One Sunday between meals and chores with her family, ten-year-old Leah experiences small but striking moments of longing and loss. A series of reimagined memories, the film offers a meditative and wistful glance into the intersectional identities of being Chinese-Australian.
That is the premise for short film When The Sky Was Blue– written and directed by Rae Choi and produced by Choi and Sheree Ramage. A very interesting premise and one which is very complex and layered, focusing on identity, culture and what it means to belong. For writer and director Choi, making this film was personal for her, and she wanted to write something which truly represented her own experiences of finding out who she is as a Chinese Australian and go through all the motions.
“I began writing this film during an incredibly transformative and transitional time, during which buried childhood memories would emerge and wade into my periphery, demanding that I pay attention. I was faced with confronting reminders of loneliness and self-doubt, and the sweeping ambivalence that comes with straddling multiple worlds and being too young to understand how or why”.
Rae Choi headshot.
A very deep and thought provoking reason for creating a film. But let’s find out more about writer and director Choi – who is she, what is she all about and what motivates her to be a filmmaker?
“I am a second generation Chinese Australian. I am a passionate filmmaker and over the last few years have been doing a lot of writing and directing. Part of my work is all about telling stories from a very intimate and personal lens. So I tell the stories which I can connect with and that’s why I am moving into that space of writing and directing. In my work, I also like to draw upon my cultural background, which is not just about what I look like or the colour of my skin, but it is about my interests and things which lights my fire,” Choi mentioned in a recent interview with Being Asian Australian.
So, the film When The Sky Was Blue is seen through the lens of a ten year old girl. We asked Choi about this and why she particularly chose to use the age of ten – which is still considered a kid but one which is about to enter their teens/tweens.
“I suppose part of it is that I experienced a lot of my identity issues and other things at that age. Elise Li Kruger who plays Leah in the film is also at that age of ten, so I also wanted to work with her and where she was at in her age and life. I also feel being ten is an interesting time and age because it is the time of your life when you are emerging from what people say is being a child and its an age where you start questioning what is happening and going on around you. For the character Leah, she is also trying to connect with her family and is observing the things happening within her family. She is also trying to learn about the world and find out where she belongs”, Choi discussed.
Writing, directing and making a film which is loosely based on personal experience is similar to exposing one’s self to the public arena, where judgements in the court of public opinion get made. Talking about cultural identity, self doubt/hate and going on a journey to find where you belong is a very emotionally draining process. For Choi, it was very important for the film to stay true to what she experienced growing up and see all of this as a creative exercise. In that way she was able to manage the emotional journey and reminders a layered film like this takes on a person.
“It is something that I very much grappled with when I was making this film. I wanted audiences to have access and understand the experience I and many other Asian Australians would have went through, and in many ways I wanted to stay true to that. Something that I found very helpful for me at the time to manage my emotions was to see all this as a creative experience that would enrich me and add to my imagination and creativity. In many ways listening to various podcasts and reading books on filmmaking helped me a lot and I hope this film can be seen as more aspirational and audiences will get something out of it after watching it”.
Something interesting and awesome about this film is that the majority of cast and crew are either Asian background and/or female. Choi discussed this and stated that it is more than just working with any Asians and/or women, but it is about working with people who she and others working on the film could feel safe as well as understand and emphasise with the experiences presented in the film.
“I am quite proud of the demographics of the cast and crew I worked with in making this film, but really it does still come down to the individuals you work with. I can’t say I can just work with any group of females or Asian/Asian Aussies, but it is about working with those I feel safe with and those who really get what this film is all about. The cast and crew for this film, I definitely appreciate all of them and what they were able to contribute. This was really the first experience where I did have full control of where this film went creatively, and that in a way was a scary experience, hence that safe space was important. I also wanted to create with people who were invested and cared about the film and the story, and this cast and crew fit that perfectly”, Choi expressed.
The cast for When The Sky Was Blue includes Elise Li Kruger, who plays Leah, Oakley Kwon who plays Li-Jing, Yu Sun who plays Fei-Hong, Sarah Xu who plays Claudia, Hsiao-Ling Tang who plays Josephine, Graya McIver who plays other girl and Pang Ping Ting who plays Grandpa (Ye Ye).
The film has already had its screenings at local and international film festivals and has been nominated and shortlisted for film festival awards. If you are interested, you can check out When The Sky Was Blue online by going to Rae Choi’s website: http://www.rachelchoi.com/wtswb.
Also, Choi is fundraising for her next short film called WAVES. She is at 50% of the $15,000 goal, so if you would like to contribute, please go here to make your conation: https://artists.australianculturalfund.org.au/s/project/a2E9q000000ClN2/waves-short-film.
Images provided by Rae Choi