Growing up in Singapore with ancestral roots from Hong Kong, Filmmaker Vivian Ip aims to incorporate Asian and third-culture stories with underrepresented characters with every project she takes on. As a producer, director, and writer, she leans into stories about coming of age or people discovering themselves in dramatic, difficult circumstances. Her work can be described as a melancholic drama that percolates to the deep recesses of the human consciousness. If there is something that moves her, such as a meeting of minds or even a moment in time, she feels inclined to include that in her stories and films.
“I aim to work on co-productions that merge the East and West together, as this matches my background and sensibilities. Having lived in Canada, the United Kingdom, America, Singapore and Hong Kong, I have some grounds to call any of these places ‘home’, but the truth is that regardless of how familiar any of these places feel to me, or how strong of a familial bond I have with people there, my experiences have shaped me in a way that is not homogenous enough to belong to any one of them. Others may challenge whether I can adapt and become one of their own because I do not look like them enough, or I do not share an accent of one who ‘truly grew up there’. However, I believe that my self-identity is molded in these different places, allowing me to tell fresh stories from a unique perspective,” she said.
Ip’s distinctive style, grounded in neorealism that often defies traditional notions of storytelling, is evident in the many acclaimed projects on her impressive resume. With a quieter, subtle approach to the story, characters, and themes, she has impressed audiences all over the world with her work on films like Lakeshore Blues, For the Love of Maud, and Caramel, to name a few. Her advocacy efforts for more camera support given to independent filmmakers in Asia inspired ARRI to create a program that awarded its inaugural grant to her latest film An Island Drifts.
Ip has been recognized at an international level for her talents behind the camera. She took home the Faculty Award for Best Producing and Winner for Best Social Change at the 2021 First Look, USA for her work on the poignant drama Headlock, a gritty, coming-of-age story that intimately follows Diego, an introverted, Latinx high school wrestler from East Los Angeles, who hides his true self from his father and wrestling coach, Carlos. After expressing his feelings for his wrestling partner and best friend, Travis, at a Lakeside party, Diego is rejected, and his secret sexual identity is made public. After losing his League Championship match, Diego reconciles with Travis and comes out to Carlos; wherein, Diego discovers that he has underestimated his father’s love. The story resonated with Ip; she too grew up in a different place, time, and culture where such topics were not openly discussed.
“I understood the importance of the subject matter and wanted to handle with care; the dichotomy between the high school wrestler’s secret of being closeted and the perception within the Latino community should the truth be revealed. With such intersectionality in play, it reflects the realities of many people still struggling with their identities today. There is little representation for them onscreen and it weighed on my mind,” she described. “At the end of the film, the protagonist’s emotional journey leads to his self-acceptance and him standing up to his father. I think the film achieved its goals of connecting with audiences on a universal level and sparking conversations on masculinity and sexuality, not only in the world of men’s sports, but also in the Latino community.”
As Producer on the film, Ip’s work began the moment she received the script. She started with breaking the story down in terms of casting, crew, locations, budget and scheduling in preproduction. She then went on to tackle the physical production stage with the director, leading by example on set, to the postproduction stage of taking the film through editing, sound and color and eventually submitting to festivals. Her detailed eye was essential in shaping the film into a nuanced character study.
“Vivian was instrumental in making Headlock happen and worked tirelessly to go above and beyond her call of duty. She taught me to continue to fight for my vision despite all the obstacles we were presented with,” said Director Damon Laguna.
On top of Ip’s award in producing, Headlock saw great success at many prestigious international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at the 2021 Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival, 2020 Dances with Films, and 2020 Urbanworld Film Festival. It also was the recipient of the 2020 Annenberg Foundation Grant, 2020 The Caucus Foundation Grant, and the 2019 Panavision New Filmmaker Grant. Such extraordinary success could never have been possible without Ip’s stellar leadership.