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Take Me Home

After their mother's death, a cognitively disabled woman and her estranged sister must learn to communicate in order to move forward.

Hi Liz, it’s great to get to talk with you, how’s everything been going?


Everything is moving so fast it’s impossible to take it all in! To start with a Sundance World Premiere then bring the film to Santa Barbara International Film Festival and SXSW - I mean, we couldn’t be more excited.


How does it feel to be at Sundance 2023 and having the World Premiere of your latest short Take Me Home?


From the moment I got the call from Irene Soriano, our shorts programmer, we have been in total shock. I didn’t fully believe it till we got the official emails, and I was still holding my breath even when I was 3 feet deep in the snow of Utah. So I’m mainly just holding my breath and crossing my fingers and trying to act casual about it all! 


Your sister makes her acting debut in Take Me Home, what was the experience like getting to work with her on such a salient short film?


Anna is one of the coolest people I know. I have ten brothers and sisters and she is the youngest sibling. Anna has little short term memory, and has difficulty articulating herself. She is witty, stubborn, loving and hilarious.

She generally doesn’t like new situations, but she loves people and she loves to be engaged. During this film shoot she was challenged and I saw a clear development on the set - she was brave, confident and by the end of it knew exactly what to do. In one of the last shots, she started the scene, then when it was over said, “ok - that’s it” -  she basically called ‘cut’. Anna is a boss if the world would let her be. 


One of my favourite moments was when I was taking a break with my other sister Molly (the Co-Guardian/Associate Producer and our Educational/Community Director). We were laughing in the trailer while Anna was getting her hair done. Our HMU Artist, Lera Juno, had to keep re-doing Anna’s braid. Anna could feel her frustration. So, she turned to us and said, “I’m sorry, but you two need to calm down. You are too loud and SHE needs to focus and I need to centre myself. I love you, but you really need to chill.” She was so direct and articulate and right.


Is it something you’re both looking forward to doing again in the future?


This film was a proof of concept to prove that Anna can hold a film - that an audience will stay engaged with her for a feature. We are currently in development for this feature script. And I have an idea for a series that she would lead….  I’d be happy to write Anna into all my future work, but I think she might steal the show so I've gotta be careful. 

Can you tell me how Take Me Home came about, where did the inspiration for this film come from?


I’ve been worried about the inevitable moment when my parents pass away and what would happen to Anna. Anna was born at 2 pounds with a cyst on her brain which leaves her with little short term memory, and she will never be able to live on her own. 


Siblings of persons with disabilities are often the longest relationship. Many families are at capacity, living beyond their means, and do not have the knowledge or network for future planning. For aging, mental illness and disability - the healthcare system is a total futile mess - it can be overwhelming and you need to have an ‘able’ advocate to get caretaking that should be a basic human right.

This story is filmed in my parents house, starring Anna in her own story.  


Films about this subject matter are often about the siblings' burden and their loss due to this kind of responsibility - but in this film Anna is the one who is burdened by her sister’s immaturity. Anna has the biggest loss, she is losing everything she has ever known, her best friend and caregiver, her mother. 


This film is about a moment in time, an intense transition.  The film is not just about Anna finding her voice - but about others taking a moment to LISTEN to her voice.


How important is it for you to be able to use your own life and background in order to create the stories and films you make?

In my generation there was often little information surrounding your adoption. So the first story you hear as an adoptee is a story that mixes fact with fiction - the story of why you were given up for adoption. The second story might be about your birth country, told from the POV of your White American Adopted parents. And the third story is a speculation about your biology – who you are at root. 


As the middle child of eleven, seven of whom are adopted, I’ve always wondered about the power of story. How do these three stories shape our perspective of self?


I’ve been challenged with a very complicated and unique background. Growing up with a facial birthmark has often made me feel like an immediate outsider, or at times given me emotional insights with others. This kind of disparity feeds a curiosity into stories and characters. How can I not use my life experience as a jumping off point for filmmaking?  

Once you start shooting do you like keeping close to your screenplay or do you allow yourself and your cast some flexibility?


Each film is its own beast, that’s been said before by many filmmakers before. 


In my first film STRANGERS REUNION, I was married to every line. It was written as a response to my anticipation to meet my biological mother for the first time, so each line was pulled from a personal palpable place. There was a precision in the tension to capture the disconnect between language, culture and biology. 


For this film, it was always important to me that Anna would lead the film and we would give her room to offer a full dimensional performance. The script was written in her voice, in dialogue I’ve heard her say before, that I knew would be natural. One of the many reasons we cast Jeena Yi is because she has an extensive background in theatre. We wanted someone who would help create a structured improv for Anna to work within and had the stamina to do repetitions while maintaining an emotional presence. Since Anna has little short term memory, I would need to prompt lines at the beginning, then slowly pull away, and by the end, Anna would often understand the scene and hit the emotional beats with her own unique perfection. The process became a collaboration for the entire crew including our DP Minos Papas who had to be nimble in the way we lit and shot each scene. The final edit was built around Anna’s performance, the storyline was adjusted so that we could preserve her most authentic moments. Our editor Ashely Roby and I joked that it often felt like editing a documentary rather than a narrative. 

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?


The set was my parents home, my mother played herself, my husband was DP/Producer and my sister was the Guardian Co-Producer on the set. So family dynamics were alive! Keeping my artistic clarity was a challenge when I was also deep in reality.


I also felt a need to protect Anna in this new environment while she experienced the chaos of the set physically and mentally.


From the start my producer & DP Minos Papas and I both knew the schedule and days needed to give space for Anna to thrive. Most adjustments worked for the entire crew - 10 hour days, calm and good hearted energy on the set. Minos planned efficient lighting setups so that we could use as much of the day for long rolling takes. 


"The effects of our understanding and connection with the body are deep and unconscious - someday Id love to have the freedom to do a silent gestural film that is totally pedestrian and understated…"

Where did your passion for filmmaking and storytelling come from?


My background is in modern dance and experimental theater. But I realized I wanted to tell more personal stories that captured intimate, ephemeral moments. 


I am proud to have siblings who have struggled with PTSD, Borderline personality, Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, and Trans Identity. I’ve been exploring my own Adoptee trauma, Korean identity and relationship to my experience having a facial birthmark.  I think about these people and ideas a lot and want to tell these stories in grounded, reflective and dimensional ways.


Filmmaking has been a way to process intense experiences that I can’t control, or understand. How do I see the world through the eyes of someone that I have a complicated, deep love for?  How can I make a story that is fair to all characters?

How much does your choreography background help influence your filmmaking?


I majored in modern dance at North Carolina School of the Arts, so the definition of choreography is pretty open to me. I love shapes and gestures and wish I could spend more time in these abstractions. For this film, I took one scene and tried to do a bit of an improv instead of a traditional set up - we let go of the dialogue, created markers in the space, and then allowed the actors to adjust their spacing and lines within a series of rules.  I also like to look at a performance based on the authenticity in their bodies. The effects of our understanding and connection with the body are deep and unconscious - someday I’d love to have the freedom to do a silent gestural film that is totally pedestrian and understated…words are often unnecessary. 

In the past few years there has been an inspiring surge in Asian-American films, stories and televisions shows, what more can be done to continue opening the doors in Hollywood and beyond to more Asian-American filmmakers?


I’ve been thinking about this film for forever but have never had the support to make it real. The Reel Sisters Microgrant was the first money in and then we won the Julia S Gouw Short Film Challenge. With this first bulk of money and a mentorship with Janet Yang Productions and CAPE, I felt a new energy to push forward. It felt possible. These incredible women protected the story and have helped create relationships, additional financing and have been a key part of building a community so that I can continue to make work. There are plenty of talented Asian American filmmakers that are ready to make excellent work, we just need to keep pushing forward together and broadening our definition of what an Asian American film is. 


What are your top 3 tips for emerging filmmakers?


I’m not sure I should be giving tips to other filmmakers. I get advice from my close friends who have known me for years. They are in all different fields of creativity and can offer perspectives that are honest and outside the film industry. I like to keep my community broad and I don’t try to force myself to research hot topics - it’s personal and interesting to me…or it’s not.


As I find my grounding as a writer/director, I realize that the heart of my stories are written from my emotional POV. Breaking my stories is the same as uncovering my understanding of the world.  Often my films are not reflecting on the past but trying to control my fear of the future. 


Do whatever you want that feels true. 

And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Take Me Home?


I want the audience to feel deeply connected to Anna’s unique experience in the world. I hope it will equalize Anna, make the audience think about the way we listen to people with intellectual disabilities. 

I want them to realize that this world is totally insufficient and unsupportive to these families.

My hope is that this film will open up conversations to talk about the future so these people don’t get left behind. The world could work better.

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