Learn about one of our Armed with a Camera Fellows from the Class of 2018 - 2019, Xin Li, who directed the short film PASSENGER that premiered at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The Armed With a Camera Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists application for the 2019-2020 cycle is now open and will close September 15, 2019. For submission guidelines and more info, click here.
How has life been after AWC? What projects are you currently working on?
I have just been made partner of a production company. At the moment, while learning to organize the business, I’m developing a short film that I produced into a TV series, with the original crew and cast.
How did you first hear about AWC and what pushed you to apply?
I watched a couple of AWC shorts at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival back in 2016, and I was impressed by how creative and emotionally authentic the films were. At that time, I had had this short film idea for some time, and I knew AWC would be a perfect place to nurture my idea and help develop the story. That’s why right after film school, I decided to apply.
Tell us about the film you made as an AWC Fellow.
The short I made for the fellowship is called PASSENGER, which captures the last moments before a relationship falls apart. The cross-cultural couple is on a road trip to celebrate their anniversary. The whole 5 minutes of the film happens in a driving car. Throughout the film, what we hear is the woman’s voice-over recounting the day and her view on the relationship in the form of a diary entry.
How has the program affected your filmmaking mindset or process?
Most of the time, I'm drawn to documentary storytelling. The AWC short is the first narrative I directed that's screened at any festivals. Shifting that mindset wasn't too hard for me. I had more control when we were filming (people say the lines you want them to say, and most of the time shots go as designed); and I wasn't really afraid to try anything that wasn't in the script or "go with the flow" (which is the beauty of documentary filmmaking). As we had to drive around a lot while it was raining, the traffic and weather was so unpredictable. At the end of the day though, it injects the film with a certain look and mood, which works perfectly for the story. I'm really glad my crew and cast all embraced the process as well. I'm also glad that whatever changes I wanted to have, I was fully supported by the fellows and mentors. Even when I had doubts, they were the ones who encouraged me to explore.
What was it like to have your film premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival?
It was a wonderful experience to see all the fellows’ shorts on the big screen at the Festival. I was a bit nervous watching it with my cast on the big screen for the first time. Because the structure of the story totally changed, all of their dialogues are covered by voice over. I was so relieved that they both liked it and totally understood all the changes. After the screening, someone came up to me to tell me there was a line in the narration about the aftermath of a breakup really struck him and would probably stay with him for a while. I was really happy that he shared that with me. If just one line in my film touched one audience, I know all the efforts are worth it. Knowing the story will resonate with someone out there inspires me to carry on making my voice heard and always strive to share stories genuinely.
How did it feel to be part of the AWC Fellowship - working amongst AAPI filmmakers?
It’s great to know that there is this community of AAPI filmmakers where we can all grow together and support each other. It was very interesting to see how our unique stories about cultures and emotions developed in just four months.
What would you say is the importance of the AWC program?
In the AWC program, the mentors and other Fellows really care about helping you develop your voice. They listen, understand, and challenge you as well. I’ve found people I want to work with and receive guidance from in the future. It’s a program that lifts up AAPI filmmakers and creates a safe space for artists to grow.
Looking back, what was the most challenging or most memorable part of the experience?
For me, the most memorable part was post production. When I realized the footage we shot according to the script wasn’t really flowing, I decided to add the voice-over. I wrote it and recorded it in the closet (yes, it was my voice), and then reedited and reassembled the footage. Turns out that everyone (the mentors, other Fellows, and I) all liked the change!
What advice would you offer other young filmmakers or those just starting out?
Keep writing and creating - even if it’s a 5-minute short you make with friends over a weekend with a super low budget - keep seeking out opportunities to practice. At the same time, learn to be a respectful listener and a reliable collaborator.
Visual Communications’ Armed With a Camera (AWC) Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists will begin its eighteenth season this fall, as we cultivate a new generation of Asian Pacific American artists committed to preserving the legacy and vision of our communities. Donate here to support the program!