In 2011, award-winning documentary filmmaker Chris Hsiung chose to leave behind an established career in software engineering and take up a camera to “learn about the things that I don’t know about and to empathize,” he humbly says. “This kind of filmmaking is an opportunity to broaden our understanding of what the human experience is all about.”
The pivot point for Hsiung’s career shift came after he read Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s book Shake Hands with the Devil and heard Dallaire’s experience in person during a presentation about child soldiers.
“For me, this was a wake-up call,” recounts Hsiung. “I remembered studying Nazi Germany in 1994 during my high school history class and feeling a sense of relief that we had moved beyond genocide. Yet at the same time a genocide in Rwanda was happening and I was completely unaware of it.”
Hsiung says that realization moved him to begin a longer pursuit to better understand what was happening in the world through video and storytelling. Soon after, Hidden Story Productions took shape.
Without any formal film training, Hsiung bought a camera and learned by doing, talking with other filmmakers, taking courses and workshops. As he experimented, he progressed to shorts and more challenging creative projects.
Hsiung’s first feature documentary, Elder in the Making – a project he calls an incredible learning experience, premiered at the 2015 Calgary International Film Festival. He says he was overwhelmed when the film won the 2016 Alberta Film and Television Award for Best Documentary Over 30 Minutes.
STORYTELLING IN MANY FORMS
Consciously choosing to work with non-profits on social justice and advocacy initiatives, Hsiung’s other projects span storytelling in many forms.
Currently, Hsiung is working on an installation for the new Human History Gallery in the Royal Alberta Museum, slated to open in December 2017. Each nation of Alberta’s indigenous peoples will be represented in 30 stories including archival footage. In another one of his own creative projects, he is consulting with elders and drawing upon his software engineering knowledge to explore indigenous stories and land in the university context.
“I was inspired by my sister-in-law playing Pokémon GO,” explains Hsiung. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if you had a series of audio stories connected to a particular place?’ You can map out a whole series of these.” The excitement in Hsiung’s voice is audible as he talks about working on the demo app.
Hsiung is enthusiastic about what’s next. “There are stories that are right here in my backyard that deserve my attention.”
Chris Hsiung spoke with Kim Morningstar in 2017 for this DOC Member Spotlight.