The programmer of the Xinwen Chen festival on the power of storytelling –
While it is true that there has never been a time in human history when storytelling was not important, on some level the events of 2020 have made it clearer than ever that to share. of stories is an important practice that is uniquely human.
In particular, share stories of individuals and groups of individuals who have historically been under-represented in the media and public discourse.
While we have so many different ways of sharing stories with each other, film is still one of the most effective methods.
With the right talent in front and behind the camera, the film can immerse audiences in an experience they don’t know at all and help them understand that experience better.
For some, creating stunning works of art is not enough to share a story with a large audience, and this is precisely where festival planners come in.
For decades, various film festivals have helped legitimize and promote the work of artists young and old, whether established or new.
Exposure to festivals can lead to reviews in major publications and, on a more practical level, film festivals can also be hubs where distribution companies look for works they would like to distribute.
It’s a process we’d like to take a closer look at: how smart and conscientious film festival programming can help artists tell important stories.
Xinwen Chen: festival programmer, producer, screenwriter
Xinwen Chen’s first large-scale project was a musical called “The Search of Sound,” which debuted at the Shanghai Grand Theater.
Working with both non-profit and for-profit groups, Chen has built an impressive career through his production work, screenwriting and, most importantly, film festival lineup.
Even over the past year, when the entertainment was almost at a standstill for obvious reasons, Chen still managed to help schedule the AFI DOCS 2020 virtual festival, as well as the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival virtual showcase. 2020, which included a focus on LGBTQA + stories.
Vents has been fortunate enough to get in touch with Chen over the past few weeks, and we would like to share snippets of those conversations here to highlight the importance of highlighting vital stories, especially those of artists whose voices haven’t been heard.
Getting down to business, Chen has a unique motivation to continue her work, and it’s all based on what she sees as the inherent value and power of storytelling:
“I believe in the power of storytelling to connect people and provoke thought. I’ve spent a lot of time writing and working in production, and as a film festival programmer I currently have a bigger platform to help filmmakers advance the impact of their work. I feel fulfilled when I receive comments that my work changes their original understanding of this topic.
In a way, the programming of a festival can be likened to a curatorial office in the fine arts. Yes, the inclusion of a specific work of art is a statement of value, but another extremely important aspect of that work is the choice of several works that will be presented next to each other.
Whether in an art gallery or throughout a film festival, this act of juxtaposition creates an intangible dialogue between the works.
Likewise, audience members are not exposed to a single story but to several, forcing them to consider shared themes and messages, or, in other cases, contrasting themes and messages.
As the collage becomes a new work of art, the program of a film festival becomes a kind of collective work, something unique through the combination of different films.
Working during the pandemic and pandemic stories
It is difficult to have any discussion of recent entertainment and film festivals without at least addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its seismic effect on the international entertainment industry.
Many mainstream production companies have either ceased production altogether or significantly reduced production.
Because of this, we were very curious to hear how Chen’s work went during the quarantine measures.
Unlike others in the entertainment industry, Chen pursued his programming work in earnest, albeit under drastically different conditions.
Chen saw these changed conditions as an opportunity to expand the festivals, and that is precisely what she and the festival organizers were able to do.
“I think I’ve been pretty lucky compared to a lot of the others. I was able to continue my work remotely, and I helped program the AFI DOCS 2020 virtual festival and the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival 2020 virtual showcase. It was a big challenge because none of us had experience with online festivals, and we weren’t sure what the outcome would be. But it went well. “
As Chen explained to us, translating festivals into a virtual format has greatly increased flexibility.
On the one hand, everyone in the virtual “audience” could choose exactly when they wanted to watch a movie, and there was no geographic restriction, which in a traditional film festival would be a major limitation for people. obvious reasons.
This made the festivals themselves international events at a time when unity was more important than ever.
We also want to point out that Chen led a virtual panel during the quarantine called “Pandemic Documentation,” to share accurate accounts of what happened in Wuhan.
“’Documenting the Pandemic’ invited storytellers who presented the stories of Wuhan during the pandemic. Some people may have a misunderstanding about what happened in Wuhan, and it even caused hatred from Asians. This is hurting our community, and we also hope we can change some people’s perspective by telling real stories. “
Indeed, at the height of the pandemic, and even after the large-scale deployment of the vaccine here in the United States, there has been a surprising increase in hate crime cases targeting Asian Americans.
These crimes are apparently based on the mistaken assumption that Asians are to blame for the rapid spread of COVID-19, which is not based on actual evidence.
Chen knew that sharing true stories about what was happening in Wuhan shortly before and during the outbreak would help educate people and emphasize the importance of not giving in to misinformation.
Unfortunately, this post will most likely also need to be promoted in the near future, as there seem to be a lot of people who believe in virus plots rather than first-hand reports or accounts of the events in Wuhan.
Under-represented stories and diverse talents
As a conclusion, we would like to share Chen’s thoughts on the current state of cinematic storytelling when it comes to under-represented individuals, whether in front or behind the camera.
Chen has supported efforts to share these kinds of stories for many years, and for her, the potential commercial viability of these stories has never been a factor:
“When I first decided to tell stories about underrepresented people years ago, I didn’t even wonder if there was a market for it. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard their stories sooner. I think it’s our mission to pay attention to under-represented communities and help them tell their stories.
For example, in early 2021, Chen ran an LGBTQA + short film showcase and virtual panel at the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival.
As Chen notes, LGBTQA + identities and related issues are still a relatively small topic within Chinese and Chinese-American communities.
Regardless of this fact, the event brought together hundreds of participants and was a great success, perhaps proving that people are keen to discuss these topics much more openly than they have been in the past.
On a slightly different note, we also wanted to hear Chen’s thoughts on the mainstream entertainment industry’s current feelings about filmmaking and performing talent from a variety of backgrounds.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has always been very hesitant to accept or promote people of color, especially in writing and directing roles.
But that could (finally) change. Chen:
“I think the industry is quite open to artists from different cultures and even recognizes that using these artists can be an advantage. This year, Chloe Zhao won the Oscar for Best Director, and I think that’s really exciting news for the community of women of color in the film world. I think artists from various cultural backgrounds are starting to gain more and more recognition. “
Even though some of these structural and systemic changes are driven only by studios and production companies looking to get a positive outlook, they still represent a major shift in the industry.
It’s a change the full extent of which we haven’t really seen yet, although Zhao’s big Oscar win, about a year after South Korean film “Parasite” also won a number of awards. , another step towards a future where more stories from more people are shared with a wider audience.
In the meantime, Chen is doing his part to promote stories that haven’t been heard, and for us in the audience all we have to do is sit down and listen.