MIFF: Ian Tran – Olympic Nick


A small (donut-sized) story hits the big screen this week for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).

“Olympic Nick: A Donutumentary” captures the story of Nick Tsiligiris, an 80 year old donut maker. Nick has been tempting locals and visitors alike with the delicious scent of his freshly made hot jam donuts at Footscray train station in Melbourne’s inner west everyday since 1979.

Up until 2014, Nick worked out of his old caravan underneath the pedestrian footbridge at the Footscray Railway Station. It was at this time the Regional Rail Link began their major redevelopment of the station and it was the fate of Nick and his rusty old donut caravan that resonated in the hearts and minds of the local community.

Mandy caught up with co-director Ian Tran to talk 80 cent donuts, inspiring a multicultural community, and what’s next for this unique short film.

How does it feel to be selected for MIFF? 

It’s an absolute dream come true. Growing up in Melbourne and being a cinephile, MIFF was always something I looked forward to each year. To think that a film I helped make would be a part of that festival and showing on that big screen, well, it still takes my breath away.

As a long-time Footscray resident, Olympic Donuts have been a part of your life for a long time. What was it that made you want to capture this story for film?

The genesis for the film occurred 25 years ago on a rainy day at Footscray station, when a generous doughnut vendor decided to give a pesky 15 year kid some free donuts. Little did he know, I was having a pretty crappy time at school at that time and that his kindness was more impactful than he could imagine.

I wanted to make a film to celebrate this man’s generosity and spirit as well as capture a community’s love and respect for how he goes about his life. I also noticed how quickly Footscray was changing and wanted to take snapshot of a time that we could look back on in years to come and reminisce.

14467024290olympicnstillHaving met him myself, Nick is a very interesting character who shies away from the spotlight. How did you go about convincing him to be involved?

Lot of donuts.

Lots of donuts.

This is probably a good time to confess that I’m not really that much of sweet tooth, so as delicious as it may sound eating loads and loads of donuts in aid of making a film, it was actually a little challenging at times. In fact, I think my family and my work colleagues were the beneficiaries of quite a few of the donuts as part of the film making process.

It was quite tricky convincing Nick to be involved in the film since he was so humble that he felt he had done nothing worth garnering such attention. I recall Nick questioning why it took more than one hour of filming to make a short film. His response was fabulous when I told him that we actually needed about three days of filming to make the documentary. But in the end it was the support of his family that got us over the line and granted us the access that allowed us to make the documentary which we are eternally grateful for.

DAY01 RUSHES.00_11_59_08.Still001While this film is about one person’s journey, Footscray itself is almost a character in the film. Can you tell us a little bit about the suburb and how it’s changed?

Yes. The film definitely sees the suburb and community as characters unto themselves in the film. I really liked the way Nick’s family felt his passion for his work and community sustained his health, whilst on the other hand his work and passion actually sustained a community. Footscray has changed so much over the years. It was once the home of numerous beautiful ballrooms and theatres such as the Trocadero, the Barkly, the Sun as well as many others. It has also seen many waves of migrants over the years and as such is such a melting pot of various cultures that ultimately make up a great community.

What did you learn through making this film?

Making this film gave me an insight on how challenging the creative process is both cognitively and physically. To make a film requires a team of driven people who are passionate about the project and share a vision of what it will be. I also learnt how much I love this process. It has inspired me to begin my journey as a film maker and give back to the people at Open Channel, Screen Australia, Pozible and (Porter Novelli’s) jack + bill who have supported me so far.

11230777_1447576628885550_5550854234983386589_nWho inspires you as a filmmaker?

I’m inspired by the work of directors who challenge the way we think and feel. I really enjoy films that stay with you and linger after watching them. My biggest inspirations as film makers would be Adam Elliot, Errol Morris, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Peedom. But essentially I’m inspired by any good story, that at it’s core has a universal truth to it.

What’s next for you and Olympic Nick?

Currently our film has been selected for the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival which is a just unbelievable. I’ve been making the most of this opportunity and been to as many films as I can. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet so amazingly talented film makers who are also part of the festival as well as other people in the industry who can hopefully help me get my next film off the ground. I’m currently preparing a script for some ideas I have for my next film which I’m hoping to find support for. We’re also hoping to screen Olympic Nick in other film festivals as well as making some in-roads overseas after winning an award at the Worldfest International Film festival in the U.S recently. Other than that, I’m hoping to take my wife out for a date and watch Australia compete at the Olympics with my kids.