When Alicia Easaw-Mamutil and Archie Chew made a short film about Melbourne chefs and restaurateurs reflecting on the city’s record-breaking lockdown, they found a rich theme in the food industry’s need for direct public engagement. It was not enough to make food in isolation – it’s a form of expression that demands to be shared with the community.
Made with photographer Mark Chew and named for a song from The Miserables, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables also reminded viewers just how much the industry had suffered.
“By seeing an industry that had struggled so hard right in front of our eyes, a lot of people felt their pain but also felt excited to get back out there and support those businesses,” Easaw-Mamutil says.
With Melbourne’s restaurant recovery in mind, producer Easaw-Mamutil and director Chew – who work under the name Alicia and Archie – have just completed a companion film, Mr Melbourne Roar. Themed around the Lunar Year New and the start of the Year of the Tiger, it showcases a diverse cross-section of Asian-Australian creatives, chefs and businesspeople sharing their positive expectations for the New Year and the enduring importance of this holiday throughout the city Asian community.
The film’s subjects include model and actress Francesca Hung, immigration lawyer Sean Dong, Oriental Teahouse and David’s patron-chef David Zhou, theater and film producer Jess Zhang, and chef Kar Loong Yee from Silks at Crown Melbourne. Commissioned by Crown, Mr Melbourne Roar offers a poignant yet ultimately heartening message of prosperity for 2022.
“It was really about trying to provide a platform to this community that is growing – and this holiday that seems to be getting more and more significant for Melburnians,” says Chew, who was surprised to learn how unique each subject’s perspective was. Each had a different level of engagement with the Lunar New Year holiday, some wearing specific colors for the occasion and some simply marking it via food, family and community. Often referred to as Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year is a time of celebration and renewal in Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan and Mongolian cultures as well.
“Food is one of the best ways to connect people with new ideas and new cultures,” Easaw-Mamutil says. “Especially with Melbourne being so rich in its diversity of food, the best way for people to start celebrating Lunar New Year is to get out to restaurants. You know they’re going to put something special on. ”
Many special – and luxurious – banquets and unique dishes only appear on menus around this time of year, in keeping with the holiday’s theme of continued prosperity for the year to come.
“There’s a sense of agency and hope,” says Chew, especially within the long-suffering restaurant industry. “There’s a newfound energy that, two years ago, people might have never realized they had inside of them,” adds Easaw-Mamutil.
Alicia and Archie were also affected by lockdown, reducing its crew down to just Easaw-Mamutil and Chew. That meant Chew operated the camera while Easaw-Mamutil interviewed subjects and recorded the sound. After meeting at film school in 2018, where they bonded over their shared love of comedy and music, the pair almost immediately began dating and working together. They’re now engaged to be married and about to relocate to the UK, where they hope to break into longform narrative television.
They’ve already built out an impressive CV of short films, including the lockdown-inspired drama Call Me Puritan and the affecting two-hander of Empty Chairs spirit Mr Melbourne Roar.
Even close family members aren’t impervious to the powerful emotions that course through their work. “We got an email from Archie’s dad regarding Mr Melbourne Roar that said, ‘You made your mum cry again,’ ”Easaw-Mamutil says.
This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Crown Melbourne. More here on Crown Melbourne’s Lunar New Year offering.