Interview with ‘Marco’s Oriental Noodles’ filmmaker Howie Shia

Buffy Sainte Marie sent an urgent message to “Keep Calm and Decolonize” earlier this year as Canada recognizes 150 years of Confederation. What does that mean? In a CBC Arts series, five Canadian filmmakers responded with short films. Curated by Jesse Wente, the series explores five very different short films tied together by the filmmakers’ challenge to visualize what a ‘decolonized’ Canada might look like. You can view the films online at watch.cbc.ca

One of the films that caught our attention is called Marco’s Oriental Noodles by Asian-Canadian filmmaker Howie Shia, which explores colonialism in relation to culinary customs.

Shia is a Toronto and New York based illustrator, animation director and producer. He’s the co-founder of PPF House producers of works for the likes of Nike, Disney, National Film Board of Canada and many others. His work is screened at film festivals around the world.

Marco’s Oriental Noodles  takes a look at a futuristic noodle shop in small-town Saskatchewan. In this time and space, the shop has become the world’s first purveyor of the latest culinary fashion: psychedelic polydimensional comfort food. Director and animator Howie Shia examine the small, largely unnoticeable ways in which colonization seeps into our lives. What is the responsibility of those who dine?

We dig in with Howie!

Noodles are a form of comfort food for many of us – tell us about how this works into this
theme of decolonization. 
HS:  I suppose it starts with the rise in mainstream North America of instant ramen – followed by actual ramen – over the last 20 or so years. I love all of it, but there is obviously a kind of appropriation that is happening that I think we haven’t fully wrapped our heads around yet – especially as palettes become more sophisticated and now demand some kind of authenticity in their adopted comfort foods.In the general pursuit of progressive politics and sensitivity against appropriation, food culture still often gets a pass. Every hipster in the western world is chasing down “authentic” ramen/tacos/falafels/whatever; but in a sense, the pursuit of authenticity is a way of holding a culture in place – cherry picking an era and region and politic and declaring that circumstance to be more authentic than the ones before and after. It’s not necessarily done with malicious intent, but there is definitely a sense of entitlement built into it. “Don’t pander to me, give me the food of your ancestors.” I’m certainly guilty of that kind of thinking on a regular basis. And it’s a complicated issue too because on the other side of it, almost the exact same position is taken by any given diaspora as well. Changes to culture that happen after one’s emigration no longer hold the same authenticity as those that occurred before.

The futuristic aspect has me dreaming of many possibilities. What inspired  these out of this world concepts?

HS: I wish I had an interesting answer for this. Honestly, they just come from thinking and reading and looking (and eating). The shape of the story is loosely inspired by Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, which tells the story of Marco Polo describing impossible imaginary cities, one after another, to his host in the Orient, Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan has realized that his empire – his colonies – have evolved beyond his recognition and understanding, and he uses Marco Polo’s stories as a means of letting them go.

What would a decolonized country look like to you?

HS: I’m not smart enough to give a good answer to that. I suspect that the whole point is that nobody really knows and that we should embrace that. Part of what the film is about, I think, is that whatever happens, it might not be what we expected and will likely make any number of us very uncomfortable.

This is a thoughtful series to be part of, how did this all come about for you?

HS: As far as I know, I was approached based on prior work, which is quite flattering. I’ve been a long fan of Jesse Wente’s work and Carolynne Hew, the CBC’s executive producer on the project, is one of those people that everyone says “you have to work with.” I feel really lucky to have been selected.

Tell us about why you chose Saskatchewan?

HS: I was born and raised in Saskatoon so part of it is simply that for the first time in my career I find myself wanting to do work about my life there – especially in our current political climate. Sci-fi almost always happens in gigantic mega-tropolises. There are exceptions – in cinema, Firefly, Looper – but mostly the future is cold, dense, urbanity – and I think that’s quite an alarming judgment being made by our writers and artists: the notion that in the future we will have no need for the people in small towns and rural communities; not their services, not their culture, certainly not their stories. This film seemed like a good opportunity to take a different position on that.

Watch Marco’s Oriental Noodles here.

 

Sonya is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of AZNmodern.com. She is also a well-established contributing lifestyle writer to other sites and magazines sharing her passion for arts & culture, fashion, beauty, travel and food. Sonya is based in Toronto, Canada. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @theculturepearl

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