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Actor Shvan Aladdin’s Role in Hollywood Promotes Cultural Diversity

Playing a character that not only hits close to home, but also marks a time in history when cultural conversations are needed most is a rare and powerful opportunity for any actor.

Establishing success as one of the only Kurdish actors in the industry today, LA based actor Shvan Aladdin’s Middle Eastern heritage and colossal talents have helped bring a stronger sense of multiculturalism to Hollywood.

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Kurdish actor Shvan Aladdin shot by Bjoern Kommerell 

Capitalizing on his Kurdish roots, Aladdin has landed numerous leading roles across film and television productions in stories that are fundamentally relevant to today’s society.

His creative approach to depicting stories of substance on screen have helped to ensure individuals from around the world are seen and heard in a more authentic way.

“First and foremost, it’s an honor to know that I am one of the first to represent my country in a place like Hollywood,” Aladdin proudly shares. “But I really hope there will be many more than me in the future. And I hope that by me being here, it’ll open up the doors for many more who start to believe in themselves.”

Societal issues such as racial profiling, gender equality and women’s rights continue to surge news headlines. Cultural diversity amongst the entertainment industry however is a whole conversation on its own.

With independent studios and progressive filmmakers pushing the boundaries to expose stories of truth, cultural conversations are now the storyboard for many award-winning mini series and Hollywood blockbusters.

“I want to tell stories that are not out there. I am from Kurdistan and it’s so rare we see Kurdish stories being told to the greater audience,” Aladdin shares. “I want to be one of those who brings those stories to life. Aside from that, I want to work with stories that hopefully teaches me, the actor, and the audience something new.”

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Shvan Aladdin in the hit film “Martyrdom”

Despite seeing some movement in cultural diversity across Hollywood of late, many will argue that we still have a long way to go to achieve equal rights.

Recent studies from a 2019 report shows that out of 3,895 speaking or named characters had an easily identifiable race or ethnicity. Of those, a full 63.7% were white, 16.9% Black, 5.3% Latino, 8.2% Asian– but, only 1.5% were Middle Eastern/North African.

Focusing on roles behind the camera, the report also indicates that out of the 112 directors from the 100 top films of 2018, a mere 3.6% were Middle Eastern/North African.

Evidently these stats show great room for improvement, there’s no denying that. However most recently we’ve bared witness to change as some of the industry’s most reputable sources are praising diversity.

The 2019 Korean drama “Parasite” won the award for Best Film at The Oscars earlier this year, marking Hollywood history as the first non-english film to take home the prestigious award.

Arab-American star Rami Malek earned critical acclaim for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the incredible biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Malek became the first ever Arab-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in 2019.

And although Egyptian born Mena Massoud skyrocketed to Hollywood fame for his role of Aladdin in the 2019 box office smash remake, the star has struggled to land auditions ever since.

Thus leads us to question, why is there a continual lack of diversity in Hollywood? And why is there still a misrepresentation of cultures in film and television today?

Being one of the only Kurdish actors in Hollywood, Aladdin recognizes the demands for further diversity, adding, “the truth of the matter is that there aren’t any Kurdish actors out here, and it’s a pity. I hope that we will get to a place where tons of other Kurdish actors move out here and get the opportunity to work in this town.”

He continues, “It’s crazy when you think about how big this city is and yet there are no Kurdish actors in it. I really hope for a change in that section.”

So how does one man from Kurdistan implement such change in Hollywood? By moving away from the stereotypical roles which questions the accurate representation of the Middle East.

A 2018 study showed that 78 percent of all Middle Eastern and North African actors were cast in villainous roles, such as terrorists or tyrants, something that Aladdin has personally experienced.

He shares, “I used to get many auditions for stereotypical roles. But then it got to a point where I just had enough. There are only so many terrorist roles you can do before you feel drained.”

Being one of the only Kurdish actors in Hollywood has come as an advantage to the talented star, who is leaving behind the typecast roles to depict characters of substance and truth.

“There have been many times where directors have been looking really hard for Kurdish actors and it’s just impossible to get a hold of them.” Aladdin continues, “I was in a film ‘Noise’ by Michael Aloyan and it took us weeks to find a Kurdish actress. The girl we ended up finding wasn’t even an actor but it worked out.”

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T.V. Carpio and Shvan Aladdin in “Noise”

The final casting was flawless, and the engaging film gained widespread viewing via Amazon Prime and was nominated for Best Short Film Award at the 2018 Austin Film Festival.

Aladdin’s genuine performance as the young Kurdish immigrant in the touching film is a character that hits close to home. He reflects, “My mother immigrated from Kurdistan to Sweden in the late 90s, so growing up being a child of an immigrant, I have enormous respect for immigrants.”

He proudly continues, “I know that no mother or father immigrates just for fun. It’s all about giving your children the opportunities you didn’t have growing up. All I am today, I have my mother to thank for.”
“Noise” tells the story of two unique individuals who find love in the most unexpected form with a deaf American woman and a young Kurdish man developing a connection based on sensory touch and vibrational rhythms. Using a notebook as a translator, the characters prove that when you remove language, communication really has no limits.

Their connection becomes tested when the pair are introduced to alternative characters who, according to societal comfort appear to be more suitable. But after a brief moment of contemplation, the two trust their instincts and find their way back to each other.

The optimism shown in the final scene proves that love can exist in all forms, with Aladdin adding, “It’s beautiful. It shows that there’s no limits when it comes to love… I’m so proud to have been part of it.”

Emerging far beyond the stereotypical roles, Aladdin’s career was inspired by the comical pleasures he gained from watching sitcoms as a young child.

Describing his upbringing as “organic,” Aladdin was born and raised in Slemani, Kurdistan. Looking back on his early childhood he reflects, “It was very interesting, sometimes it feels like I’ve gotten to live two very different lives. In Kurdistan, we didn’t have water or electricity 24/7, this was in the 90’s.”

Having water and electricity for most young children is a thought barely to even be considered, however for Aladdin and his brothers this was ultimately a different story.

“I remember having a water company on my street and huge trucks would come and fill them with clean water,” he continues. “Once they drove away, water would keep running down for some minutes before it completely turned off. My brothers and I used to run and fill buckets with clean water so we’d have it for the days to come.”

Reflecting on his past, Aladdin shares, “These are things we take for granted today but there was a time where I didn’t. And it’s interesting thinking about living life then compared to now. “

After migrating to Sweden with his family at age nine, Aladdin became absorbed in the world of network television growing up on classics such as “The Nanny,” “Family Matters,” “Friends” and “The Golden Girls.”

Influenced by these sitcoms Aladdin found direction. “Naturally after a couple of years I just realized that I wanted to do what those actors that I looked up to were doing,“ he shares. “The TV was my best friend for many years…it also taught me Swedish and English.”

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Film poster for “Akeda”

Profiting from his Middle Eastern background, Aladdin scored one of the lead roles in 2018’s “Akeda” directed by Dan Bronfeld. The award-winning film tells the story of a young orphan boy who, whilst filming a movie has his humanity tested when the director pressures him to give a violent performance that blends fiction with reality.

Aladdin plays the role of Mustapha, a filmworker who also lost his parents at a young age. Filled with empathy, Mustapha is torn between professionalism and succumbing to the relatable pressures that the young boy feels.

After reading the script Aladdin became riveted with the storyline, adding, “I think that viewing the world through a child’s perspective makes us question ourselves a lot. We forget that this crazy world we live in and witness, the children witness as well. They look up to us to reach a solution to all these problems. And at times we hand over the responsibility to them. I think that is the core of what the story [Akeda] is about.”

“Akeda” earned critical praise winning Best Film and Best Screenplay at the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival, Catalina Film Festival and Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, as well as a further 13 nominations across global festivals.

Aladdin’s strong ability to paint a character’s depth and sorrow was proven in the 2018 drama “Martyrdom,” a dark film about a radicalised Middle Eastern man struggling to adapt to a society he sorely doesn’t fit in to.

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Shvan Aladdin in “Martyrdom”

Feelings of defeat takeover when the character’s heinous acts of crime result in the accidental murder of his wife and son, and the repercussions that follow will haunt his remaining years.

When preparing for the grieving role Aladdin shares, “It was a lot of responsibility but I worked day and night preparing for this character and making sure that I knew who he was completely. I ‘knew’ my son, my wife. I made sure to create a full background for the character so that even though I was alone in the short, I still had the life of the character out there to play around with.”

Being the starring actor in the movie, Aladdin was the driving force behind the film premiering at the Montreal Film Festival along with its nomination for Best Short Film.

Reflecting on these outstanding performances and the achievements which followed, it’s obvious that the plethora of skills Aladdin has on offer have helped establish the successful and influential career he has today.

“Thankfully, these past years I’ve gotten to play many well rounded characters that tell deep and beautiful stories.” He adds, “and that’s something that means a lot for my creativity and the vision I have of what I want to do as an actor. I’m not here to play a terrorist.”

Using his Kurdish roots as an accurate representation of the Middle East, Shvan Aladdin is turning heads and changing minds of those who drive diversity in Hollywood. Although a long way to go, multiculturalism is on the rise as more and more industry heads, much like Aladdin are paving the way for change.

New WWII supernatural thriller ‘Ghosts of War’ is a haunting tale about the trauma of war

When Writer/Director Eric Bress, known for such celebrated films as Butterfly Effect and The Final Destination 2, shared an early draft of his latest film with Shelley Madison, she was immediately hooked. The Canadian Producer loves a good ghost story, and the idea for Ghosts of War was that and so much more.  Set against the very real backdrop of WWII, Eric crafted a dark supernatural, psychological thriller with deep underlying themes about PTSD and trauma. Madison saw an opportunity to both captivate audiences and broaden the discussion surrounding mental health. 

Known for her work on Terminal, starring Academy Award nominated actress Margot Robbie, and Queen of the Desert, starring Oscar Winner Nicole Kidman and nominee James Franco, Madison is clearly no stranger to working on large scale, highly-anticipated movies. Ghosts of War follows five American soldiers holding a French castle formerly occupied by Nazis, who begin experiencing inexplicable events that transform their reality into a twisted nightmare more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield. 

“What really struck me about the script was there was an emotional depth witnessing the soldiers battle physical and psychological trauma. We all know soldiers face significant hardship due to the prolonged trauma of war: PSTD, substance use, increased chances of overdose, homelessness and even suicide. When a story can connect information to emotions, it can be very powerful. It was my hope that this film would open the door to having more conversations about the issue,” said Madison.

The film stars Brenton Thwaites (Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Maleficent), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy, Luke Cage), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist), Alan Ritchson (Titans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hunger Games), and Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, American Sniper, The Finest Hours) as the five leading soldiers. It also stars Billy Zane (Titanic, Tombstone, Demon Knight) and Shaun Toub (Iron Man, Homeland) who round out some of the other characters. 

 “We were lucky to have worked with an incredibly gifted team. Our principal cast are very talented actors and have been in front of the camera for ages having worked with many notable directors already,” said Madison.

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Ghosts of War film poster

They shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, which worked well for all locations for the story, and there was also access to authentic WWII military props and vehicles which helped with prep. The mansion interior was built entirely on a soundstage, the location for the mansion exterior was Vrana Palace, which Madison describes as a perfect fit, as it is grand and beautiful while also being quite menacing, and given the mansion itself almost feels like a character in the story. Between the ideal location, props, costumes, and the score, audiences will undoubtedly feel truly transported to the terrifying and haunting battlefields of WWII.

While the film is sure to entertain audiences, while diving deep into the soldier’s psychological trauma, it offers a chance to explore ways that people can heal. Most recently, as Partner and the Chief Content Officer of the OTT network Social Club TV, the largest cannabis lifestyle content distribution platform in the world, Madison has been producing content in cannabis and plant medicine. When she came across Ghosts of War, it had another layer to it that she wanted to highlight. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in certain mushrooms, are having a big impact on PTSD in clinical trials, and there is a big push to legalize these substances. This new film allowed Madison to explore those ideas, and Social Club TV provides a platform to continue the discussion.  

“In my personal life I have witnessed someone close to me find transformative healing through supervised, guided use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes to address mental health and addiction. PTSD stems from many different traumas, and anyone facing it needs multi-faceted support to help manage the pain they endure every day. No patient should have to seek solutions in an illicit environment.”  

Ghosts of War was released as a DirectTV exclusive on June 18th, 2020, but will be making its way to several more media platforms on July 17th,  available here, both on cable and various online rental services. It will then hit Netflix in October. Madison is eager to share this highly thrilling supernatural psychological thriller that brings audiences inside the mind of soldiers who are trapped in a living nightmare caused by their traumatic experiences on the battlefield.

“We have to take faster, more courageous and progressive steps to help those suffering from mental health challenges. It is my hope that research will continue to prove the therapeutic potential of cannabis and psychedelics and that we will find a path to legalization to provide people new ways to heal. In the meantime, I hope Ghosts of War allows people to feel they are not alone in what they are experiencing,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out Ghosts of War on July 17th to see this poignant horror.

#GhostsofWar is now available on DIRECTV and on VOD/Digital July 17th!  Pre-order on Apple TV TODAY

Social Club TV: the world’s largest cannabis content library, available for free on AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Prime, iOS, Android and more. www.thesocialclub.tv

Passion and Precision: Editor Bowei Yue’s Compelling Visual Style

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By Joseph West

Although the film editor works almost exclusively in a post-production capacity, he is as essential as the actors, director, even the writer. The editor exerts tremendous artistic influence over a film, controlling virtually every aspect from pacing, atmosphere and mood to how the plot line’s narrative unfolds. The editor’s visual style enhances and elevates audience experience to a profound degree, and as such, qualifies the editor as a critically important contributor to film and video. 

Film editor Bowei Yue exemplifies the demanding mixture of aesthetics and technical skill required of the successful editor. His comprehensive spectrum of skills and flair for arresting visuals have made him an internationally known force, one with multiple best editing award wins at film festivals around the world. 

It’s been Yue’s life-long passion, one he practically born into.  

“My hometown is Changchun in northeastern China, site of the earliest production company in China, Changchun Film Studio, where Chinese films were pioneered,” Yue said. “As a child, I developed an interest in films. All the kids thought films were cool, but I always thought that the people who made films were even cooler.”

After graduating high school, Yue entered the famed Beijing Film Academy. 

“I was majoring in sound, but I realized I would prefer more engaging work that is closer to storytelling itself,” he said. “Therefore, I applied to the American Film Institute for an MFA degree in editing after college.” 

The American Film Institute in Los Angeles is one of the most esteemed and discriminating conservatory’s in the film world–gaining admittance there is no small feat. 

He wasted no time, cutting a series of well received projects (the award-winning Dark Wolf Gang” earned him best editing trophies at juried competitions in the US and Spain) and his recent work on two short films, “Balloon” and “New Year’s Eve” are prime examples of Yue’s formidable talent and versatility.

The former is an engaging, visual effects heavy action/fantasy about a bullied teen who develops super powers while the latter is an intense, intimate coming-of-age familyd drama, providing Yue a showcase for two very different stylistic approaches.  

“I’d already worked with ‘Balloon’ director Jeremy Merrifield on a TV pilot, a short film and 5 commercials,” Yue said. “We have cultivated a good working relationship and talked about this project long before he was conceiving the script, which was very personal to him.”

Merrifield’s vision and eye-popping action demanded much of Yue: “In this short film, we have close to 100 visual effects shots, some of which are very complicated,” he said. “These are not difficult in a big Hollywood movie because there you have a team of people to complete the work, but ‘Balloon’ is a short film, and most of the work was done by myself. So, in addition to the art of editing, I also invested a lot of energy in the post-production supervising.”

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The result spoke eloquently for itself, making “Balloon” a sensation on the world-wide festival circuit, screening over 30 juried competitions (including AFI Fest, New Orleans Film Festival, Palm Spring International Short Fest, Hawaii International Film Festival) and winning the Oscar-qualifying Grand Prix for Best Film at the 15th annual Hollyshorts Festival as well as the audience award at the New Orleans Film Festival. But these pale in comparison to its popularity online.

“On the day of the stream launch on YouTube and as a Vimeo Staff Pick, our views quickly exceeded 100,000,” Yue said. “We were shocked–this is very rare for a short film. Now, we have more than 4 million views on the web, it’s insane! I’m really proud of the final product.”

“New Year’s Eve” took Yue in an entirely different direction. A deliberately paced ensemble cast drama directed by Hao Zheng, it relates the tension filled tale of  19-year-old Xiaoyu returning to celebrate Chinese New Year at his family home, where he must face the consequences of his unpopular decision to enroll in a kung fu school rather than university. 

“Hao is Chinese, but heavily influenced by European films,” Yue said. “His works are basically slow-paced and have an ‘endless savor.’ I personally like this type of film, but most of my works are more fast-paced and genre-leading, so he wanted my style to collide with his and see what happens with those different chemical reactions.”

The experiment was not without challenges for the editor. “The dinner table scene in the film was a very memorable sequence,” Yue said. “Anyone who knows a little about editing will tell you that dinner table scenes are the hardest to edit. There were seven actors and the dialogue content of the entire scene was very rich, with lines coming at the same time, and a lot of improv from the characters. During editing, my core work was to always pay attention to the relationship of Xiaoyu and his mother but at the same time ensure visual diversity, smoothness of cutting along with all the other elements.” 

 

Bowei Yue_3Yue flawlessly rectified any discrepancies between takes and dialog overlaps and “New Year’s Eve” was enthusiastically received at its recent premiere screening. The film will formally release at the end of this month on popular platform Short of the Week, and has already been officially selected by more than 20 film festivals in Europe. But Yue is always looking forward to his ambitious professional horizon and has several fascinating projects in the works.

These include Director-writer Íce Mrozek’s feature “About Him and Her,” a high-concept love story with unconventional, almost experimental tone, Yuxi Li’s “Sword of Destiny” a big budget period kung fu/ action feature and Erica Eng’s “Americanized” a short focused on elements of disparate cultures, athletics and a fast moving urban visual.

With an impressive skill set, Yue’s potent combination of strong visual style, ingenuity, technical skill and keen emotional tone has established him as a talent of significant range and ability. But it’s his aesthetic loyalty–an unwavering commitment to collaboration and upholding the integrity of the filmmakers original vision–that has really qualified him as an in-demand asset in the film world.

“Many editors have said that the relationship between a director and an editor is almost like a marriage,” Yue said. “Understanding and trust are very important. Film is never a one-man-band type of thing, and an editor’s work gets done by maintaining a responsible attitude to the director. But at the same time, as an editor, you need to leave your own signature on the project. Finding that sweet balance is really important for me all the time.”

Actress Scherrikar Bell Brings ‘The Victorians’ to Life

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By Dean Evans

Prolific, versatile a nd boundlessly engaging, actress Scherrikar Bell is one of the most well established and recognizable forces in contemporary British television. From her earliest appearance small screen on venerable BBC series “EastEnders” Bell’s gift for creating authentic characterizations has made her a familiar and in-demand talent.

With an impressively spectrum-spanning skill set—uniformly adept at comedy, drama, action or horror—the London born-and-bred Bell is also equally at ease doing feature films, TV commercial spots and cutting edge hip-hop music videos (her mesmerizing performance as the lethal hit girl/assassin in rapper SL’s viral “FWA Boss” clip has been viewed almost 5 million times).

Along the way, Bell has become somewhat of a staple at the famed BBC network. Following her “EastEnders” debut, she graduated to roles on popular soap opera “Doctors” and currently co-stars on top sketch comedy series “Famalam” (the program earned both BAFTA and Royal Television Society UK Awards nominations in 2019).

Bell’s appreciable renown and popular cachet with viewers made her a natural choice for another significant BBC assignment, the leading role of narrator on “The Victorians.” Produced by the networks educational online Teach division and aimed at elementary school students. the collection of cross-curricular films explores contributions made by innovative 19th century Britons in the fields of science, geometry, history, arithmetic, art and music.

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While the concept may sound dry as dust, the series focuses on both the familiar (Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria) along with lesser known characters (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Pablo Fanque) and Bell’s light-hearted delivery—deft, loaded with charm and easy going appeal—is anything but tedious.

The presentation may seem deceptively casual but Bell, throughout, is actively involved with the instructive aspect and its particular subject—she slyly interacts with each historic figure via quips and conversational asides—creating a captivating overall tone that affords each topic an ideal showcase.

Bell’s knack for impeccably timed witticisms, put over with irresistibly cunning ease, creates a perfect persona for her youthful audience, one that thoroughly engages and informs the viewer—and making over Industrial Revolution-era civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel into an intriguing character is no small feat.

Bell pulls it off with a low-key yet spirited joviality that not only holds the viewer’s interest, it enhances and elevates each episode to a level where education and entertainment coexist with delightful effect. “The Victorians” is both a significant addition to Bell’s already notable resume of credits and an impressive first entry to the world of children’s television. Marvelous stuff.

An Empathetic Approach to Filmmaking with Producer Summer Xinlei Yang

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Producer Summer Xinlei Yang appears to have the golden touch when it comes to filmmaking. There are equal portions of passion and commitment applied to her work, the results of which speak for themselves. Her films repeatedly become Official Selections of Academy Award Qualifying Festivals and are met with overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses from the audiences who view them. As with anyone in the film industry, success is met when talent chooses the stories that they are most suited to tell. These days, Hollywood is discovering more than ever that certain individuals are perfectly suited to tell a certain kind of story. For Xinlei, this often means the tales of people involved in multicultural situations. As a native of China who has experienced success in both her home country and the US, Summer always finds the connective tissue of her experiences and that of the characters in the lauded films she has worked on.

The Way Home is director Yiran Zhou’s heart wrenching tale of the modern day immigrant and an Official Selection at Academy Qualifying Film Festivals, including the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the 10th BronzeLens Film Festival, and winner of the International Vision Award at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival. The Way Home is the story of two immigrants; 18-year-old Chinese-American Jimmy who seizes the opportunity to prove himself to a Chinatown hooligan and thirty-year-old Haiyang who followed a Coyote through the US-Mexican border years ago while his younger brother [Bin] fell ill. As Jimmy and Haiyang venture toward their own goals, it becomes clear that there is a very high price to pay. The film intimately follows them on their emotional, physical, and moral journeys, providing a timely exploration of family, identity, and sacrifice. The story was inspired by the director’s acquaintance with some Chinese factory workers in a Chinese food warehouse. Most of the employees at the establishment worked ninety hours or more per week. Contrasting the misconception that they were looking for a free ride, these workers came to America for the opportunity to make money to send home and support their loved ones. The film’s producer informs, “This story is about two different generations of Chinese immigrants is relevant and meaningful for the director and I as we are both from China. From the beginning of creating this story, both of us were adamant that the film should have a retrospective and dark tone to show the gap between the reality and immigrants’ American Dreams.” The Way Home was also selected by the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival for its longest running competition, the Golden Goblet Award.

Xinlei worked with director Angela Chen on the film Our Home Here which was an Official Selection of the 22nd Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (Past winners and attendees include Oscar nominated actress Rosie Perez; Emmy nominee JT Takagi; Sundance Film Festival nominee Terence Nance; Golden Globes and Emmy nominee Issa Rae, Ebony Jo-Ann, Screen Actors Guild Awards nominee Margot Bingham). This story centers around four individuals in a Texas city; nineteen-year-old Dylan, his older sister Rose, fourty-three-year-old fast-food worker Celine, and a twenty-one-year-old addict named Sean. Unbeknownst to these four, their lives will soon come together in a violent clash at the Sunny Meals drive-thru when Sean’s drug-bender takes a sinister turn, forever changing the trajectories of their lives, their careers, and their relationships. The film explores the desires for control, identity and family, as we intimately follow these characters during the day leading up to the incident. Although the story takes place in Texas, the actual filming location was in Los Angeles.

An even darker tale is found in the film When the Shadow Falls which Summer produced for director Jeseung Woo. After witnessing the suicide of a stranger, a woman named Jane becomes overwhelmingly haunted by the question of whether she could have done anything to help. Inspired by the director’s actual witnessing of a stranger’s suicide in Seoul, the subject matter hearkens back to the idea of many of Summer’s films which asks, “What is the pain that other’s experience which I am unaware of and how would this knowledge allow me to change my view of them?”

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If there is one unifying thread here, it is empathy. Film may be the most powerful tool in helping society feel what goes overlooked in the challenges of its members. To this end, filmmakers like Summer Xinlei and her peers offer the most benevolent choices for us all. The producer plans on maximizing this with her talent on an upcoming project, the documentary feature tentatively titled Frozen Fertility. She relates, “Soon after I decided to make a documentary about reproductive rights for women in China, a director friend of mine forwarded me the news of Teresa Xu, a women rights activist who hopes to freeze her eggs while she works to save money for a future family. Since China bars single women from the procedure, she decided to mount China’s first legal challenge of a law that limits fertility treatments to married couples only. I was so excited when I saw the news, and right away I reached out to her lawyer and herself about my documentary. Our shared understanding and first-hand experience with the subject immediately led her to agree to join our documentary filming. We were able to capture her story of going through the court and facing both local and international media. Her unique story appeared just as I was looking for subjects for my documentary feels like fate. I am just following my heart. The minute I saw the news I thought ‘I must take action now to film this significant moment.’ Summer is prompting all of us to take action with the incredible films she produces.

Sound Editor Jingjue Zhou works with Narval Films on impactful new film ‘Pier Las Vegas’

Sound. It is 50 per cent of the movie watching experience. A simple rain drop to a massive explosion would not be made possible without the hard work of the sound editors behind-the-scenes that work tirelessly to create an authentic sound that allows audiences to be immersed by what they are taking in on screen. China’s Jingjue Zhou knows this better than most. This celebrated sound editor has worked on all genres of movies and television shows and is always refining her talents. She is a true storyteller, using sound to subtly enhance a script, creating drama and emotion through the sense in a beautiful and natural way.

Whether taking in her work at SeaWorld Orlando’s “Sesame Street Land” interactive game plays, or through award-winning films such as Spring Flower, millions around the world have appreciated Zhou’s extraordinary sound work. Her versatility and commitment to storytelling through sound make her a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and despite her success, she remains committed to her craft, simply enjoying what she does.

The highlight of her esteemed career came when working with Narval Films LLC. She has worked on several films for the renowned production company, including the documentary Road to Olympia, which tells the story of a Chinese bodybuilding athlete. Long Wu is a celebrity athlete with millions of fans on social media. He is the first Chinese IFBB pro card holder and first Chinese to compete professionally in Olympia.  It’s a story about his career journey over the past 10 years. The film was broadcast on China Central Television, the biggest TV platform in China, and the social media platform Weibo, achieving 1.5M views and 6.9K likes.

“From this film, I got to learn all the hardships Long Wu has been through and the essence of success in one’s career. Long Wu, though successful, is still very humble, hardworking and extremely self-disciplined. I am proud to be on the team telling this story so more people can get to know such a cool person and sport,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s favorite project with the production company, however, is the film Pier Las Vegas. The story is about Gao Xing, a hearing-disabled and vocally impaired person from a small town in China, who works as an ordinary housekeeper at a Las Vegas casino hotel, and always rummages through the guests’ luggage secretly while cleaning the room to search for clues about his sister who was adopted by an American family long ago. However, Gao’s life changes one afternoon when a massive shooting occurs at the music festival outside of the hotel.

“This fictional story takes place during the real life event of the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting. The people killed are not numbers. They have their own life stories and families. The movie is a portrait of one of them. It’s a powerful story that helps people remember those who die in these events and reflects on our society,” said Zhou. “What’s the problem and how can we change it? This film evokes those questions.”

Pier Las Vegas is a drama with an experimental storytelling style. It is directed by Yun Xie, a talented Chinese director. Her award-winning movie Truth or Dare has had a very successful theatrical release all over China. Zhou was happy to work with her on such an important film as Pier Las Vegas.

The sound editing in the film is very heavy and challenging as the main character is constantly in and out of a dream state. Zhou had the chance to play with lots of interesting plug ins and synthesizers to generate her own sound palette.

“It’s fun and challenging when it comes to sound editing for dreamy sequences. The director always said to me that it was my moment to shine. We wanted to create a feeling of being out of place in these dream sequences. We were really happy that all the sound came organically to make the audience feel the same way the character feels,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s hard work more than paid off as Pier Las Vegas has seen immense success all over the world. The film premiered in China’s top art house film festival earlier this year and has been an Official Selection at six prestigious festivals so far. It was also nominated for several awards, and Zhou is thrilled to see where it will go next.

“I am so happy it got the recognition internationally, especially in my home country of China. It’s selected to be in the competition of First International Film Festival, taking place in Xining. Every year, all the top artists and first-class Asian film committees will attend this film festival. Some people tell me that my sound work helped them so much on understanding the style and story of the movie, and that couldn’t make me happier,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Tianyi Wang

Producer Helena Sardinha recalls award-winning film ‘Pumpkin’ and finding filmmaking passion

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Helena Sardinha

Before pursuing her now prolific career in filmmaking, Helena Sardinha was a professional dancer. The more she danced, however, the more she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to spend her life doing. She had always been passionate about the various forms of artistic expression and found filmmaking to be one of the most complete art forms there is.

“If you breakdown a film, you find elements of every single art in it. In screenwriting, you have literature, poetry; in acting, theater; cinematography, painting, photography; in original scores, music; in set and costume design, architecture, sculpture, fashion; in the camera and actors movement, dance. To make films is to reproduce life the way you want it to be, and to be able to do that, I feel very privileged,” she says.

Now, Sardinha is a celebrated producer in her home country of Brazil and abroad, with many acclaimed projects on her decorated resume. Films like That Girl and Walter have gone on to win several awards at prestigious festivals around the world, a pattern that occurs with most projects she takes on. Her success as a producer is undisputed, and she believes that her experience in dance has allowed her to understand her role in filmmaking that much more.

“I believe that growing up in a dancer’s discipline environment and having an early start on my artistic endeavors was key for my development as a producer. Being connected to diverse content made me develop artistic skills and sensibility to art forms that accompanies me in my career,” she says.

One of Sardinha’s first major success stories after transitioning from dancer to producer came back in 2016 with her film Pumpkin. The film follows Alice and her best friend Dan, who lives in another country. When he tells her he’s been diagnosed with cancer, she faces the scary feeling of being away and powerless. So, Alice tries to show him support and love. Even if that means pushing away friends that are physically close to her.

Pumpkin is more than a project, it’s a life statement about love. But it’s also about pain during a time of our lives that is definitive for building our characters and notions of values. It’s not often we see teen films talking about those issues, about grief, dealing with pain. It’s important for other teens to watch this film and be able to feel a sense of belonging. To understand that pain is a part of life, and it’s healthy to talk about it. It’s a real story based on the director’s life and it really resonated with me. Losing a friend is not easy, and that was the way she found to cope with it,” says Sardinha.

The film was written and directed by Paula Neves, who was telling a true story based on events in her life. She knew she needed a talented producer to do her story justice, and reached out to Sardinha. They worked very well together, as Sardinha felt extremely close to the story and the project, knowing its background and the inspiration. Sardinha understood quickly what was fundamental to deliver Neves’ vision, and she put a crew together quickly and efficiently.

“It is always great to work with Helena, she is really pro-active and organized. Being on set with her or on a project produced by her is always an easy and fun experience. She is really responsible and smart-thinking. She always looks for a way of making things better without compromising time or money. Also, she is empathic to others, making sure everyone around her is well and in the best mindset. When she commits to something, you know she’ll be giving her ultimate best,” says Neves.

Pumpkin had its premiere at the world-famous Short Film Corner at Cannes in 2016, and went on to win awards and receive great praise at countless other festivals over the course of the year. Those rewards were secondary, however, for Sardinha and Neves, as they had a financial campaign to help kids with cancer through the project.

“I believe working on a project that generates awareness to any kind of issue and makes audiences move and try to change something is just a blessing. Pumpkin was one of those. Our goal as filmmakers is to be able to reach out to audiences and emotionally connect with people. Being able to receive so many notes and comments from people on the film, really pays off the entire journey of making a film,” Sardinha concludes.

 

By Annabelle Lee

Director John Wate lives childhood dream when making ‘Samurai Warrior Queens’

JW Samurai Warrior Queens
John Wade, Photo by Roberto Vivancos

Growing up in Berlin and Munich, Germany, John Wate found a passion in Manga comics at a young age. He was intrigued by the style of the Japanese graphic novels and began drawing his own at just ten years of age. Even then he knew he was meant to tell stories, but as he began transitioning away from drawing and into filmmaking, his innate drive to be a storyteller never wavered.

Now, Wate is a renowned director in his home country and abroad. Two of his past films, The Sword of the Samurai and The Samurai Bow, made it for 4 years into the top twenty of National Geographic Channel’s worldwide most popular documentaries. He is known for his unwavering dedication to his craft, and his work on projects like Epic Warrior Women, Samurai Headhunters, and Samurai Warrior Queens, projects that reminded him just why he got into filmmaking in the first place.

“One of the first manga stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager was that of a female samurai kicking ass. When I was sitting in the edit room watching Samurai Warrior Queens chasing inslow motion across a bridge towards the enemy with their blades drawn, I felt as though I was having my teenage wishes fulfilled,” said Wate.

The drama documentary Samurai Warrior Queens tells the real-life story of Samurai woman Takeko Nakano who in 1868 fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era. The legends of the Samurai seem to be an all-male affair; but contrary to popular belief, Samurai women stood their ground in countless battles and castle sieges. Takeko Nakano fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era.

“It is almost unknown that female samurai existed, let alone that they stood on the battlefield. Recent DNA from battlefields found that 30 percent of the sampled bones belonged to female fighters. However, for proud male samurai it was regarded as a shame if you had to rely on women to win your battle, so their presence was hardly ever recorded. The film can give them their place in history,” said Wate. “Takeko’s life provided a great arc and was pretty much a metaphor for the end of the samurai era as a whole. The role of female heroes has not received much attention until recent years, especially in Japan, and the story sheds a very different light on what in the West is often perceived as the general submissive and weak, moon gazing Japanese female persona.”

Wate enjoys strong female characters and had already come across different accounts of strong female samurai and wanted to show what their life was like. Their education, their ability to stand up against the more famous samurai in battle, it was all an intriguing topic that Wate wanted to really dig into.

Extensive background research of local folk tales and chronicles eventually led him to choose the life story of Takeko Nakano. She grew up in Aizu, a proud province in northern Japan where education, etiquette and martial arts were held in high esteem. Her father was a commander in a clan that understood itself as the protector of the Shogun. When the Shogun was threatened by other clans, supplied by Western firepower, the Aizu fought their last battles that eventually ended in the end of the samurai era. Takeko was very talented with the Naginata, a polearm or a samurai blade with a meter-long grip at the end. She was an instructor and took it on herself to recruit other female combatants to charge against the enemy but was eventually killed during the assault by a bullet.

To understand how she lived, how she might have seen her daily duties, why she refused to marry and fight instead, Wate traveled to her home province, went to research local archives, see their castle defenses, and really explore what her life would have been like. He then developed the script, cast the film, and got to shooting.

“I loved showing the world of the samurai, their attitude, ideals of honor and courage from a female perspective. In some ways they had to endure more than their male counterparts. Not only because they were often the pawns in the marriage game, but also because they had to fight and stand in for the actions of their husbands, their clan and the Shogun. I also found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time how they were taught to pursue grace even in death. Female samurai carried a dagger with them at all times once they reached womanhood to defend their honor. If they were in danger to be captured and raped, they would often have to commit suicide and were taught already as teenagers to tie their knees together with their belts, so that their legs would still look graceful after their death,” he described.

The film was distributed worldwide and nominated on the short list for the IMPACT Award, losing to the Academy-Award winning film Lincoln. It aired in the United States on the Smithsonian Network in 2015 where it still plays regularly, and is available to stream currently on various platforms, including Amazon and Hulu.

By Sean Desouza

Editor Haansol Rim’s Creativity Lights the Way

Profile_1_by Joseph R Barrett
Haansol Rim shot by Joseph R. Barrett

The creative mind of the filmmaker requires a complex mixture of aesthetic vision, deep technical capability and a passionate devotion to the form itself. For New York-based editor-creative editor Haansol Rim, these are defining characteristics, a dynamic formula which constantly propels him forward.

A true international force—born in Germany to Korean parents—Rim came to cinema through a particularly rich background in the arts, which has ingrained a far reaching depth of knowledge that colors all of his endeavors. It’s been a lifelong pursuit for Rim and his mastery at multiple disciplines provides him a significant advantage.

“I was always an artsy kid, since I was really young,” Rim said. “I used to paint a lot, and I played cello professionally. I went to college for fine art. Simultaneously, I started to produce and compose music—I really enjoyed the two, and didn’t want to give up one over the other, so I found a medium that would allow me to pursue both—motion pictures. I decided to pursue film, since I could focus on both visual and sound art.”

The course was set; after completing training in editing, directing, cinematography and production design and earning a BFA at the Academy of Art University, Rim wasted no time in relocating to Manhattan. The ambitious young editor quickly landed a position at the prestigious creative agency-production company MATTE Projects, where a successive series of film and video assignments—each expertly complemented by the advantage of his sophisticated fine arts background—served as a very fertile proving ground.

Rim demonstrated impressive capabilities as a creative editor and editor on numerous productions, both at MATTE and well known international production company 37thdegree, but the driven young talent was also launching his own personal projects, and his work on Seoul-based electro-pop star Sailli’s 2018 music video “The Light” provides an insight into both Rim’s impeccable methodology and limitless ingenuity. While the project turned out to be far more arduous than anticipated, Rim rose to the challenge with verve and aplomb, creating a unique visual achievement that was chosen as an Official Selection of the 2018 San Francisco **DANCE** Film Festival, the 2019 Atlanta Film festival and the 2019 Bucharest International Dance Film Festival where it earned a Special Mention in the international competition.

 

“I knew Sailli from back when I was producing music,” Rim said. “We ran in the same circles and once I became a creative editor and director, he asked me to make his music video.”

“He explained that the song is about self–discovery—finding the inner light of one’s true self. I held onto that intention and started brainstorming.”

Rim’s invaluable blend of instinct and artistic simpatico—a rare intellectual and emotional proficiency—enabled him to really analyze and elevate Sailli’s concept, refining it to a strikingly impactful and collaborative creation. As editor on the video, Rim undertook a fascinating, less-is-more approach, one reliant on pure visual design, a fixed camera and a single, continuous shot.

“In this work, I wanted to express the sense of a motion picture,” he said. “I wanted to make the film feel literally like a single moving photograph, to encapsulate the idea of ‘a picture paints a thousand words.”

The simplicity and affect of this idiosyncratic, minimalistic work is arresting and heightened further by a very unusual graphic design element, one that broke some important new technological ground, another key aspect of Rim’s far-ranging skill and vision.

“The 2D collage effect was something completely new,” Rim said. “Even my team was hesitant of the feasibility of it, since it was something they hadn’t seen previously.”

While the finished product seems deceptively simple, for Rim it became a trial by fire.

“Pre-production was perfect, but the post-production creative editing was pure hell,” he said. “It was a very effect heavy edit, and as an editor with no experience in CGI, it was painstaking and miserable. I literally cried at one point.”

“Since this was a single take shot film, there wasn’t any room for trial and error–if I was unsatisfied with a frame, I couldn’t simply transition to another one. I had to be very intentional with the whole project and understand the confines of the footage.”

The dedicated auteur nonetheless saw it through, rising to meet each challenge head on and always refusing to accept anything but the full blown realization of his own perfected intention.

“It was very tough, and definitely different from my other works,” he said. “It was also such a memorable process, with lots of emotional ups and downs, efficiency and strain. There is no room for error, and no way to edit the flaws out. You just have to stick it through, and make sure that each frame is as great as could be. We worked on 5000 individual photographs that ended up making this great motion picture. Ultimately, it worked out and all these elements and challenges made this work enjoyable.”

Most importantly, he remained true to himself: “I was able to convey my vision as I had pictured it—which made it all the more satisfying. I made it work, and my first true baby was born into the world.”

Although still at the dawn of his career as an editor-creative editor, Rim has already established himself as a powerhouse force in New York’s highly competitive film and video arena, one whose ability to stand out—from the start—is his professional calling card. Rim’s winning combination of uncompromising creativity, technical knowledge, aggressive trouble-shooting skills and steadfast dedication to pure artistic expression places the editor in a league of his own and accounts for impressive, and his steadily rising, reputation.

“My personal creative philosophy is that there is no single right answer to anything,” Rim said. “The world isn’t black or white, its shades of grey—anything and everything can happen. I think good art is that which you can hear the artist’s unique voice, see the artist’s unique color and perspective. Most importantly, the artist must stay true to himself.”

 

A talk with renowned cinematographer Feixue Tang

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWhen Feixue Tang thinks back to growing up in Beijing, China, she recalls her middle school and high school years as being extremely dull and oppressive. The school system only cared about high grades, and students are then rated, ranked, and sorted based on academic performances. As an escape, the young Tang started watching a lot of films in her own time. She felt her life expand through immersing herself in all those different movies around the world.

“When I was in high school, I watched Elephantby Gus Van Sant. I was very impressed by the film as it showed me the great possibilities of what film as an art form could be like. I really loved how Elephantplayed with narrative structure and perspectives to tell the story artfully and creatively and how it utilized the form to serve the best of its content. While watching behind the scenes of the film it fascinated me seeing all these different crafts and creative minds going into the making of a film,” said Tang.

As a young teenager, Tang knew she wanted to one day go on to making movies. She wanted to tell stories and share a part of herself with the world through her work. Now, she has achieved all that and more. She is an award-winning cinematographer, internationally in-demand with a series of decorated projects highlighting her resume.

Throughout her career, Tang has shown what she is capable of as a cinematographer. Earlier this year, she made headlines with the multiple awards she took home for her outstanding cinematography on the film Here & Beyond. The experience of making the film, for Tang, was one of the best of her career, and the awards and recognition are secondary to simply loving what she does.

“I would say the highlights of my career are the moments when as a cinematographer, you meet a director that you can communicate so well with and with whom your collaboration is so spontaneous, fluid, inspiring and creative,” said Tang. “The collaboration with director Colin West on Here & Beyond was definitely one of my highlights. We talked day after day in pre-production discussing how to create the visual world for his film Here & Beyond. That collaboration, the continuously mutual inspiring experience was definitely why I chose and love this job.”

Here & Beyond is just one of Tang’s many success stories. She was also recently nominated for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards for her work on Lumpkin, GA, which dives into the issues surrounding America’s immigration policies by documenting the stories of a small town with a huge immigration detention center right next to it.

Lumpkin, GA’s praise is hardly Tang’s first success story in the documentary genre. Her film Who We Are, a film that starts in the midst of America’s Opioid Epidemic when a Southern California family searches for meaning in the wake of their son’s death, received critical acclaim at many international film festivals.

Undoubtedly, Tang is a force to be reckoned with as a cinematographer, and she understands the intricacies of the artform more than most. She did not always know this would be her path, but she knows she is just where she is meant to be and worked hard to get there. For those who are pursuing a similar dream, she offers the following advice:

“I think in general to work in film you need to be really passionate about what you do. It’s working long hours, it’s challenging physically and intellectually, and compared to other jobs it has so many turbulences and unknowns. I think feeling that you honestly love the job and enjoy being emerged in it is very important. And then just continue learning and never stop,” she advised.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Tang’s future projects. She is about to begin work on a new feature length documentary, as well as a fictional movie. You can stay up-to-date with her work by checking out her website here.

 

By John Michael