Spotlight On: Irish-Filipino Director Nell Hensey

Jade Hayden chats to director and writer Nell Hensey about her exciting new project, Good Chips.

Nell Hensey

In a chipper van in 1980s Dublin, 13-year-old Tam sells takeaway food to locals. One of them is a boy named Callum, who after putting in an order tells Tam that she sounds like she’s from Dublin. “I am from Dublin,” she responds. 

So begins Nell Hensey’s short film, Good Chips – a story about a Vietnamese family who run a Chinese takeaway van in a housing estate in Dublin. The locals can’t tell the difference, a point that is confirmed when Callum innocently tries to tell Tam that he likes her in Chinese, awkwardly reading the words from a piece of crumpled up paper in his pocket. 

Director Nell says that she wasn’t aware of the Vietnamese-Irish experience being depicted in film – and so, she wanted to do it. “It’s a universal story, it’s about a 13-year-old girl who befriends an Irish boy,” she tells STELLAR. “They couldn’t come from more different backgrounds but the things they have in common bring them together. It’s a beautiful story about finding common ground. It’s an Irish story, a new version of it.”

Born to an Irish father and Filipino mother, and raised in Co Clare, Nell says that filmmaking was something she got into in secondary school… but that she didn’t see herself as a director until after she went to college. “I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I started writing about my own experience. I’m mixed race and from a rural community, and when it came to writing those scripts, there weren’t a lot of directors who could relate to those experiences. So I tried my own hand at directing two years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. I don’t think I’ll ever want to do anything else.”

The stories Nell is attracted to tend to be female or POC centric, or coming of age tales. Good Chips incorporates all of that. She came up with the concept after learning of the 212 Vietnamese refugees who travelled to Ireland in 1979. She and co-writer Brigid Mai Khanh Leahy, an Irish-Vietnamese creative and actor, went about putting the project in motion with the help of other members of the Vietnamese community in Ireland, who worked both in front of and behind the camera. 

Authenticity was important to Nell. As was accurately portraying the voices of those who rarely get to share their experience in Ireland. “I’m attracted to stories about outsiders in general,” Nell says. “People who are occupying spaces that traditionally weren’t for them. Good Chips is a great example of that. It’s very exciting to show a group of Irish people who haven’t been shown on screen before.”

Last year, Nell was one of three recipients of the Virgin Media Discovers competition in partnership with Fís Éireann, which allowed her to bring Good Chips to the big screen. During the shoot, she was also mentored by acclaimed director Lenny Abrahamson, an experience that she says was incredible. 

“It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to learn from him,” she says. “He was instrumental in giving me advice on directing certain scenes. It’s quite a complicated story in that it’s a period piece from the ‘80s, and you’re working with kids and first-time actors. There were a lot of satisfying challenges, but it’s all been so exciting. I think we’re the first in Irish cinema to depict the Vietnamese-Irish community. That’s super special.”

You can watch Good Chips on the Virgin Media Player. Submissions for the 2023 competition are now open. For more information go to