Like Cotton Twines is one of those rare films that breaks your heart and inspires you at the same time. In the form of cinema, it achieves what no other informative vehicle can; it gives the audience an inside view of a very real situation in another culture. A story such as this touches not only the viewer but also those who create it. Ting Yu served as the editor for this production, carefully crafting its presentation with writer/director/producer Leila Djansi. This film’s content directly speaks to both women as it relates to the plight of women in this particular part of the world. Ting also notes that there are facets of the story which resonate with her due to her country of origin. As a lauded and respected member of the film industry, Yu proved her value to the film and the emotional impact it has made. Now available for streaming on Netflix, Like Cotton Twines is receiving a great deal of accolades, as it did in Ghana (the location of the film’s story) where it was nominated for thirteen awards (at the Ghana Movie Awards, the biggest national movie awards in Ghana) and won 6 awards, including the best film editing award for Ting.
The film focuses on the traditional culture in Ghana. Told from the perspective of an American teaching volunteer, it focuses on his attempts to save one of his students, a fourteen-year-old girl, from religious slavery. Djansi contacted Ting based on her reel and declares, “There is a rhythm to Ting’s editing that is on par with some of the greatest editors. Whether it’s on the micro or macro level, she excels with every edit. She combines shots in a way that perfectly conveys the message of the scene and overall tone of the film. It’s inconceivable to think that Like Cotton Twines would have received the attention and praise that it has without Ting’s talent. When I approached Ting it was because I knew that I had to have an editor of exceptional ability to help me realize my vision.” Conflicting opinions are healthy in film and often lead to better art. Yu’s perspective and ideas are what led Leila to bring Ting aboard the film. For the scene in which Allison (the teacher) did not find Tuigi (the student) on the bus, Leila wanted to use a long take from the beginning to the end, because of the production value. At Yu’s urging, she agreed that this take was beautiful but too long. Ting created a cut half the length of the original; one which allowed the audience to still feel the same emotional content but make the story move faster and more entertaining. She found that her personality and opinions were very strong as an editor but she had no problem listening to the director to help achieve her vision of the film. These are the traits that endeared her to Leila Djansi. These two professionals worked at a feverish pace to complete Like Cotton Twines on a very tight schedule. Yu recalls, “We had several cuts before we locked the picture. Each time we made a cut, Leila and I would sit down and watch the whole film together; both of us giving each other notes. Leila is very open-minded. She is always willing to listen to my opinion, especially when we think we need to cut something out of the film. It was an ideal situation. We would challenge each other…in a very positive way. I feel that this is one of the ways you achieve such a good end result; when everyone seeks the very best and refuses to take anything less than that. One of my favorite memories is of Leila’s cooking. She is such a good cook and would cook for me, because we were working such long hours to finish on schedule. I’d be making cuts based on our notes and also guessing what she would be making me for lunch. That’s not the kind of experience and positive work environment I think most editors get. Add to that the fact that Like Cotton Twines won so many awards; I’m a little spoiled by it all.”
Perhaps one of the unseen facets of Ting’s approach and excellence as an editor is because she started out pursuing the path of director. Her history with secondary choices has proven quite fortuitous. When Yu didn’t get accepted into her chosen University as a medicine major, she switched to TV and Film production. She found that she had a lot of natural talent and it excited her. She felt a strong connection to American films, in particular the work of Steven Spielberg. It became apparent to her that an editor has a different means by which to structure and shape the message and tone of a film and she found it more intuitive for her personally.
Ting notes that one of the reasons she was interested in the role of editor of Like Cotton Twines was the story of females in a culture which does not see them as equal to men. Because of these aspects of her own country of origin (Yu is from China) she believed that the commonly held view that men are seen as somehow superior to women gave her great empathy for the characters and storyline of the film. She communicates, “It’s silly to feel this way when I know that everyone is equal but, coming from a society where women are not seen as important as men…it is difficult to shake this idea from your own thoughts. Leila and this film do an amazing job communicating these ideas and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
The attention and accolades which Ting Yu received for her work in Like Cotton Twines led directly to more work. Enjoying a wide variety of productions such as editing an African documentary about wildlife, Kickboxer: Retaliation (once again starring Jean-Claude Van Damme), and a trio of live action films based on comics and toys in China, Ting Yu has become one of those editors who is in demand across the planet. It’s written in the stars that those directors whom she has admired will be watching her work and likely remembering her name for future projects.