VIFF 2013: Georgia Straight's I Saw You ads inspire Vancouver director's film
As Georgia Straight aficionados know, I Saw You postings have garnered a fanbase far beyond single people searching for lost connections.
Vancouver director Mina Shum (Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity) has held a longtime fascination with I Saw You ads that dates back to the '90s.
“Is it the most cowardice act, or is it bravery?" Shum rhetorically asked in a phone interview. "The anonymity behind it, yet it’s a yearning—it’s...[such] indirect communication and yet people get to write poetry.”
In fact, she has been so intrigued by these virtual messages-in-a-bottle that she not only made a short film about them, but she waxes psychological about them.
“I think they are indicative of our society’s fear of each other and so we end up projecting, as opposed to actually experiencing each other,” she said by phone. “It’s ubiquitous as the long-distance relationship these days. It’s much easier to be in a deeper committed relationship with someone who lives really far away than to actually have to deal with them because projection is way more tasty. It’s satisfying because anything you need that projection will satisfy.”
“I Saw You” follows a lonely heart (played by painter Ashley Andel) who, after spotting the woman of his dreams, places an I Saw You ad.
The idea evolved after being paired with Andel for Brief Encounters, a series in which two artists from different disciplines are paired up. Although Andel is not an actor, Shum wrote the script around his performance abilities.
As the main character pines for a response, he wanders about the city, encountering a gregarious gaggle of exercising elderly Chinese ladies.
“The idea for me is if you actually open yourself out to other people who aren’t in your immediate group, you might get what you need," she explained. "Everything you need might be right there, if we were only not so afraid….We have so much fear. A lot of it is our fear to reveal ourselves to each other. To be vulnerable is one of the hardest things in the world, and to be vulnerable to a stranger is even harder.”
What compounds this problem though is technology.
“It’s so much easier to isolate because of all the supposed communication tools we have," Shum said. "It means you can have an entire relationship with someone for weeks, going back and forth and you’ve not spoken. There’s actually no real human interaction.”
While the introductory narration does indirectly reference a Vancouver Foundation study about loneliness in our fair city, Shum said that the theme of her film is universal.
“I could’ve shot this in Hong Kong and it would’ve had the same resonance and said the same thing—although the gluten-free [thing], I don’t know if you can be Chinese and gluten-free,” she said with a laugh.
Known for features like Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity featuring female protagonists, she noted that this was her first time to craft a story from a male point-of-view.
“It’s really rare to hear about a guy feeling lonely, and buying into the Cinderella fairytale of happily-ever-after, and feeling the weight on his shoulders of being single.
In the end though, Shum explained that the film isn't actually about the I Saw You ads, but the search itself.
“It’s about longing and needing to know that you have everything...you need.”
"I Saw You" screens with That Burning Feeling on Saturday (October 5) and October 11 at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Shum will be giving a free talk about the film, called Some of the Things I’ve Learned About Filmmaking So Far, at Cineworks on October 17.