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Interview: Director Christine Yuan

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Christine Yuan is making waves with her distinctive online content. Her work has an ethereal feel to it, whilst bringing us into close proximity to the protagonists.

Her short documentary film 'GAWDS' was Shortlisted at the D&AD Next Director Award 2015. It exposes an oft-neglected lifestyle in a remote part of the USA. The images and personality will stay with you long after viewing. As part of our interview series of the best commercial directors, Yuan describes the shoot, discusses her other projects, and outlook on the art of making a film in the 21st Century.

Christine Yuan Filmmaker

What was the inspiration for GAWDS?

I volunteered at the Navajo Nation in Arizona throughout college and we taught classes at an elementary school and helped build a youth centre at the time. When the idea came to create a tribute, I immediately knew I wanted to explore the Navajo youth so I contacted the coordinator at the youth center and he connected me to a couple teens. It felt like GAWDS was in the making years before it even happened…

Describe the process from idea to finished film?

I talked to several teens over the phone and there were some thoughts about getting multiple perspectives but ultimately when we arrived at the reservation, we met with Colin (GAWDS) and I knew he was the one. I really connected to his rebellious spirit, his love for art, and his need for self-expression, no matter what the consequence. 
 
We hung out with him for three days and really bonded the first night when he took us out tagging. Another favourite moment was when he shared his love for pow wow with us at his home. It was really beautiful to watch him slowly peel back his layers and share himself with us. 
 

What was the biggest challenge when making GAWDS?

The biggest challenge was in the edit and figuring out how to share Colin’s story. Our first cuts were more direct and information-based, but it just didn’t feel right. It took a little bit of time and finessing (as always) to get the feel of the doc to a more poetic and subtle place. My intention was to get the feeling of the film to reflect the feeling of being on the Rez – quiet, almost empty, yet at the same time beautiful and vast.

The Child of Lov is an extraordinary video, where did the idea come from, and how did you realise it?

Thank you. The Child of Lov video is really special to me considering Cole (The Child of Lov) is no longer with us. I’m grateful to have collaborated with Cole who was an exceptionally talented artist who left us too soon. The idea for the video came from the lyrics of the track. The song felt like an omen for death – not in a scary or foreboding way but more like an honest and courageous acceptance of it.

I really feel that this video was divinely guided by Cole’s spirit. We pulled production off in a week and collaborated with friends to put our resources together. From shooting to editing, everything came together so smoothly and organically. It was a special, intimate production that I don’t think I’ve experienced the ease of anywhere else. 

How do you describe your film-making style?

Intimate portraitures with a twist of imagination.

You've worked a lot for High Snobiety, Vice, Dazed etc. What effect is the growth in online media brands such as these having for artists like yourself?

It’s remarkable to be supported by larger online publications who not only encourage your work, but make it possible to be made. Jen Byrne at Dazed is someone who has really encouraged me in the past, especially with my short film DIYU. That was such a rare and special opportunity to be able to make something with such creative freedom and I’m so thankful for her support. It’s a very exciting time to be an artist with the internet as a platform because people are a lot more accessible and opportunities seem endless. And if there aren’t any immediate opportunities, you can always create your own.

How valuable are self-initiated projects?

Self-initiated projects are so important because they allow you to harness what you want to explore or say about life, art, whatever. It’s like an unfiltered channel for your soul to sing and shout and tap into something really honest. It’s also a space to play and experiment and come together to collaborate with people who’s work excites you. 

What has been the key to your success?

Patience and collaboration. I am only as good as the people I surround myself with and everything I’ve done has been possible because of the collective effort that went into it.

Why are competitions and awards important for creatives?

Competitions and awards are another way for creatives to showcase their work and put themselves out there. The responses from these opportunities are really surprising and enable an artist to further connect with people and brands they could potentially collaborate with in the future. I still feel new to this world and am happy to be walking down this path!  

The D&AD Next Director Award aims to discover and showcase the next generation of talented directors from around the world. Are you next?

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