Wilson Kwong is a University of Toronto alumnus who, since October, has attended a local film festival every month and then recorded his experiences on his film blog, throwdown815. Kwong studied Pharmacology at U of T, obtaining both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. He went on to study Medicine at Queen’s University and is currently back in Toronto for his residency.
The Varsity sat down with Kwong to speak to him about films, festivals, and his experience writing for throwdown815.
The Varsity: You’ve studied Pharmacology and Medicine; how did you get interested in film?
Wilson Kwong: In terms of living in Toronto, I’ve been attending a film festival every year since 2005. When I was at U of T, I took a bunch of film courses at Innis College and minored in Cinema Studies. Ever since then, it’s been something I’ve been interested in on the side, rather than anything formal.
TV: You attend a different film festival every month. What are the characteristics that you found similar and different at all of the festivals you’ve attended so far?
WK: I’ve been attending a festival every month since October, so I’ve been to five different ones so far. They’ve all been very different. Toronto After Dark, for example, is more geared towards sci-fi, genre, and horror film making, and it’s a pretty big film festival. Then there’s much smaller ones like the Videodrunk Film Festival. I think it’s difficult to pinpoint a similar characteristic for film festivals. There’s a film festival for every area of filmmaking, which is pretty neat.
TV: So what has your favourite film festival been so far?
WK: From the festivals where I’ve interviewed the organizers, my favourite one was probably Reel Asian; I’ve attended this festival on and off over the years. Being able to speak with the organizers about how the festival isn’t just about filmmaking but rather about how it’s about promoting Asian culture, specifically Asian culture in the North American context, was great. I got to ask a lot of personal questions that were important to me, as an Asian who grew up in Toronto.
TV: Related to that, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about representation on screen and in movie awards. Do you think we’re making progress in bringing people from different ethnicities on screen?
WK: We should realize that groups such as Asians and African American are minorities in Hollywood so obviously, we shouldn’t expect them to be as well represented on screen as white people. Despite this, I think there’s definitely been progress over the last five to 10 years. Even if you look at television, you find shows that are predominantly run by Asian people, which wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. My other argument to that is even though ethnic minorities might not be that well represented in Hollywood, they have their own film industries, such as Bollywood in India. You just have to connect with international cinema.
TV: The Oscars recently happened. What is your opinion on how the night went down?
WK: I think it was great that Moonlight won Best Picture. For personal reasons, I just like La La Land a lot. The idea of doing what you love that was conveyed in the movie was actually one of the triggers for me to start my blog. I started writing about movies a week after I saw La La Land at the Toronto International Film Festival. In terms of representation, Moonlight and Viola Davis won awards, which was great, but the problem I have is that is there was so much emphasis on race that it took away from the main thing: the movies. The awards should be about the art and not so much the politics.
TV: Last question: what is your favourite movie of all time and why?
WK: If I had to pick one movie it would be the Hong Kong movie called Infernal Affairs. Hollywood made a remake of this movie in 2006 and renamed it The Departed. Watching Infernal Affairs just made me start appreciating movies a bit more and helped me really get into films. I don’t have a compelling reason as to why that movie is my favourite one, but for someone who’s a fan of Hong Kong cinema, Infernal Affairs is the perfect example of what makes Hong Kong movies so exciting and refreshing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.