Profound while encased in the wonderment of childhood, that’s a bold description but there is none more accurate for the works of filmmaker Shiyue Xu. As a writer, director, producer, and any combination of the three, Shiyue has already sculpted a powerful and identifiable voice as an artist. Through the medium of film, she shouts the benefits of holding onto your youthful mindset, lest the world ferment you into a sour existence. Make no mistake, there is ample gravitas in her productions but Ms. Xu balances the weight of life with an embrace of the loving moments that are possible. The emotional impact of her style is astonishing. Two of her most well-known works, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Yuan Yuan, convey Shiyue’s transfixing style and how powerful it is. She has an inclination to see the world through younger eyes and in so doing, transport the audience to a place far more fascinating. Her films help us remember our own experiences at such an early age, reminding us to be kinder and more patient in our adulthood. An artist speaks from a place of personal knowledge and experience; an an Asian female director and producer, Shiyue’s work is imbued with great authenticity and exhibits her fondness for relating such stories.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a love letter intended “for all those who have passion and dreams.” Told through the life of an aspiring musician named Tommy, the message is certainly relatable to anyone who has purpose in life. The delivery of this concept is sublime in the film. Throughout the entire story, the song which shares its title with the film evolves and transforms. When we first meet Tommy as a very young boy, his grandfather is plunking out the notes on a piano. At his own high school graduation, Tommy performs a masterful rendition of it. From his music college audition to tapping notes out on his pregnant wife’s belly, Shiyue uses the song as a malleable emotional companion. From heartache to joy, this common element displays how Tommy’s life, like each of ours, is a tapestry that is woven together rather than a singular arc. Present throughout all of it is what we love, and Shiyue reminds us that this is what makes life special. The impressive dolly shot in the first scene, as Tommy is drawn to the piano at Christmas time, makes a powerful first impression. As the camera captures the awe and wonder on young Tommy’s face, the Dolly Zoom shot (carefully designed by Shiyue) unfolds flawlessly. The background expands, giving the sensation of time slowing down and Tommy being transported into a world where the piano’s melody is the conduit to his future. It reverberates with the powerful theme that music can shape one’s destiny. The synergy between the cinematography, music, and the young actor’s portrayal resonates deeply. As a producer, Ms. Xu has taken a highly attentive approach to detail. It’s quite noticeable that the different pianos throughout Tommy’s life are from different eras, passively lending to the authenticity of time passing. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a story populated throughout by moving moments such as this. An official selection at a number of Academy Award qualifying festivals such as the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, Foyle Film Festival, and LA Shorts Festival-Chinese New Wave Program, this film garnered numerous awards at prestigious events including WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, the Magnolia Film Festival, and others. Shiyue’s directorial prowess was proclaimed with a Best Director award at the POPPY JASPER International Film Festival as well as the Director’s Choice Award from the Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival.
Directed, written, and produced by Shiyue, Yuan Yuan blends of humor and the looming potential for tragedy. Ms. Xu focuses the story around the mindset of children who grew up in China under the “one child” policy and the subtle anxiety it cultivated. In this film, a six-year-old girl named Yuan Yuan believes she has discovered her father having an affair with her teacher. In defiance, she acts out against her teacher and this sparks discussion between her family members. While the story takes place in modern times, it actually speaks to young parents who grew up in China during the 80s and 90s who remember growing up during the “one child” days. While so many aspects of this film are special, it is the manner in which it takes upon the sincerity of the children and their perspectives with such authenticity that is most remarkable. While the camera angles and the performances place the audience in the emotional mindset of Yuan Yuan and her friends, the score nudges us into a place where we comprehend their innocent misunderstandings. All of this is delivered in a gentle manner which allows the audience to find these feelings and experience them alongside the main character. A moment which encapsulates so much of this film is when Yuan Yuan and her school chum discuss the “affair” and exactly what an affair is. It’s obvious that Shiyue Xu has stayed in touch with her own youthful wide-eyed wonderment and put it too good use in her voice as a filmmaker. Yuan Yuan was recognized with awards from WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival (Silver Remi Award), the International Children’s Film Festival (Best Children Film Award), among others. A filmmaker who uses her work to make an impact on society by championing the stories of children, women, and minority groups, Shiyue Xu commands drama and comedy in a manner so adept that one cannot help but feel the desire to become a better version of ourselves.