Interviewed by Kamalika Sarkar
We interview award-winning New York-based writer/director, Xiwen Miao. As a filmmaker, she directs narratives, music videos, commercials, and several other work. Her art stems from a global perspective and delves into social concerns and the genuine essence of people behind closed doors.
Xiwen Miao – Thank you so much for having me. I have always loved films, but I didn’t get into filmmaking until college. When I was a kid, the ritual in my family was to eat pizza and go to the movie theater every Friday night. This ritual ended about the time I went to middle school. When I went to college, I took a film class, and the feelings and memories all came rushing back. After graduating undergrad, I decided to pursue my filmmaking dream. I have been doing it since then, and I love it!
Cult Critic – How has the pandemic been for you?
XM – The pandemic has definitely been a tricky time for everyone. Being Chinese, my community was and is still going through a tough time because of Covid. As a filmmaker, I felt obligated to use my skills and speak out. Using the time I had, I wrote a script dedicated to the people who had suffered from the pandemic and addressed the incidents that happened to the Asian community. Luckily, this film, Cha, was made with the help and support of many lovely and talented people.
Cult Critic – Born and brought up in China and living in New York and gaining a successful career in filmmaking; how was the journey?
XM – I feel lucky every day that I could have the privilege to be a global citizen. Leaving my hometown, Hefei, at the age of 16, was a significant turning point in my life. The foundation of my value had formed by then and came to the U.S.; being exposed to the western culture shaped my unique views and perspectives on many things, which helped me as a writer and director.
Cult Critic – You are an excellent photographer as well. Do tell us something about your inspiration for photography and which fascinates you more – filmmaking or photography?
XM – I love both. They are both means to tell stories. When I photograph, I look for the minute moments in life because I believe some of those moments are overlooked and neglected in our everyday lives. I am an imaginary person, so when I see some photographs, I have a little theater going on in my head.
Cult Critic – Your career as a filmmaker is not only confined to direct films; you have a successful career in commercials, music videos, narrative cinemas and so on; which attracts you the most and why?
XM – Each format has its own beauty, and I don’t think they are exclusive from one another. I have more experience directing music videos and narrative pieces, and I apply narrative piece directing skills to music video directing and vice versa. They are all about putting creativity onto the screen at the end of the day.
Cult Critic – As an indie director, finding funds for production is a huge challenge. How do you manage to overcome this obstacle?
XM – First of all, I have to thank the fantastic team I had for the projects that needed funding. They believed in the message I was trying to deliver through the films, my producer, director of photography, editor, and everybody who worked on the projects. Once I had the support from the production side, I was lucky enough that the fundraising campaigns reached out to a group of people who were generous enough to help us out. Everything becomes easier and smoother when you find the right group of people.
Cult Critic – Which would be your career of choice in life if you were not a filmmaker? What other things interest you other than filmmaking?
XM – I have been a huge interior design fan since I was a kid. My mom and I used to go to open houses just to get inspired. I believe interior design says a lot about the personality, and the details in the design also tell stories, which I love. So, I’d say if I was not a filmmaker, I would choose to be an interior designer.
Cult Critic – You have had a very successful career till now and have been an inspiration to emerging filmmakers; would you please provide some tips for upcoming filmmakers?
XM – It is a competitive industry, so everyone who decides to be in it must mentally prepare for that. If you are not absolutely in love with filmmaking, the hard-working behind the scene, don’t choose to be a filmmaker. Once you are in the industry, network as much as you can. Getting to know people is key here.
Cult Critic – What is the next project that you are working on? Would you tell us something about it?
XM – I have different projects going on, both in the music video/commercial sphere and a couple of narrative pieces. I am developing a feature script about a young Chinese gay man who lives in New York City who struggles to come out to his mother due to their cultural roots. Meanwhile, I am collaborating with other creatives on a short film about organ trafficking. And, of course, I am making music videos and commercials for artists and brands across the States.