Film as Healing Art During Pandemic Era
By John O’Malley, Culture & Education Correspondent
When Beijing-born filmmaker, Yan Cui, learned last month that her short film about the Covid-19 pandemic won the Silver Award at the 2021 Three Acts of Goodness International Short Film Festival, she thanked, via Zoom, film festival officials, her crew, and the more than 15,000 attendees at the virtual awards ceremony and added that her film “Send My Breath Away” was dedicated to all those who helped each other during the pandemic . Cui, who lives in Los Angeles, said her film was in competition with two hundred films submitted from around the world.
“Like everyone, I felt the doom and gloom impact of Covid-19,” she said. “I turned to film and music as a way to face and overcome this dark despair I felt during the lockdowns.”
“Send My Breath Away” is the story of a desperately lonely young woman trapped in an apartment during the pandemic. Only playing the cello heals her pain and isolation. One day, her music connects her to an unseen piano player next door. They play music pieces together for a time without ever meeting. Then suddenly the pianist is silent. The young woman learns that her elderly neighbor died overnight from natural causes. In a note, the older woman tells how heartbroken she was by the recent death of her husband, who succumbed to Covid-19. She says also how grateful she was for the beautiful music the two women shared and how music brought light into her heart.
The film was produced by an all women team, Jing Jing Wang, Wendy Wan, and Cui, under the banner of her company, A Voice Films, and Hong Kong-based Hao Zhi International Ltd. in China. The film was made on behalf of the Rowland Heights, Calif. Chapter of the Buddha’s Light International Association. Wang, who represented the association, asked Cui in May to create a short film about the impact of Covid-19 on people’s hearts and minds.
Wan, who owns Hao Zhi International, said she was deeply touched by Cui’s script because she lost her father during the pandemic; her family could not hold a funeral for him. “I understood the sadness and suffering brought on by the pandemic and believed that Yan’s film would help heal some of that. I supported her effort wholeheartedly and financially. And I am so proud that our film received such a prestigious international award,” she said. Wan added that she even started playing the piano to help overcome her grief over the last several months.
Cui said that the 14-minute “Send My Breath Away” is one of a group of four shorts, a “pandemic tetralogy” that will be combined into a feature film, which she and Wan to plan to complete in May 2022 for submission to film festivals and for worldwide distribution. “Each film deals with the crushing effects of Covid-19, and each allows us to see human connections in totally new and truthful ways,” she said.