Yuning Shi was an immigrant woman and as spirited as her nickname, Little Red, would suggest.
She died before her granddaughter and namesake, Jacqueline Yuning Shi, was born.
But Jaqueline had heard plenty of stories about her father’s mother and decided to write and produce a film short that was less a documentary than it was a visual, imagined narrative.
“I wanted to make this film because I wanted to explore a bit more about her story. It was a great way to learn more about my roots and connect with my dad’s side,” said Jaqueline Shi, who studied film at Western for two years and is now in the Honours Business Administration program at Ivey Business School.
The short, Little Red, is among the featured showings during this year’s Forest City Film Festival.
The festival, virtual this year, features 75 films and runs live Q&As with directors until Oct. 25, with the films available for streaming until Nov. 1.
Little Red was featured Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. followed by a question-and-answer session with Shi.
She directed the film as part of a group project in Western’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities and it debuted at the Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto in 2019.
The eight-minute short – without any people on camera – tells the story of Yuning Shi by drawing the viewer’s attention through a house, with each room representing different times in her life: her birth and roots in China; marriage; immigration to Canada in the 1970s; raising a family in suburban Montreal; and getting sick with terminal lung cancer.
Two red shoes are a motif through the piece that symbolize milestones in Yuning Shi’s life. “It is an experimental, experiential, immersive journey through a person’s life,” Jacqueline Shi said. “One thing I take away from her story is that she persevered and took care of her kids. She really persevered through a lot of hardships and challenges.”
Shi advises other budding filmmakers to get involved in as many extracurricular film clubs as they can. For Shi, that has included being involved as photographer, director and now a podcaster with the Humans of Western group that profiles Western people in photos, stories and video.
Dorothy Downs, executive director of the festival, praised Little Red as “wonderful.”
“The thing about it is that there are no actors on screen. They’re all voice actors and just this incredible imagery that spans a lifetime, from a new baby until the time the woman dies. It’s so poignant and beautiful.”
Downs said it’s rare that a film by a current Western student is part of the festival, although there’s a wealth of strong entries from the Western community this year:
- Barbara Lent, professor emerita and former associate dean of gender and equity at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced The Gender Lady, a full-length documentary about Medical Hall of Fame doctor May Cohen;
- Josh Litman, BA’12 (Hons, Social Science), co-director and co-producer of The Sound of a Painting, a short film shot in Paris;
- Shelley Niro, MFA’97, Governor General Award-winner, a Mohawk of the Six Nations Reserve and a leader in experimental film, directed and wrote The Incredible 25th Year of Nipsi Bearclaw; and
- Astrid Van Wieren, BA’88 (King’s, Hons, English/French), co-director, screenwriter and actor in The River You Step In. (Van Wieren also starred as Beulah in the award-winning play Come from Away).