the media which prompts a tragedy.
“It’s a very complex industry and a very complex situation without a lot of answers. I was just hoping to unpack some of it and make a film because I thought it was so important,” he told Canberra Weekly.
“It’s a very interesting dramatic experience for the audience that’s definitely inclined toward many people who don’t have much of an idea about that world.”
Idol takes place in a room those entertainment companies have for the sole purpose of bringing in their celebrities for damage control.
“He’s essentially finding out about the ramifications of actions in real time,” Wu said.
Wu said he was able to lend further authenticity to the work due to his producer’s previous work experience.
“When I pitched it to her, she said she worked for a PR company in China that handled these kinds of celebrities.
“There were all kinds of coincidences that led to us being able to write it as authentically and emotionally true as possible,” he said.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Wu made the decision to create Idol completely in Mandarin, despite admitting to not being proficient in the language.
“A part of growing older for me is that I’m really proud of that side of myself, and wanted to use it in my work, envelope myself in the language and explore it,” he said.
“I could think more about the feeling of the piece rather than whether or not this line was hit.
“Even if you can’t understand what’s being said, you should still be able to feel it from an emotional point of view.”
Wu’s pursuit of a film career led to him study at the Victorian College of the Arts, where Idol was made as his major Honours project.
He owes his time studying media at Narrabundah College for lighting the fire within him to pursue his career, crediting his media teacher Celia Stott as the “greatest influence” on Wu realising he could “actually become a filmmaker”.
He recalled Stott giving her class old Super 8 film cameras, then telling everyone to go through the tried and tested process of heading out, shooting a movie, getting it processed, and cutting it by hand.
“I just found the process so fulfilling, I’ve never been so excited and energised before,” he said.
“She really did have a profound effect on me; when I felt I could actually do it, it’s because of her.”
Growing up in Ngunnawal, Wu would frequent Video Easy and Civic Video, watching “everything” he could get his hands on.
When he was a bit older, Wu took on a job at Hoyts Belconnen, working there for years while soaking in scores more movies.
“Canberra was the place where all of my ambitions percolated to a boiling point and I’ve just been chasing it ever since,” he said.
Wu described being awarded for Idol as a surreal and “extremely encouraging” honour.
“You always have self-doubts not being sure if you can do it or make it, so it’s extremely heart-warming.
“Hopefully I can do it again and use this as an opportunity to find my place in the industry somewhere.”
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