We had the honor of learning more about Ursula Liang, whose film “9-Man” is featured in the “New York, New York” collection on the International destination all month long. Here’s what she told us.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity by XFINITY.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Ursula Liang: I was a print journalist for most of my career, but when it became clear that the world of traditional media was in a huge period of transition, I decided that I needed to have multimedia skills to survive and turned to film and video. I bought a camera off of Craigslist and bugged all my friends who worked in the business to teach me what they knew. And I essentially learned filmmaking in the process of making this doc.
What are some of your favorite films, or filmmakers who have inspired you?
UL: Choosing favorite films is like choosing favorite children—as impossible as it is prone to start arguments. Some films I loved over the past few years: “The Lobster,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “Love & Friendship,” “Cameraperson,” “Plastic China,” “Weiner.”
Some all-time favorites: “Bill Cunningham New York,” “Dirty Dancing,” “The Sound of Music,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Stevie,” “Adaptation,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Shut Up & Sing,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Do you have a favorite Asian-American film?
UL: I look to a lot of Asian-American films and filmmakers for inspiration. Stephanie Wang-Breal made an incredibly touching film, “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy,” and I take a lot of cues from how she approaches the process of casting and relationship building. I love Debbie Lum’s layered “Seeking Asian Female.” Within both of these women’s films, you can see the importance of being flexible and open to stories as they unfold. I’m also a big fan of Justin Lin’s “Finishing the Game” and everything that Grace Lee does—especially her activism.
How or does your Asian heritage influence your work?
UL: Being Chinese-American motivates me to tell stories about the community. When you realize that the world that you know is so absent and poorly represented in the media, you want to change that. I think most people don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain type of storytelling. I’d love to make all sorts of films, but when the gap is so vast between reality and what is shown on screen, you feel compelled to stay in the pocket and contribute as much as you can to how people view and understand your community. Because I am Chinese-American, I feel a responsibility to keep pushing our stories forward.
What is your outlook on the state of Asian-American cinema?
UL: I’m cautiously optimistic hearing statistics about the growth in Asian-American movie-going audiences. I think that it will take a surge of consumption for filmmakers to actually have the opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell. We need that support to convince funders and taste makers to take more risks on our creative ideas so that our films can reach outside of our communities. Too many APA films fall in the category of Asian-American 101 (e.g. my immigrant parents don’t understand me, I’m fighting the model minority stereotype) and pander to entry-level audiences. If we can start telling more nuanced stories and take chances on mold-breaking films because we have diverse and plentiful sources of support, I think APA cinema will become incredibly interesting.
Big thanks to Urusula Liang for taking the time to answer our questions. Watch “9-Man” on XFINITY Stream or on your X1 this month.
Check out all of the CAAM curated films on XFINITY this month!
For more Asian-American news and entertainment visit XFINITY Asia and look out for our Filmmaker Spotlights each month!