Celebrated Filmmaker Shiyue Xu Creates Own ‘Cinema Paradiso’
Shiyue Xu, an award-winning short film and documentary filmmaker, was so inspired by the Oscar-winning feature movie, Cinema Paradiso, that she incorporated one of its themes into her own movie and own life. Cinema Paradiso, which earned Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, tells the tale of a filmmaker recalling his childhood when falling in love with the movies at the cinema of his home village.
Firstly, Shiyue, whose widely acclaimed short YuanYuan recently earned the best short film award at the LA Femme International Film Festival, says the movie Cinema Paradiso influenced her from an early age, offering, “This film makes me feel that movies can heal people’s hearts and make people communicate with each other through movies.”
Secondly, director/producer Shiyue relates that growing up in China, most children are influenced by their parents to find more common jobs in finance or accounting or science. She recalls how she battled that and how she included her own special cinema in her short, Locust Tree: “For most Chinese kids, it’s challenging to keep their dream and passion alive, especially in filmmaking, which is not a common major study in University. In my short, Locust Tree, my main character, a young girl named Xiaohuai, gives up her dream of going to the US to study and learn about film because of family responsibilities. She feels it’s her duty to help her father take care of the disabled people that they live with in a home shelter. But she doesn’t give up on her passion on film, so she creates her own ‘Paradise Cinema’ where she puts on movies every night for the patients at their special shelter.”
Most importantly, Shiyue who has a BFA degree from NYFA as well as studying Radio Television Video and Film at New York’s Hofstra University, is now working on an MFA Documentary from Chapman University in California. She has persisted and followed her filmmaking passion against many odds.
For example, her short Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has also earned a WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival Silver Remi Award, the Fargo Film Festival Best Student Film. and North Hollywood CineFest Best Student Short Film. Additionally, this heartfelt film has also earned a Director Choice Award at the Thomas Edison Film Festival, and also earning several Academy Award Qualifying selections at the Foyle Film Festival, Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival, and the LA Shorts International Film Festival.
Furthermore, with this ongoing love of films, Shiyue has created her own special theater at home, suggesting: “Yes I do have my own ‘paradise cinema.’ I call my own home theater my ‘screening room.’ And, I will always play my films in there before I send them out to festivals or to be screened in public. I feel all films deserve a big screen, and it does feel very different when you watch it on larger screen.”
So, on top of her independence and maturity, she also benefitted by growing up in the city of Tianjin which is known throughout China as “The Land of the Arts” where the origins of many traditional Chinese folk arts came to be: “Growing up, I was exposed to the various art forms of Tianjin which ultimately helped foster my passion for the arts.”
Indeed, she overcame many odds, and, has used her own personal experiences to influence her own movies.
For example, while she has produced and directed several fictional films, her focus is now on documentaries, and one thing the Chapman University documentary program teaches is to be respectful to the truth. One of her upcoming projects is working to get her feature documentary Island into film festivals. The eye-opening documentary deals with the awful truth about depression where it’s estimated over 95 million people suffer under the radar. The filmmaker says depression is not often talked about in China — let alone in the West in some places.
She explains: “Digging into my personal experience can make me better understand the story and empathize with characters in a story. This is also supports my directing work, as I can better guide the actors’ performance. For documentary shooting, for example, when I was making Island, a documentary about depression, I could use the fact that I’ve had the depression experience before to better understand my film subjects.”
In short, Shiyue has her sights on a goal achieved by the director and producer of Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl), which won the Best Documentary Short Subject at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020. Of her own documentary feature, Island, she further explains about using her own experience: “One of my doc subjects said to me, ‘I am very happy to participate in this documentary. You help me understand that I’m not alone, so I want to live longer in this world now.’ I hope my film can help others, even if it’s only one person.”
Maybe one day soon Shiyue Xu will be screening an Oscar-winning feature documentary of her own in her personal Paradise Cinema.