This year, I got selected to be one out of four participants of Minikino Hybrid Internship for Film Festival Writers. It’s a six months internship program that exposed me to short films and international guest speakers. The first guest speaker was Kelly Lui. Ahead of our meeting with Kelly, she requested us to visit the Reel Asian Archive website. There are two films that interest me to discuss, Sing Me a Lullaby and In the Shadow of Pines. The two of them is part of 2020 archive.
Reel Asian itself is a film festival that Kelly and the team are working on in Toronto, Canada for Asian short films or those related to Asian culture. Interestingly, this festival is far from the Asian continent itself, and of course, the problems presented are different from Asian short films made on Asian soil.
Sing Me A Lullaby and In The Shadow of Pines are in fact not films that tell the problems of Asian people on the Asian continent like most other Asian films. Instead, it is precisely the problem of Asian immigrants in America who continue to grapple with their historical ties in areas far from their ancestral lands. This is sufficient to explain how the Asian Reel actually tried to be designed by Kelly Lui, namely reconnecting Asian people to their own history.
Sing Me a Lullaby is a short documentary that tells the story of the director, Tiffany Hsiung who tries to help her mother find her parents who have abandoned her since childhood, something that has kept her very depressed for a long time. The search actually paid off, Tiffany was able to meet her grandmother for the first time in Taiwan and revealed the main reason why Grandma had abandoned Mother until she went to America and felt abandoned there.
What was discovered after their meeting was that it was not Grandma who had abandoned Tiffany’s Mother all this time as he had thought all along. But it was Grandpa who actually sold his own children. Grandmother had been trying to get her children back by buying them back since that, but only Tiffany’s Mother didn’t have time to get, them and had already disappeared. Until Tiffany brought them together again.
Meanwhile, In The Shadow of Pines with its animation, tries to record the relationship between father and daughter from an immigrant family in a generation gap that makes them distant from each other and difficult to understand: the daughter is ashamed of his father’s job as a school cleaner, and his habit of greeting his daughters at school which made her embarrassed in front of her classmates. Meanwhile, the father who wants to continue to pay attention to his daughter has never received the same thing from his parents before.
In fact, the father has a pretty bitter background as a victim of World War II, when Japan lost the war. He didn’t lose his mother in the war, but he lost her attention. His mother who is a teacher must pay attention to many other children and slowly forget about her own son. The thing that a father doesn’t want to do to his daughter today, no matter what his work background, the most important thing for him is love for his daughter.
The two films were made by two people of Asian descent who live far from their ancestral lands. And both show two fundamental problems when Asians live outside their native land: communication.
This communication turns out to be important in seeing Asia as a race and culture and also become the focus of Reel Asian: the relationship between Asian people. Because when we talk about Pan Asianism, it is related to the unity as an Asian identity, wherever you were born and raised. And sometimes it is often disturbed if someone is born or raised outside their ancestral land as Kelly also explained to us when we met virtually. She describes it as her “border” in understanding Asia even though she has a Chinese bloodline. And to understand her ancestral culture she must do more research and direct interaction with his ancestral culture because she was born and raised in Canada. One of them is through film.
However, in other cases beyond what the two films actually described. In one continent we are sometimes still disconnected from the past. After watching these two films and listening to how Kelly built the Reel Asian foundation through search, interaction, and communication. I was interested in exploring my own family background, which appears without me knowing my grandfather was also an artist in the past which not many people want to remember now due to many factors: political, social, and economic. Which for some reason feels so nonsense today, for new generations like me. These discoveries had an impact on how I see and make decisions today. Also answers all questions about why my parents and the generations before them behaved and acted all this time.
Some of the films in Reel Asian that I saw, sometimes opens many wounds, especially if the history is very bitter as illustrated in the two films above. That’s why knowing the “border” is so important to Kelly as she revealed when she met us at the zoom meeting. Knowing your border is important as Kelly recognizes her own limitations as a descendant born outside her ancestral land. And knowing sometimes can really answer the questions that are in your head. And that feels like a real relief. And this is where I saw several short films presented by Reel Asian, it doesn’t just end up being a film and a story, but a cure for any ignorance of Asian culture.
Reel Asian offers audiences across ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds. One thing in common, namely social beings, cannot be separated from interaction and communication. And each of us cannot deny where we came from and were born.