TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 06: Aisling Chin-Yee attends "The Rest Of Us" premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival at Winter Garden Theatre on September 06, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Aisling Chin-Yee

Aisling Chin-Yee is an award-winning producer, writer, and director based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. As a producer for over a decade, Aisling has been lauded for her fresh and unapologetic vision in both feature films and documentaries. She produced the award-winning feature film, “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” which was a TIFF Top 10 film in 2013 and won the Best Director Award at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival. She produced another award-winning feature documentary that same year, “Last Woman Standing.” 2014 marked her year as writer and director with the short film, “Sound Asleep,” that premiered at the Lucerne International Film Festival. In 2015, she directed the multi-award winning documentary, “Synesthesia,” that won the Best Short Documentary Award at the International Crossroads Film Festival. She also produced the gritty urban drama, “The Saver,” that was released in spring 2016, as well as the political documentary, “Inside These Walls.”

Alongside filmmaking, Aisling is an active change maker for equality and diverse representation on and off screen. In 2016, she co-founded the #AfterMeToo movement, which includes a fund, roundtable series, and report that brings to light the issue of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry. In 2018, she was selected in the inaugural cohort of professionals in the “50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment” in Hollywood. Aisling is a Berlinale Talents, Rotterdam Producer’s Network Alumni and Tribeca Film Institute participant and was part of the prestigious Academy Women Directors’ Program in 2017.  She is a prominent voice promoting inclusion, pushing the status quo, as both a creator and an advocate of other women and diverse perspectives and was named one of Canada’s Rising Film Stars by “Now Magazine” in 2019.

Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where her debut feature, “The Rest of Us,” starring Heather Graham, Sophie Nélisse and Jodi Balfour premiered.

 

 

 

 

 

How did the film come about?

Aisling Chin-Yee: I’ve been a producer for the last fourteen years or so, and I’ve produced different types of indie films and documentaries and series. The script was written by Alanna Francis and Babe Nation Films had the script. Katie Nolan, who’s one of the producers and founders at Babe Nation, had worked on one of my films that actually premiered at TIFF in 2013, called Rhymes for Young Ghouls, and we stayed close and we stayed (producorial) friends, and she had this great script. I read it as a friend of hers and was like: “This is an amazing story, this is an amazing script! It’s so touching, so funny…” and I was really supporting her as a producorial friend. But I had been making my transition from just producing to doing more writing and directing, so I just asked: “You know, I love this film. I really love this story. If you’re looking for a director, I want to throw my hat into the rink.” Then, it kind of went on from there; it just made a lot of sense. They really took a risk. It was the first time I directed a feature film, obviously. It was such a lovely opportunity because I am attracted to making stories that are character-driven. It’s a story that really touched me; the connection between the characters, their struggles, their internal things and the stuff that’s left unsaid really touched me, so I wanted my chance to make it.

It’s a small-scale examination of fears and grief and it’s very complex at the same time. Can you talk about that?

A.C.-Y.: The interesting thing, I think, about this film – because it’s not plot-driven film; it’s a character-driven film – is really taking the time to understand the nuance of the emotional impact of something big happening in your life like a divorce or a death or moving from home and these women are all trying to figure out themselves and each other in this moment of change for each of them. And there is one incident, the death of Cami’s ex-husband and the death of Rachel’s husband, that brings them under one roof to have to do all this work together. So it gets a little messy, the relationships and their judgments are tested. I think that what is great about this film, because it really does only take place in a couple of different places, is that you can get into that gray zone and that nuance of these character relationships and each of their own journeys through this moment.

Yes, because they all must contend with their own grief, truths, flaws and secrets and they have to see if the past will dictate the future. They all feel different things and have different struggles.

A.C.-Y.: They’re each going through something in this film, but a lot of the experiences are shared and that, I think, is them thinking that they’re all alone going through something that is completely unique to them or feeling feelings that they don’t want to express to their loved ones or people around them. And what gets deconstructed or what just gets peeled away is actually that they’re all going through the same thing, but in their own way. But they’re on a similar emotional path. A lot of that is feelings that we are only now starting to talk about in our culture, but I think, as women, we identify with: trying to be perfect, feeling betrayed or feeling like the betrayer, feeling a lot of shame, or just apprehension of how to persevere and get to the next phase without showing any weakness – because it’s often seen as a male characteristic not to show any weakness, but I think women have to do that much more than men. As soon as we’re seen as flawed or we’re seen as not doing anything, then we can lose credibility. So I think that the film examines that and unpacks that vulnerability.

Can you talk about each of these women? How do you see them?

A.C.-Y.: Cami is somebody who feels like she needs to be perfect: she needs to be a perfect mother, she needs to be a career woman, she needs to have a perfect home, she needs to tick all of the boxes that make her top-notch. But she is also very lonely and she hasn’t really allowed herself to feel the feelings that she has, to feel the sadness or the grief or the betrayal of what this person who dies at the beginning has done, but also how she feels about Rachel and how she feels about her daughter.

Aster is a teenager; she’s in all of the wonderful ways of being a teenager that I find very familiar. It’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but I remember all of those feelings so alive. Your emotions are always just at the tip of our fingers, at the tip of your tongue and anything can set you off and she’s grappling with some difficult stuff, so she wants to try and present herself as tough and that she doesn’t need her mother. But she does need somebody to understand her, and that’s where she is reluctantly drawn to Rachel’s story.

As for Rachel, we see so many stories of the other woman and we vilify this person as a home-wrecker and all of those different words used, but she has her own journey, her own story and she’s dealing with her whole life being turned upside down. She loses her husband, she loses her home, has to start fending for herself and she suddenly starts living with the woman that she’s always felt in a rivalry competition with and who has all the things seemingly that she doesn’t, which is a career, a house… What I love about her character is that she’d always seen Aster and Cami as this idea, but not as real people. They never saw each other as real people before that, so she’s also confronted with: “Oh! This is the woman who was married to my husband and she’s going through something and maybe even if I don’t like her, she knows exactly what I am going through because she knows him.” She has a lot to go through in this film.

And then, with the little Tallulah, she is obviously the smart precocious kid and she is the thread that links it all together because she has this kid way of expressing herself and doesn’t have a lot of filters in what she wants to do, who she wants to be, who she wants to hang out with. But she’s also literally carrying the weight of a lot of grief and responsibility on her. So what we may think of the comic relief little girl, she is actually dealing with this in her own way and we see that in Abigail Pniowsky’s performance. She is so great!

This film is very female-centric, but it was also made by women and produced by a female-led production company. Can you talk about this process of working?

A.C.-Y.: Women working with each other is great! As I’ve said, I’ve been a producer for a long time and I’ve worked with a lot of female filmmakers and I’ve made a lot of films starring women, but I’ve always worked with a lot of men too. And I love working with men – you have to work with everybody – but there’s a kind of shorthand when there’s all women in the room. We could all talk very personally about how we felt about each of these characters in a way that didn’t feel like anyone was talking over anyone else which happens so much when you’re in a room with loud guys. We all came to this project with our own experiences, opinions and ideas and, of course, that makes for a very lively discussion, arguments and thoughts, but it was just easy! It was an easy way to interact – also with a lot of men too, like Daniel Grant who’s a man, but also a very sensitive person who has his own relationships with women, of course. He read the script and identified very strongly with the characters, too because of his own relationship with his sister or his wife or mother. So it’s a story about women, starring women, but the subject matter is universal.

There has been so much talk about women in film in the past two years. What do you think about the situation of women in the film industry today? Where do you see yourself in the discussion?

A.C.-Y.: There’s a kind of feeling of: “It’s about f&*^ing time!” I’ve always wanted to make films, and I’ve looked up to a lot of male directors or male writers and female directors and female writers too, but when we’re seeing women telling stories, we’re seeing a much wider and diverse way of telling stories that don’t just fit a certain mold or a certain formula. And it has been really refreshing to see this industry go though that and, now with the lens being put on, there’s a demand culturally and creatively to see more women filmmakers, more people of color behind the camera, more indigenous filmmakers, more female stories, more female production companies. More female production companies are growing and developing projects, so we’re seeing a really interesting boom of great storytellers coming out, who didn’t have a seat at the table before because the people who were making decisions were only opening the smallest little crack to female filmmakers or filmmakers of different gender, or filmmakers of color. So I’m happy to see the industry recognize that this is something to maybe make up for because the stories got boring, but there’s still so much to be done. And it’s not just women stories; it’s not just women filmmakers. It’s women of color, it’s transgender filmmakers, it’s LGBTQ filmmakers, cast… It’s doing all these things in a very, very inclusive and holistic way because if we just say: “Now, it’s the time for women” and we exclude everybody else, we’re not doing anything to advance inclusion and making good films. So it’s nice to see this progression and there’s a lot more that still needs to be done.

Who’s your favorite female filmmaker? And favorite film by a female filmmaker?

A.C.-Y.: I have a lot. One of my favorite filmmakers and one of my favorite films that I watch before I make any film or I start writing anything is Ratcatcher by Lynne Ramsay. It’s so beautiful in this gritty, raw, realistic way, but also very magical and very hyperbolic. I love coming of age stories and love stories about teenagers. I love that push when a kid or someone gets propelled into adulthood or forced to reckon with a situation that they’re living. And I love that film! And then, I remember the first time I watched The Piano by Jane Campion and going: “OK, I get it!” Where she puts the camera, the music, the color, and the texture of that film and her characters and her storytelling are just so rich, deep and bold and she’s telling a period piece with a main character who doesn’t say anything. It’s really phenomenal! Céline Sciamma and Bande de filles… That film was so gorgeous! It was neon and electric, almost. So there are so many fantastic female filmmakers out there that it’s hard to pick one.

What are your next projects?

A.C.-Y.: The film that I am currently in production is a hyper documentary that I am co-directing with a filmmaker called Chase Joynt and that I co-wrote with a writer named Amos Mac. It’s about Billy Tipton, an American jazz musician who came up in the 1940s and 1950s in the Mid-West and was a trans-masculine musician.

 

 

 

This interview was conducted at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. 

Photo credit: TIFF

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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