The Way We Are

by Amanda Ann-Min Wong

The Way We Are is currently being submitted to film festivals, therefore only a short preview is available at the moment.

The full film will be available online in the near future.

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Artist Statement

The Way We Are shares excerpts of stories from audio interviews with 4 queer Asian women: Katherine Chun, Wenda Li, Tamai Kobayashi, and Nancy Seto. Told in the present-tense, these stories are arranged in a way that explores the past as the present, and in doing so, immersing viewers into the real-lived experiences from a different generation.

This film was inspired by the intimacy of looking through a photo album with loved ones; there is something nostalgic about the materiality of handling photographs, especially in this digital era where images are so increasingly ubiquitous. The act of sharing photos around a living room is a such physical and emotional reflection on the importance of community and family history.

I was interested in helping digitize and preserve some of the elders' archival photos and videos, as well as hearing their perspectives on their past, present, and future. It was an extremely moving experience, one that, honestly, changed my perspective on life. I felt such a profound connection to their stories and their material. It has been a real honour to develop friendships with these women, and to grow and learn from them.

Artist Biography

Amanda Ann-Min Wong is a filmmaker, writer, sound artist, and musician. Her film Swim Low (2016) was nominated for a Best Canadian Short Award at VAFF, and her film pitches Rosa’s Flowersand Nonya both landed finalist spots in national pitch competitions. Recent documentary works include An Object of Merit, a film about a Korean-Canadian ceramic artist who dreams of creating traditional Asian folk pottery, and the archival project The Way We Are, created as part of Invisible Footprints 0.3.

Amanda is also a sound recordist, designer, and composer with 35+ film and video credits under her belt. In addition, she was has also worked in television research and production for 3+ years, for shows airing on networks such as Reelz, Travel Channel, and TVO.

Originally from Singapore, she now lives in Toronto. In her free time, she loves jamming out with her queer, emo-grunge band, cutsleeve.

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Making Of “The Way We Are”

Audio Interviews from

Katherine Chun
Wenda Li
Tamai Kobayashi
Nancy Seto
Recorded by myself (Amanda Wong)

Archival Material

20 reels of Super 8 film courtesy of Wenda Li
Digitized at John’s Video

Photographs courtesy of

Katherine Chun
Wenda Li
Tamai Kobayashi
Nancy Seto
Digitized by myself (Amanda Wong)

Film Excerpts from

“How to Ask a Lesbian Out on a Date”
Directed by Tamai Kobayashi
Starring Hiromi Goto & Susanda Yee
“The Package”
Directed by & Starring Hiromi Goto
Digitized by myself (Amanda Wong)

Music

Excerpts from “she comes to shore: Concerto for Improvised Piano and Orchestra”
Composed by Lee Pui Ming
Performed by Lee Pui Ming, Piano
And Bay-Atlantic Symphony, Jed Gaylin Conductor
Used with permission

Process / Behind the Scenes


Origin of Concept

This film was inspired by the intimacy of looking through a photo album with loved ones; there
is something nostalgic about the materiality of handling photographs, especially in this digital era
where images are so increasingly ubiquitous. The act of sharing photos around a living room is a
such physical and emotional reflection on the importance of community and family history.


Process

I was interested in helping digitize and preserve some of the elders' archival photos and videos,
as well as hearing their perspectives on their past, present, and future.

Workflow

My workflow followed as outlined below:

1. Making connections with elders and finding people willing to share their stories.
With Tamai Kobayashi, I already had a previous relationship with her from acting
together with her in her play, Cold Feet. I met Nancy Seto and Katherine Chun through
Invisible Footprints workshops and forums, and Nancy called Wenda Li at her workplace
to ask if she would be willing to chat with me. After getting dinner with Wenda, we
realized that she also works with a close friend of mine – the world is so small!


2. Visiting the homes of the elders to go through their archival material – photos,
videos, documents – to gain some context and understanding about the material and how
it relates to them.


3. Digitizing the material for the elders.
For photographs and documents, I borrowed a photo scanner from a friend in graphic
design and used it to digitize the photos to tiff files at 300dpi or higher, with colour
correction and dust removal. I received many photos from each elder, and was able to
scan more than 300 photos/documents in total.
For the videos, I was given 20 reels of Super 8 film from Wenda and 1 VHS tape from
Tamai. I used the expense budget allowed from Invisible Footprints to pay for
digitization at John’s Video, a local store on the east end of Toronto.


4. Conducting audio interviews.
After going through the elders’ archival material, I went back to the homes of the elders
to ask them some questions through an interview format, and with their consent, recorded
their answers for use in the final film. I had this idea of weaving their stories together into
one film, but since all their backgrounds and lives were very different, I had to think of
questions that would prompt them to discuss certain aspects they would maybe not
describe in normal life. Something else I tried to have them do was to tell all their stories
in the present tense, as if it were happening in the moment. An example would be: instead
of saying “back in 1970, I was in love with this girl I met at the playground”, I would ask
them to phrase it like “it’s 1970, I’m in the playground, and I meet this girl. I fall in love
with her”. In this way, I wanted to help them revisit the feelings and emotions they felt
during that moment in time, as well as for the film’s audience to be immersed into the
elders’ lives, as if they are alongside them for the journey.


5. Editing the final film.
This was the hardest part of the process, because there were over 300 photographs in
material, not to mention the 20 reels of Super 8 video and the short films from Tamai’s
VHS. The audio interviews for each person spanned about 2-3 hours each, which meant
filtering through a total of 8-12 hours of audio recordings.
First, I used an online software to transcribe the audio recordings, which was not very
accurate but at least gave me a good idea of what was being said. Then I read through all
the transcripts and highlighted stories and moments I thought were notable. After that, I
listened to the recordings to get the time stamp for each highlighted moment.
I did not have a very good computer for editing but luckily my partner let me use his
while he was out of the country. So I shut myself in his apartment by myself for a full
week straight to edit the videos on his computer.

How I edited was to prioritize the audio interviews first – I went through the recordings
and cut out each of the notable moments I had highlighted in the interviews; this all went
into one sequence on Adobe Premiere. In another sequence, I would arrange the moments
from each person, like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find a theme and arc that would work,
and it would go section by section. This was also extremely influenced by the mood of
the music as well, which I’d sometimes edit simultaneously with the audio. After each
audio section was finished, I then added photos/videos to accompany that section, that
related to the audio or person talking. After all the sections were complete, I went back
and did another pass (multiple times) throughout the whole film to make sure everything
was cohesive. I then had to “animate” the photos, to make them move slowly across the
screen or to zoom in or out slowly, and this had to be done using keyframes for each
image. Lastly, was rough audio mixing of volume levels and filling in the gaps here and
there, as well as adding subtitles and credits.


6. Seeking permissions.
Before I started editing, I had reached out to anyone whose image was in a photograph to
get their verbal permission in case I used their image in the edit. After I had the final
picture lock completed, I then reached out to the people whose images I actually ended
up using in the film, to seek written permission. I also sought permission from Lee Pui
Ming to be able to use her beautiful music, which she allowed me to license at no cost as
an in-kind donation to my project.

Final Thoughts


After the symposium, we have plans to all get together for brunch to follow up on this
remarkable experience. What makes me the most happy, is that through this project and the
Invisible Footprints project as a whole, people have reconnected after years apart, friends have
been reunited, and new bonds have been made.


It was an extremely moving experience, one that, honestly, changed my perspective on life. I felt
such a profound connection to these women’s stories and their material. It has been a real honour
to develop friendships with them, and to grow and learn from them.

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Using Format