Xiaoyu Yang: “There are not a lot of projects telling a story from a female creator’s perspective”

From the modern art to the modern world, the painting comes to life as the portrayal of the struggle of woman’s right.  “Welcome to Christina’s world.”

Xiaoyu Yang on the set of "Christina"
Xiaoyu Yang on the set of “Christina”

A brilliant way to provoke feminism in the modern era, replacing the manifesto with the silence. Chinese Director Xiaoyu Yang unveils a mysterious universe of one of the world’s famous contemporary art “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth. Awarded by ISA in August season, Best Female Director, Best Student Short, and Best Cinematography with the remarkable “Christina“.

Watch below the video statement of Xiaoyu Yang.

Xiaoyu Yang is a New York-based filmmaker, earning her MFA program in filmmaking at City College of New York. She has been making independent movies in the New York area since 2013, most of her work focuses on the imagery and experience of blended cultures, the immigrant experience, and the modern expression of feminism.

ISA: Congratulations! Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

Xiaoyu Yang: Thanks! I have been making independent movies in the New York area since 2013, after earning my first master degree in Fairleigh Dickinson University and making a career switch to the world of film by acquiring the MFA in filming at City College of New York. My work focuses on the imagery and experience of blended cultures, the immigrant experience, and the modern expression of feminism. In 2015 my first feature-length documentary “A Lifelong Journey”, which tells the story of renowned Chinese artist Dan Hsu, won 7 awards including best feature (student), best director and best female filmmaker at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Festival. Since then, my works have been widely screened in both the US and China. In 2016, I was named a Discovery Communications Scholar by BAFTA.

ISA: How did you come across the idea of making this film?

XY: In the modern world, the value of feminism has been improved so much, however, there are still hidden difficulties and obstacles for women who actually already have equitable rights in this society, whether in the workplace or in the family. When I first saw “Christina’s World” in MOMA, I stunned. The back of a woman lying on the grassland expresses so many hidden messages to me. It allows me to broaden my imagination, to have numerous guessing about the painting. The more research I did for this painting, the much I was mesmerized by how an artwork can contain so many emotions and meanings. In my opinion, film and painting somehow share the same pattern: a filmmaker needs to carefully craft the story, using the image that is limited in the frame to invade viewers’ minds and deliver the message deliberately.

ISA: What budget did you have and how did it affect the production?

XY: In fact, I only spent $2000 on this project. Thanks to my amazing cast and crew and my school, City College of New York, which provided me such a freedom to make what I want. Most of my budget went to transportation, catering and prop renting. Most of my crews were my classmates, and we came from different nations and backgrounds. But we all have the same goal of making a good film. Therefore, they sacrificed their valuable time to help me for free, from co-producing to assisting camera operating, lighting, gripping and etc. My production designer, Hui Wei, designed Christina’s home, from an empty studio to a 60s style farmhouse with visual, characteristic, mysterious and religious.

ISA: How long was the shooting and which were the main challenges on the set?

XY: The actual shooting days were two and a half days. Finding a perfect location that looked exactly like Andrew Wyeth’s painting is almost impossible, and we didn’t have the budget to shoot green screen and use VFX to re-create the painting. My DP and I had to find a spot that angle-wisely looks similar to the painting by ourselves. We spent 2 weeks scouting locations. I lay down on each possible grassland for my DP to find the right angle. Fortunately, we found a place that at least 1 hour driving from New York. When we arrived at the grassland, there was no driveway. All the crew members, less than 10 people, including our one and only actress Diana, carried all equipment by hand and walked 15 minutes in 40-degree weather to the shooting spot.

Xiaoyu Yang on the set of "Christina"
Xiaoyu Yang on the set of “Christina”

ISA: What is the most memorable moment during the shooting?

XY: I can’t name the most memorable moment because there were many memorable things during the whole production. One of the most amazing things, in my opinion, was when we were shooting a godly scene on the grassland, I asked actress, Diana, to roll off the hill then mimicking the scene in the painting “Christina’s World.” The meaning behind this is to yarn for the break-through and I wanted the scene visually looks like there are a sign and guidance from the god in this surreal world. I wanted a ray of sunlight from the cloud to make it look sacred, but the fact was, of course, we couldn’t control the nature, it is what it is. The whole day during the shooting was cloudy, the DP, Lee, suggested using lighting and close-up shot to create this look, which meant I need to give up the wide shot of mimicking the painting from the exact angle and the exact frame. During the last several takes of Diana rolling off the hill, it began to hail. I called off that shot. As everyone struggling with the cold weather and being no budget to return to this location, the sun came out from the dark clouds. We all cheered and quickly grabbed the rest of the shots we wanted.

ISA: What meant for you, as a female filmmaker, to be awarded in Independent Shorts Awards?

XY: Winning the Independent Shorts Award is very important to me. Through my work and my achievement, I realized the particular role that I played in creating those films. There are not a lot of projects talking about cultures and diversity, and there are not a lot of projects telling a story from a female creator’s perspective neither. The population of the US has become increasingly diverse, but the silver screen is still lack of diversity compared to the fact that a sizable ticket sale comes from minority audiences. For decades, the industry has been stuck in a place of being perhaps socially acceptable and correct in what it shows – but unrepresentative in its makeup – and there simply has not been much in the way of improvement. Therefore, winning the awards would evolve into a sense of responsibility in me and it encourages me to step forward into the land of filmmaking by showing the greatness of female, minority, and unconventionality of the nation.


ISA: Can you talk about your next project.

XY: My next project, technically, is a musical short I am currently working on, called “Another Wonderful Day In Paradise.” We’ve finished its principal photography and it is in post-production phase now. This musical short centers on the idea of often-quoted “American Dreams” in one of the most famous cities in the world, New York City. We always talk about the American Dream, but sometimes that dream is so far away as to be truly unreachable. New York is one of the world’s most enchanting cities for young people chasing the city’s many opportunities to make their dreams come true. But how many people can tear their eyes away from the glitz and glamour and look at the journey of an ordinary, everyday person chasing their own American Dream? The film tells a story familiar to many immigrants or minority viewers and spreads the message that no matter where you come from or what your background is, you should never give up your right to chase your own dreams.

Independent Shorts Awards 2018 © All Rights Reserved

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