Young Adelaide filmmaker Henry Thong has just finished high school, but already his short films have been drawing international, prize-winning attention.
Adelaidean Henry Thong has received national and international awards for his filmmaking – and he’s only just finished high school. He spoke to The Adelaide Review having just returned home from the BUFTA Awards on the Gold Coast, where he received awards in two categories. Held at Bond University for last 19 years, the BUFTAs are among the most prestigious national youth film competitions in the country. Thong was the only representative from South Australia out of 15 competitors. Despite his accolades, Henry only started making films a few years ago as part of his year 10 media class at Glenunga High School. He says he was drawn to filmmaking as he could use it as a creative outlet. “I find it astonishing that I’m able to start something as an idea in my head and have it finish as a tangible product that others can watch, enjoy, and appreciate.” At BUFTA, Thong won the People’s Choice Award for his super-hero shortfilm LEAP. Thong says this film was a personal experience for multiple reasons. “I have always been a comic book collector, so being able to channel my love for the comic books I grew up with as a kid was absolutely amazing. I myself have been lucky enough not to be subjected to the unfortunate bullying that was depicted in the film, but I understand well the toll that it can take on people, as I have had friends who have endured that during their years at high school.” Thong also took home the award for Best Documentary with Urban Exploration, which was inspired by stumbling over a Facebook page. “The idea of a subculture of people living right here in Adelaide who risk arrest to illegally trespass into abandoned structures was very interesting to me, so I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to hear their stories pass.” Thong says making a documentary was a different learning experience compared to that of a narrative film. “I had to learn to relinquish my control over the project a bit more and allow the events depicted in the film to unfold before my eyes, which was a new experience for me,” he says. “Despite how much I love the documentary format, I can definitely see myself pursuing short films in the future. I love narrative storytelling.” The most exciting moment of Thong’s short career came from his silent film The Girl in the Camera, which won (among other awards) the Grand International Prize at the International Youth Silent Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. “I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the States for that,” Thong explains. “While there, I spent a couple of days with some of the celebrity jurors who judged my film including Tom DeSanto [Producer of the X-Men & Transformers movies] and Steve Oster [producer of TV show Grimm]. Meeting and speaking to them was very insightful and truly an unprecedented experience.” Having just completed his year 12 exams, Thong says he doesn’t plan on having too much of a break. “I plan to spend my gap year advancing my film career. I have a couple of film ideas I’m playing with at the moment, so I might spend the next few months developing them through the screenwriting process before beginning production.” Thong also says he will travel to the US to meet up with Don Hahn (producer of The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, and Maleficent), and Rob Richards (a musician and theatre organist at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Blvd), and take a tour of their work at Paramount Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. “In my experiences over the last year, I’ve met some pretty wonderful people who have offered to provide me with some new experiences and opportunities to further my filmmaking skills.” While Thong has his eyes set on studying at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne at the beginning of 2016, who knows what will happen before then, with his career already being recognised internationally. With his work already receiving international acclaim, Thong’s future career seems boundless. For now, he plans on studying at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne in 2016, but at this rate he might as well be living in Hollywood already.