YCIS Beijing Film Festival: Subduing Stigma through Film
Although the Yew Chung International School of Beijing’s 2017 Film Festival is already behind us, students are still talking about a number of the award-winning films showcased during the event. One of the most memorable and discussion-provoking pieces was the film “Colour,” a music video with a deeper message devoted to dispelling stigmas surrounding and provoking conversation about homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ community.
Filmmakers, directors, and actors Gianna Chun and Nina Fitzpatrick, both Year 13 students at YCIS Beijing, spoke with us about the film’s inspiration and courageous message, as well as what they hope the film’s effect will be on the greater Yew Chung International School of Beijing community.
Please introduce yourselves.
Nina: My name is Nina Fitzpatrick. I’m in Year 13, originally from New Zealand, and I’ve been at YCIS Beijing for four years.
Gianna: My name is Gianna Chun. I’m also a Year 13 student and have been at YCIS Beijing for 15 years. I’m originally from Singapore and Hong Kong.
Please describe the film you submitted for this year’s YCIS BJ Film Festival.
Gianna: The film was inspired by a song by the musician Todrick Hall. It discusses themes related to the LGBTQ+ community, so it was a perfect vehicle for showing a story that gives representation to this community.
Nina: The story itself is based on two people. It starts as a split screen; on one side is a person in an unhappy relationship and on the other, a single person. Neither is very happy with what they have, and we show that through colors (or lack thereof). The film begins in black and white, but as the two characters bump into one another during their daily lives, flashes of colour appear. As they spend more time together, the film gradually changes from black and white to fully in colour.
What was the inspiration for this project? Why did you want to make this film?
Gianna: The inspiration started with both of us wanting to make a film during our last year at YCIS Beijing. We started by discussing themes that we were both passionate about. Since I do a lot of photography and Nina does a lot of acting, we decided we could incorporate our two skills into creating a piece of work on a theme that we both feel very passionate about, the LGBTQ+ community. The song we chose was beautiful, and when we looked closer at the lyrics, delving deeper into what the song is actually about, we found that it matched perfectly with what we wanted to express and would serve as an excellent starting point for our work.
Nina: There’s not a lot of representation for this community at school, so we felt in our last year here we would tackle the issue directly. We wanted to break the boundaries, and the stigma, surrounding this issue. To do this, we used everyday activities to illustrate the normalcy of it.
How do you hope this film affected your audience? What message were you hoping to convey?
Gianna: We really just wanted to start a conversation. We both believe that the effect that a creative piece leaves on its audience is one of the most importance aspects of creating art, whether it’s a film, photo, or theatrical performance. Therefore, we wanted to create a discussion, good or bad. So far, a lot of teachers have come up to us, either to ask about the piece and engage in discussion, or just to express support and pride that we’ve taken steps to opening up the school to talk about this issue.
What was the most challenging aspect of the film creation process?
Nina: One of the biggest challenges was the locations in which we were filming. We used two different apartments; because the same scene needed to be done in each of these locations, we had to recreate the same shots in different spaces, adjusting for composition, lighting, etc. It took a lot of detailed planning to pull off.
What was an important lesson you learned through the process?
Gianna: I think one important lesson I learned is that you have to trust the person you’re working with. As someone who does art and who wants to do it in the future, a lot of the projects I do on my own. However, as this was a group project, I needed to trust that the composition, or other aspects I normally wouldn’t let anyone else handle, would be correct in others’ hands. I think it was a great step towards strengthening my own collaboration skills.
What tips do you have for students looking to create their own films?
Gianna: Plan ahead! We had quite a tight time restraint, which in a way was good because it pushed us to take action and think outside the box, but we definitely could have benefited from some more time. I would say start planning at the beginning of the school year, or even earlier, even if that just means talking about it with your friends.
Nina: That way, you’ll have an idea of who you’ll be working with and who’s actually interested, rather than having to figure it all out at the last minute.
Gianna: I would also say to try and think outside the box. Take advantage of this platform of presentation in front of 300 students to talk about something you’re passionate about, something you can advocate for. It can truly make a difference and create important discussion.
Nina: Don’t fear the feedback you’ll get from it. It can be intimidating, but don’t let the reactions of your peers affect what you want to say.
Is film-making something you want to pursue in the future? How do you plan on pursuing this goal?
Nina: I really enjoyed the directing aspect of the process. I felt like I was able to get my own message out there directly. I’d already made plans to study theater and film studies in New Zealand, so this experience simply strengthened that resolve.
Gianna: For the past year or so, I’ve been focusing on building my photography portfolio, which you can find at www.giannachun.com. I’ll be going to MICA, Maryland Instituate College of Art, in the fall to study photography. I think that a lot of the conceptual elements present in photography, such as composition, lighting, etc., transfer smoothly to cinematography, so it’s definitely something I’m interested in learning more about in the future. I think this is a great stepping stone for both of us and both of our works as it’s not something we’d really explored before.
How did YCIS Beijing help to provide you with this creative opportunity?
Gianna: Of course, the school gave the students the opportunity to lead the Film Festival. The fact that they’re supportive of creative and artistic events that allow students to create their own projects is great. I’m also part of the CAS photography group at school, so the creative outlets are available and growing in number. It’s becoming a greater focus in Secondary School, which I really appreciate.
Nina: I feel like the real sense of community at YCIS Beijing also gave us the courage to present this subject. Our school is small, and it really feels like an “everybody knows everybody” community. Everyone we’ve talked to has been quite supportive of the message and we don’t feel like we’ve been put down for sparking this discussion. I feel like that atmosphere helped us to build the courage to create the film in the first place.