Interview with ‘Kindling’ director Xinyi Zhu – “Abortion is a very political topic, especially in the U.S.”

Film and Television Business spoke to Kindling director Xinyi Zu about her short film Kindling which tells a moving story about two girls and the depth of their friendship!

The concept of this film is a story as old as time. True friends that have been torn apart by time and shifting circumstances, come together to support one another through a difficult time. In your own words, could you expand on what the premise of this film is and what do you believe to be the main take away from this film?

The premise behind Kindling is the reconnection between two friends who had a fight before that never got resolved. They have to resolve this issue because of how close they are—one has only the other when she needs someone to accompany her to get an abortion. This process is bound to be hard and burning because it’s part of growing up.

I hope the audiences can see themselves in Piper and Celeste and recognize this way of confrontation and then acceptance is just a lesson of growing up that we all shouldn’t be afraid to face.

The film clearly touches on the topic of abortion, but does not actually dive deep past the surface level of tensions surrounding the topic. Was this purposeful or was it challenging to present the topic in a real and sensitive way?

It is purposeful in that the film’s focus is on the two women’s relationship while the abortion is a circumstance. Also, being real and sensitive doesn’t necessarily require us to dive deep into every single step of an abortion, but is rather related to how we normalize this conversation as it is part of the conversation instead of a taboo.

Abortion is a very political topic especially in the U.S. because of how big of a topic it is, the nuances are often neglected. People should not forget that before it’s political, it’s essentially biological, psychological and emotional. Before it became a political topic, it’s simply the most fundamental human right, human choice and human experience.

I think there are films that quickly jump to political conclusions or overly dramatize by adding surrounding elements when including abortions as part of the films. While making Kindling, even if I am a woman already, I still had to really put myself, my actors and even my team in the feelings of an abortion—the pain, the fear, the hustle, the fight against the system, the self-reflection—to actually feel how much emotions it could trigger for the relationship in the story.

Sheridan Watson wrote the original script, what were, if any, changes you might have made to best portray the story?

Sheridan’s original script had a lot of youthful energy which I loved. We spent time to turn some of the energy from witty conversations to visual stuff such as silent looks or ways they present themselves in front of each other.

As a director, what attracts you to a script, draws you in and makes you think, I have to be the one to tell this story.

Personal relevance (story and value) and good structure (everything else can be changed but the foundation has to be solid to begin with).

A lot of the film was based off the micro-expressions between your two leads. How did you go about sourcing them as the cast, and what clicked it for you that you’d found your Celeste and Piper?

I was still in China producing a film when we started the casting process with a casting director. My only note for their looks was that I wanted them to look like sisters. Everything else was open. After the first round and after I came back to the US we did two rounds of callbacks when I saw Jill and Nicole together and their chemistry just totally drew me in.

Why and how did you get into the film industry? Where do you see it going in the future, with more and more films being recognized for their impact on social issues.

I’ve always liked watching films but never thought of pursing filmmaking until after college. When I studied Psychology at college, I crewed on film sets and did some development internships. Later I started working in art department and became a production designer. Then after a year or so I finally became determined that I want to be the person driving the storytelling—the director.

More films recognized for their impact on social issues will definitely define film better as part of the culture instead of just entertainment.

What’s next for Kindling and you, as a director?

I finished a new draft of a feature film script Nanzhou Brothers and I’m currently developing it. It’s set in Southeastern China and is about a penniless DJ chasing after a privileged theater director by pretending to be what he’s not. I’d love to talk to people who are interested.

Recently, I just acted in a two-character feature which was shot with a group of 5 friends. Later this year, I’m planning on directing a live action short which I wrote. Also directing animation for the first time on a Chinese new media project.

Although I’m not planning on a feature length version of Kindling, my new projects all concern topics on women, intimate relationships, and how they fit in the world of many social issues.

 

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