The least publicly praised and yet remarkably powerful professional in filmmaking today is unquestionably the editor. While the movie audience en masse may not know any of these talented professionals, the much more highly visible directors whom they collaborate with covet them as MVP’s of the film industry. A skillful editor can be the overdrive engine that helps a film achieve greatness and a unique vision. Those who work with editor Xiaodan (Christy) Yang can attest to this in her career and in regards to her creative perspective. Possessing a range as wide as any great thespian, Yang has helped numerous films and the creators of these productions achieve more than they ever thought possible. Two of her most recent films, Sunflower and Kayla, exhibit how this highly skilled editor can exponentially amplify the emotional tone of a story. Drastically different in terms of both story and storytelling style, Sunflower and Kayla have both been overwhelmingly embraced by critics and the film community. An investigation into the manifestation of the final form of each of these films communicates that the accolades and awards they received would be unimaginable without Christy Yang’s contributions and imagining of them.
Labeling Sunflower a “film” might be the most expected categorization but it’s more appropriate to refer to it as visual poetry. If that seems grandiose, it’s only because you have not viewed this film. Recipient of nominations from the Cleveland International Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, and Utah Film Festival, Sunflower earned a Diamond Award at both the Hollywood Film Competition and the Mindfield Film Festival Los Angeles in addition to the Bronze Remi Award at Worldfest Houston. Starring William Gunther (known for his work on the HBO Golden Globe Winning Series True Blood), Jessica Lee Morgan, and Chris Wagner, Sunflower provokes more questions than answers in the way that all great captivating stories do. Director Yaxiong Shao enlisted Christy Yang as the film’s editor as a fan of her story interpretation on prior films. He wanted a very engaged editor who would proactively pursue the varied possibilities of the footage. Yang relates, “In editing Sunflower, I actually was given a great deal of space to play. It’s not a narrative film or a drama; it’s more like an art film. The director was trying to use dream, imagination, and metaphor to set up the tone of the film. Because of this, there’s no absolute right and wrong in the cut and it doesn’t have to be chronological as long as the audience can follow the character’s emotion. Shao really wanted my editing to be totally free and flexible. He told me that I didn’t have to follow the script if I found a better way to interpret the emotion. Our goal was to break the regular narrative and be creative in how we tell a story.”
One of the most remarkable facets of Sunflower is the complete absence of any dialogue; a trait which made the editor’s work more demanding and the results that much more remarkable. There are numerous powerful scenes, accompanied by moments of space and a restrained use of sound effects. Christy Yang specifies, “One way that Sunflower is distinct from other genres is that the tension of this film is not created by fast pace editing. The strength, sorrow and the sense of tragedy actually come from silence. In other kinds of drama, dialogue is a very important part of the film. The audience understands the characters from what they say. The filmmakers use dialogue to build a character’s personality and make them alive. However, in Sunflower, there’s basically no dialogue. There’s a lot of sound in the film though; the ambience of the forest, the wind, the crash and the breath of the gold fish. When no one is talking, everything else is amplified. This silence emphasizes the strength of the film.”
Director Kate Bohan put the fate of her film Kayla in the editing hand of Christy, assured that the end result would be as remarkable as Yang’s previous. Kayla boasts some familiar faces, including John Atkins of the Oscar Award Winning film Bombshell and Joe Estevez of the legendary Estevez acting family (which includes Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Charlie Sheen). The film is the story of a young girl’s dream of singing and the tragic sudden loss of her father. The child of parents who come from different cultures, Kayla is herself caught between two very different worlds; the surreal one in which she envisions herself as a performer and the nightmarish one of losing her beloved father. More than anything, Kayla is a film about perseverance in the face of adversity. Garnering the Gold Award at the California Film Awards, the Jury Prize at the California Women’s Film Festival, and the Festival Award for Best Song at the Festigious International Film Festival, Yang was tasked with balancing the emotional tone of this film which could easily turn dark or sanguine depending on her editing choices. With more than a hundred scenes to choose from, the options were sizable. Christy offers one specific scene as an indicator as she informs, “There’s a scene that follows a big fight that young Kayla has with her grandparents. She has run away angry, determined to find her mother. She is scared and anxious, worried that she hasn’t thought this through. But Kayla meets a street artist, a musician. He shares an ice cream with her and helps her get in touch with her mother. As mother and daughter reunite thanks to this kind street artist, it’s clear how many emotional waves Kayla has experienced in this short amount of time. As the editor, it was my job to smooth this wave out and make it relatable.” This proficiency in finding the ideal connection between film and audience is an ability Yang has contributed to the betterment of many productions as evidenced by her Best Editing Award from the Top Shorts Film Festival and Award of Merit win at the Accolade Global Film Competition. Documentaries, Feature Films, Independents Shorts; all of these varied styles intrigue Christy Yang in their potential for an editor of consummate ability to steer the story in different ways.
Writer: Angela Cooper