Bonnie Vinegar’s debut short film, ‘I Hear You,’ explores the dichotomic value of oral and visual communication, and how our sophisticated language structures affect cognition, status, and relationships.
This candid thought-provoking essay examines our human condition with ruthless precision in a humorous, expressive way, posing challenging questions regarding our socially conditioned roles, and as to where we are today, as a species.
Glassbook explored the meaning of words and at times the lack of thereof, with film director Andi Haw Shuan Chu, and her all-femme indie filmmaker collective in London. In conversation, the collective shared the story behind the film, and how they are already gearing up to tackle yet another contemporary socio-cultural narrative through their lenses.
Where are you from?
Andi: I was born and raised in Taiwan. I spent quite a lot of time in the US, but I moved to London to pursue my master’s degree five years ago. I ended up staying here, and now I work as a DI colorist for film post-production.
Taiwan is culturally progressive, but Southeast Asian and European cultures are very different. How did those differences impact your day-to-day life when you moved to London?
AC: Culture-wise I feel like I fit into the European society and mindset. It wasn’t until I started school in London that I realized how challenging it is to translate what you have in your mind with words. That was the first time I noticed that language, as a form of communication, is quite limiting. It is the easiest way, but it isn’t as convenient as we think it is.
Was the concept of the film developed from your personal experiences?
AC: This film started with Amelia and me. She made the initial film. It’s the melon footage that you can see in the beginning – that is from her film – Melancholy. She asked me to color the film upon completion. I had to watch it countless times when I was color grading it, and that’s when I came up with this idea. Like ‘ah, she’s an alien.’ We then developed the concept to be an alien being interviewed on how we humans communicate.
We don’t think about this often, but, not only we are the only species that exists on every continent, as well as, we are also the only ones that have evolved to articulate ourselves with words, and on top of that our words have different meanings and values depending on the part of the planet we are from.
AC: I think that as humans, we are definitely very intelligent. I believe that we created language because we needed to communicate. Nonetheless, having such a significant language structure brings consequences with it. We didn’t anticipate all these barriers that are built from it. I feel that we are almost too scared to share fragmented ideas these days. That’s why you have professions as a spokesperson or speechwriter. People that polish what you have to say. I’m just kind of questioning it. Does it really need to be this complex?! I feel that words almost build a hierarchy and division around them. You could judge a person based on the way that they speak. They might not have such a breadth of vocabulary, or talk about the language well, but does that mean that this person isn’t gifted with intelligence? Does that mean that this person doesn’t have something meaningful and valid to share? We are used to discounting these people. Society got used to that. We have all these different words. We can call people immigrants, or you can call them ex-pats. Should those words really define and identify you?
Even the same word within the same language can have different undertones depending on localized biases passed down by culture. Example: ‘A fag’ in London means a cigarette; ‘a fag’ in the US is an incredibly insulting three-letter word.
AC: Precisely that. All the nuances that languages carry, they are about cultural attitude. I’ll give yet another example. When I’m telling a joke, I’m considered quite funny in Mandarin. But, when I speak English, I think people find me funny, but not the way I intended them to. Humor is one of those things that certainly don’t travel.
Other than language, you touch on different types of ‘tribal’ identification and communication that surpass spoken word, such as clothing and music. How you do perceive the impact of these outside the context of the film?
AC: With those, it kind of becomes like a packaging. It’s part of the way you present yourself to the world. The packaging and how you present it can overshadow the content at times. I feel like that in the way of how people dress. We try to make statements based on our fashion choices. That’s fine. What I think is important is to also look past that, and not make a judgment of someone uniquely based on how they look on the outside. We all know this, but it is so easy to get distracted by it.
I know that this was teamwork. Do you want to introduce the rest of the collective? Who was involved in this project?
AC: We are a group of independent female filmmakers. There are four of us: myself, Amelia Pratt, Gemma Partridge and Dominique English. This is the first film we ever made together. We made the official selection of London Short Film Festival 2018, ARFF and Le Petit Cannes amongst other film festivals. We had a blast working on this.
Amelia Prett: I co-wrote and performed in ‘I hear you.’ It was an excellent opportunity to work on such a unique project. I loved the concept and the crossover of mediums, exploring sci-fi, documentary, and fiction. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work with an all-female crew for my first short film project, and I’m particularly proud of what we achieved on a minimal budget.
Gemma Partridge: I am the cinematographer for Bonnie Vinegar. I DP’d ‘I Hear You’ and also composed the soundtrack. Working on ‘I Hear You’ gave me the opportunity not only to collaborate with my friends, huge bonus, but also explore taking my broadcast camera eye into realms I hadn’t explored before, and my first experience of painting with light.
Dominique English: I worked closely with Andi and Amelia to write I hear you. It was an exciting project to be involved in. I felt like we all had our say and could bring anything we thought to the table. I’m delighted with how it turned out; mainly it is a first film not only for Andi, as for all of us. There was no budget or outside help apart from a few friends drafted in. I like the pacing of the film and the way it feels very innocent.
What’s next for you, as a collective?
AC: Our next project will also be talking about the human landscape. Amelia and I had an observation, and we turned into a script. We’re in the pre-production stage. We are going to be talking about feelings. All of us can understand sorrow, joy, jealousy, but we all experience them differently. So we want to talk about that.
It’s called ‘The Recyclist,’ and it will go along the same lines as this one. We are now in the process of looking for funding. I don’t understand why funding has the word ‘fun’ in it. I hate it.
As a collective, we are going to continue to do things together. Most of our films we would like to target and focus on topics that everybody can relate to. We are going to tackle issues that are beyond the barrier and challenge us as a species, regardless of nationality, sex and age. We believe that at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. We are all humans, and there is definitely a lot of common ground with random strangers, and that is what we want to focus, as opposed to what divides us.