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Sundance Film Festival 2022
World Premiere
Interview

Stephen Kang 
Breathe
INTERNATIONAL LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS

stephenkang.net

At twelve years old, gifted Jaehee uses an unorthodox healing method that propels her into conflict with her overbearing father.

Hi Stephen thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

It’s been a strange year, to say the least. We’ve just out of the lockdown here in New Zealand. It wasn’t our first time the lockdown happened but this time it was hard for me because of all the anxiety, uncertainty and all that. It’s good that some people can concentrate during this time and produce work but I couldn't. It certainly wasn’t some sort of creative retreat for me.  

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

I try to be in some kind of routine - doing house chores, consuming lots of content etc. and not thinking too much about making something. In a way, I think it helped me keep sane.

Your short film Blue won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Critics’ Week 2011, how much did winning such a prestigious award help you on your filmmaking journey?

Since then I’ve written a few screenplays that is in various stages and development. It hasn’t been fruitful so far but at least I’ve got some finished script.

Congratulations on having your World Premiere of Breathe at Sundance 2022, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of films?

I’m so grateful and honoured to be selected. Also super cool to screen alongside fellow kiwi Taika Waititi’s Two Cars and One Night, Roseanne Liang’s Do No Harm, Alison Maclean’s Kitchen Sink as part of the 40th anniversary of a short film program. 

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"One thing I try to do in the beginning of the process is to question myself, is there any different element than others who have done this before."

Can you tell me a little bit about how Breathe came about, what inspired your screenplay?

 

I was writing a feature script version of Breathe and there was an opportunity to shoot a proof-of-concept short film through the New Zealand Film Commission. And I jumped on that chance. For me, the story formed with a bunch of images/ideas, not just a single one. The one thing that stood out was an image of a girl peeking out from the window looking outside other kids playing on the street. And everything clicked from there. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you face bringing this film to life?

Finding the right talent was a huge challenge, especially for the father and daughter character. There aren’t many Asian talents in New Zealand let alone Korean actors. However we were lucky to find Gloria and CJ through a long casting process. CJ, who plays the father character, is actually one of my friends who has no acting experience. 

When working on a film like Breathe how close do you like to stick to your screenplay, do you allow yourself or your cast much flexibility? 

It changed a lot throughout the process. Because the two main actors hadn't had much screen experience, we did a month-long rehearsal process. We experimented and changed some of the dialogue and also how would they move etc. This really helped non-actors to perform more comfortably when we shoot. Also it was good for me to see what they can and cannot do very early on and figure out the better way. 

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

Yes. Sometimes pushing a bit more and experiment brings the best out of it. 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

I always love watching movies but I haven’t thought about making one until I got into the university. I went to study Design and there was a class where you can experiment with the latest technology called miniDV camera. By the end of that class, I was so obsessed with making narrative piece. It all started from there. 

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Has your approach to your films changed much since your debut?

I’ve learned to take my time, do the prep work well, don’t hyperventilate and just breathe. 

Is there any advice you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?

I consider myself as just starting out so I’m not in the position to give any advice to anyone. One thing I try to do in the beginning of the process is to question myself, is there any different element than others who have done this before.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Breathe?

I hope the audience will think about the time when they struggle to forge an identity and hope to break away from the cycle of boredom and expectation. But above all, scared and shocked by it.