GROWING UP was not easy for mainland director Ying Liang. He has poured his own experiences into a coming-of-age film. His feature debut, Taking Father Home, is a very personal and angry piece of work. He has taken the critical moments that shaped his own passage from child to teenager and laid them on screen. Taking won the top prize at the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Asian Digital Competition last month, the Special Jury Prize at Tokyo Filmex last November, and two more awards in April at the 19th Singapore International Film Festival and the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival. A short story Ying had read about a village boy who sells his two ducks in the city to raise money to cure his father's tuberculosis reminded him of his experiences growing up, he says. That's when he decided to make the film. Ying led an unstable life while his father was away from home when he was 11. 'My father was forced to leave home for certain reasons. He could not return home for three years, and this had a huge impact on my attitude towards life,' says Ying, now 29. 'His absence gave me space and freedom, but I had to mature rapidly to survive.' Taking portrays the coming-of-age of a 17-year-old village boy, who leaves the countryside to look for his father who left home six years ago. When he reaches the city, he meets a thug and a policeman - both of whom teach him something about adulthood - before the boy finally discovers his debt-ridden father. In the film's final moments, the boy has an awakening and turns from a boy to a man. Ying began shooting the movie with his girlfriend two years ago with a borrowed digital camera. The filming took 10 months and Ying edited the footage on a personal computer. The film cost less than 30,000 yuan. As much a personal journey, the experience also represents a coming of age for young Chinese filmmakers today, Ying believes. 'Many young people in China now are able to make films because technology enables us to produce quality results even with very small budgets and relatively cheap equipment.' Ying feels the accessibility of digital film technology also enables young filmmakers to better express their opinions. 'With Taking Father Home, I had no real constraints in terms of what I wanted to express or how I wanted to shoot the film.' But anyone who shoots a film needs a large degree of belief and persistence as well - qualities that Ying developed during his father's absence. He believes that experience made him a better filmmaker. 'I'm more persistent and stubborn than most people. They think there's no future in making this kind of film because it has little commercial value. But I've persisted. I will not admit defeat easily.' In Taking's most heartbreaking moment, the boy, still searching for his long-lost father, sees the head of a Buddha immersed in flood water, swims towards it and then embraces it. The Buddha represents spiritual and paternal comfort, Ying says. For Ying, there's still a long journey to go. But after what he's been through, he says: 'Growing up is amazing, a miracle.' Taking Father Home will be screening at Broadway Cinematheque in July.