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Film Interview with Kerry Yang

November 1, 2010 | By | 1 Comment

Matthew Blake

Kerry Yang just graduated from college this spring, but she has already developed a distinctive style as a filmmaker – impressionistic, somewhat abstract work that reflects on her Taiwanese heritage. Kerry was born in Taiwan and moved to Pennsylvania as a teenager. She went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she developed an interest in filmmaking, specifically a desire to use film in a way that reworked portentous moments in Chinese and Taiwanese history. On the Eve of the Opium Wars shows a decadent, mid-19th Century Chinese aristocracy under the Quing Dynasty that is unprepared for the oncoming opium trade disputes with Great Britain. Orange Bat shows a strained Taiwan in the 1970’s when the People’s Republic of China held the island under martial law.

I talked to her about her interest in these themes and how they might fit, or not fit, into the Chicago DIY filmmaking scene.

What are you doing now?

I’m actually writing a feature film right now but the filmmaking is expensive and I need a lot of freelance work to fund my next film. I just shot a video installation last weekend commissioned by the Fifth House Ensemble band.


I’m also working on videos for Fifth House Ensemble that goes along with their performances – these videos are shown at the intermissions of their shows. It’s their creative themes, but it’s pretty loose and it’s just visuals. Making these kinds of videos is really new for me and I’m just experimenting.

What are you trying to accomplish in your movies?

I re-appropriate Chinese and Taiwanese historic moments – my films are trying to give a comedic feel to tragic events. These moments were so pathetic that they’ve now become absurd.

My goal is to continue making films that reflect my interest in Chinese and Taiwanese histories. I like to retell stories and deliver criticisms through the lens of these histories.

Talk about On the Eve of the Opium War and Orange Bat.

[On the Eve of the Opium War] is about the twilight of a corrupt and indulgent people. These people are part of high society but they are longing for a proletarian spirit. The people never experienced hard work and an unexpected visitor comes from the west and this old man represents everything new to them and new to China. His appearance leads to the non-stop sound of warfare and ringing of alarms clocks but then it shows how China falls into a deep sleep. It shows that China itself refuses to awaken even after the West comes in.

[So the film is partly about] how China has been closed off for a long time. They’ve blocked off themselves from western modernization until more recently and cut themselves off from what else is going on in the world.

Orange Bat is a political satire that challenges 1970’s Taiwanese nationalism in this fictional town of Orangeville. The film represents these Taiwanese towns that clinged to their old way of life in the vanishing farm economy. The 1970’s was a time of martial law when the government had all the rights to control everything.

What is your audience?

My teachers have talked to me about this – they ask if my films will be received well, but I never really think about it. It’s a weird position I’m in – there’s a foreign side to my films here [in Chicago] but there’s also a foreign side to my films to my audience back home. There’s a weird tension between east and west. Western audiences might find my films peculiar and interesting, but back home they are more conservative talking about history. I think it might upset [people in Taiwan and China] because they don’t understand it’s playful. So I see myself continue making films in the states because the audience is more open-minded.

What do you think of the Chicago film scene?

I think that Chicago is a very encouraging place to make independent films because they are a lot of community spaces like Nightingale Theater and High Concept Lab and other independent galleries that screen [independent films]. I think what’s unique about Chicago is a lot of productions are independently done. Most filmmakers and producers here have creative control over their work and that’s unique compared to big-scale filmmaking.

But I think if you are in Chicago and trying to make films you have to be really self-motivated. It’s very possible to shoot your film here but you need to broaden your connections. The resource side here isn’t as rich as the audience side

How do you make use of the internet and digital film? What do you shoot your films on?

Orange Bat was actually shot on 16mm, which was very expensive. I still love and feel nostalgia for the texture of film but [my next film] will be digital.

As for the internet, I’d still like my movie in a quiet, theater space. I’m still debating about how to distribute my work. I think the internet is a way to market who you are as a filmmaker but I don’t think it’s the place to screen work. Especially my work, which is theater oriented and requires a conventional movie space to show it, I think. The internet is better for interactive and niche kind of work and I don’t see myself in that area.


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Comments (1)

  1. BouChen

    Great interview!

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