Kukui Tower class inspires scholarship winner to pursue film-making career

Eah Housing Victor talks to actor Sunny Ly during shooting of the opening scene of Victor’s film, “The Loveliest Flower.”

Honolulu, Hawaii, May 15, 2017 - Victor Nhieu was 4 when he and his family moved to Hawaii. In Honolulu, Victor and his younger sister grew up in Kukui Tower, a 32-story EAH Housing community. Now 20, Victor is an EAH scholarship winner studying film production at Chapman University in Southern California.

When Victor was in 8th grade, he took an after-school class in filmmaking. That class, taught at Kukui Tower by instructors from The ARTS at Marks Garage, gave him hope that he might turn his love of movies into a career. “That inspired me to want to do more storytelling with film,” he said. “I grew up watching Disney a lot. I loved animation and I loved romantic films, the stories they tell about connections, about appreciating relationships with other people.”

Victor found Kukui Tower a welcoming place to grow up. “All the Mark’s Garage classes helped me get involved with the arts,” he said. “There was always something to keep the kids involved and bring us together. The kids living in the tower became friends.”

In high school, Victor’s hard work helped win him several student film awards, as well as an internship at the 2013 Hawaii International Film Festival. The following year, he was accepted to Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. He is the first member of his family to go to college.

As a sophomore, Victor received a $2,500 Rebecca W. Watkin Scholarship from EAH Housing. Last year, Victor completed his junior capstone project — “The Loveliest Flower” — an 11-minute film about a Vietnamese-American teen struggling to learn her grandmother’s native language.

“I connected with the story because I wished that I was closer to my grandmother. While making the film, written by my friend Tue Duong, I looked back in my life where I failed in my relationships with my grandmothers and brought that to the film,” said Victor.

Victor got to know his maternal grandmother as a youngster living in Vietnam, Later, in Honolulu, it was his paternal grandmother who looked after him and his sister, Victoria.

His grandmothers spoke no English and Victor says his Vietnamese and Chinese skills were poor. The frustration stirred up by his inability to communicate with them led him to want to film “The Loveliest Flower.”

The saga of how Victor’s family came to the United States began in Vietnam in the mid-1970s. Victor’s father, Felix, was among the thousands of Vietnamese who fled the country as the Vietnam War ended and United States forces pulled out.

In 1980 Felix managed to get to Hawaii where he first began living in Kukui Tower and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He later returned to Vietnam, met and married Victor’s mother, Chu Le Truong, and a few years after that, brought his family back to its high-rise home.

“We’re really comfortable living in Kukui Tower,” said Felix, with help from an interpreter. “It’s safe here and everyone is friendly inside the building, from the managers to the security people. My English is not good, but the staff is really patient, they always try to communicate with me.”

Victor’s parents are surprised and pleased by “The Loveliest Flower.” They say the love and respect he feels for his grandmothers shines through every frame of the movie. “EAH, thank you for the scholarship, thanks for helping Victor find his way to college,” said Felix.

Victor, who plans to graduate from Chapman in 2018, has been submitting “The Loveliest Flower” to film festivals across the country. So far it has been accepted to the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Houston Asian American Pacific Islander Film Festival.