Bananas (AUS) is a curious and playful look at growing up between two cultures in Australia’s Sunshine State, Queensland, with particular focus on food and family, presented by two Australian-born Asian friends who are awkward, honest, and warm in equal parts.

Melbourne WebFest spoke to co-creators Mary Duong and Rachel Anderson about the series.

How long have you been working on your Bananas, and what was your initial idea?

Mary Duong: This is super cute – Rachel and I started having conversations that eventually led to the initial idea for Bananas at Melbourne WebFest in 2018 when we were there for our web series, Two Weeks. We went to one of the panels discussing diversity in web series and it got us talking about our experiences as Asian-Australians. We stayed up until 3am that night talking about growing up, our families, and how we see ourselves now. It’s so great to see the series come full circle as a part of the festival this year!

After that first chat, we kept talking about it and sharing what we were learning about ourselves and our identities. We initially thought about making a podcast around the conversations we were having. A couple months later, Screen QLD and SBS announced the Unscripted initiative and we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to develop our ideas further and the concept for Bananas grew from there. We were selected for the initiative, which was really validating, and from there, it was a relatively quick turnaround from development to delivery.

Why did you choose the web format for Bananas?

MD: Having worked with short-form web formats before, we felt pretty confident that we could tell our stories in a concise, engaging, and fun way while hinting towards longer-form storytelling. Making Bananas was challenging in a bunch of different ways so finding a format that we felt comfortable working in was really important. I love the web format for its accessibility and ability to connect with audiences directly. It’s also a great way to experiment and play with ideas.

Rachel and I had never made a documentary like this before and there was an experimental, playful nature to the way we approached the series, especially with both of us being on screen.

Bananas Trailer

What was the most interesting aspect of developing your series?

Rachel Anderson: Bananas definitely had the most unique development process I’ve experienced to date. Its format was new territory for the both of us with the series being a documentary yet also maintaining elements of narrative storytelling. At first, I was uncertain about how something like that would turn out, but we also knew that feeling told us it was something we had to try. We knew where we wanted our journeys to start and had hopes for where they would end up, but the tricky part was creating the story arc that would help us get there. Writing clear story beats was important but so was allowing ourselves to have the flexibility to throw it all to the side during the shoot and simply be in the moment.

I’m really grateful that we were able to have the freedom to do something like that and it definitely wouldn’t have been possible without such a supportive crew that helped to create a really safe environment for myself and Mary.

Has the end product strayed far from your initial vision?

RA: It’s not everyday that you get to say this about your projects but Bananas actually turned out almost exactly how we envisioned! We wanted to make something that was fun, colourful, and an honest reflection of ourselves and our families and I’m really proud of us and our key creatives who helped us to do that.

MD: I think Rachel and I had a clear idea of what we wanted the series to be but were really open to how it might turn out, given how experimental the whole thing felt. As we were compiling our press kit content for delivery to SBS and Screen QLD last year, I found the initial treatment that we put together to pitch the project. It was really amazing to see how the series had stuck to those roots while giving the concept room to breathe!

How important was it for your series to portray identity and cultural landscapes, and what was the process like of putting these ideas on screen?

MD: It was and is incredibly important for Bananas to portray the identity and cultural landscapes that we grew up with and contribute to the landscape that exists now. There was a moment during development where Rachel and I were working out the arcs for the series and I wanted to run away from it, to not include my story or my family in the series. In so many ways and for so many different reasons, I’ve learned to make myself smaller, to not stand out, to be quiet.

Putting myself on screen with Bananas was the opposite of that and it was terrifying. But then I thought about shows like The Family Law and Homecoming Queens, I thought about the difference those shows have made through honest, unafraid storytelling and representation. I thought about young, queer Asian-Australians growing up now and what it could mean for them to see a some kind of reflection of themselves on our screens. After that, I realised I couldn’t hide.

What are both your favourite meals?

MD: Please don’t make me choose! I’m a big noodle soup fan but I’m not picky at all.

RA: This is tough. My mum’s pansit noodles are amazing but I would also never say no to a burger and fries.

If they only took one thing, one message, what would you like the audience to take away from the series?

RA: The importance of family, whether that be the family you are related to or the family you create for yourself. As Mary’s mum says in the series “We don’t know how long we have on this Earth”.

MD: I hope the series encourages people to have honest conversations with their friends and family, because you never know what you might learn. We’re all figuring things out so I believe it pays to be present, curious, and open with the people you love.