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NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum Phyllis Tam Named Semifinalist in Student Academy Awards


August 14, 2020

New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) own Phyllis Tam, who recently graduated with her MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, has been named a finalist in the 47th Annual Student Academy Awards for her narrative short film Fragile Moon.

Still from Student Academy Award finalist Film ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

Tam’s short film will compete in the Narrative (Domestic Schools) category in the Student Academy Awards.

Before coming to NYFA to study filmmaking, Tam was an illustrator and a novelist. “I always felt that these things I did were not powerful enough. I wanted to find a way to have my stories touch more people,” she shares. “I watched a lot of films when I grew up, and I realized that film is the way to give life to the stories I tell, and I can feel its calling.”

Her recognized thesis film Fragile Moon tells the story of a 60 year old Chinese immigrant named King, who was known in China as a famous Peking Opera singer before immigrating to Los Angeles and becoming a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. The film grapples with themes of memory, loss, and the impact of immigrating to the U.S and pursuing the American dream.

Still from ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

Tam, who was a NYFA student at the time of filming her movie, recalls the long shoots spent in a Chinese restaurant and how taxing it could be, but it resulted in the crew becoming closer during the shoot. Tam also remembers how one of her favorite shots was a result of improvisation from one of her actors.

“There’s an apple eating scene where Wen Ping cuts some apples for her and King. The apple was marinated in vinegar before the shoot to prevent the color of the fruit changing. After shooting that scene multiple times, the actress of Wen Ping improvised on the spot and fed King more apple slices because she couldn’t eat them anymore; it became our best shot.”

Film poster for ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

Fragile Moon is a film that Tam hopes all audiences can relate to from their own personal experiences. “Even though it is a complicated story, King is just one of us. You do not have to be a Chinese immigrant to understand or relate to the story. For me, this is a nutshell of my family’s life. I hope it can touch all my audience’s hearts.”

“My principle when it comes to film is the story; what I am telling has to be honest and is something that I can feel with my heart. I love to portray people that are easily ignored in real life and tell their life stories because I believe the deepest human emotions lie within the daily small things. To me, the only way to the audience's heart is by telling honest stories, and conveying honest feelings.

Finalists for the Student Academy Awards were announced on August 13, 2020, with the ceremony confirmed for Thursday, October 15, 2020. The winners of the Student Academy Awards will be eligible to compete for the 2020 Oscars in the following categories: Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, or Documentary Short Subject category. Previous Student Academy Award winners have gone on to win 11 Oscars, and receive 63 Oscar nominations, among them include: Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, and Robert Zemeckis.

***This article was updated on August 14, 2020

Please note: NYFA does not represent that these are typical or guaranteed career outcomes. The success of our graduates in any chosen professional pathway depends on multiple factors, and the achievements of NYFA alumni are the result of their hard work, perseverance, talent and circumstances.

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