Siqi Song is a film director and animator from China, currently based in California, United States. Song is best known for her animated short film SISTER, which explores the deeply personal implications of China’s One-Child Policy in the 1990s. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 2020 and has received numerous worldwide recognitions. Song’s latest work, THE COIN, explores the internal and external identity conflicts a young woman face. Song also directed the animation series ALL IN A DAY’S WORK, which shines a comedic spotlight on young entrepreneurs and small business owners. Song was named a Directing Fellow by Film Independent in 2018, where she received the LAIKA Animation Fellowship. She is recently recognized by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as a Breakthrough Director and Animator in the United States. Song has been a juror and mentor for animation films at various film festivals around the world.
Thank you for joining us, Siqi. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Siqi Song. I’m a filmmaker and animator from China, currently based in Los Angeles, California. I started my art career at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China, where I discovered animation as the perfect medium that combines two of my passions – visual arts and storytelling. So I moved to the United States to attend the California Institute of the Arts, where I specialized in stop motion animation. I made my first film in 2010. Since then, I’ve directed short films and worked as a designer and animator for several features and TV animation series. I have also served as a juror and mentor for animated films at various film festivals worldwide.
What brings you to art? What is your creative process like?
Arts help me think through human experience, knowledge, and perception. It provides me the means to learn about my culture and those that are different. I have been making films for the past decade, before which I studied Chinese Ink Painting. Chinese painting concentrates on lines: it does not try merely to represent the form and structure of the object. It tries to express the feelings and thoughts behind the form with the aid of brushstrokes, which is a powerful idea that stayed with me even while I was making other forms of art. I am most interested in crafting a cinematic experience that emotionally mirrors the feelings and ideas behind the actions in my work. I often start my narrative films with a documentary approach – researching the history details, interviewing people relevant to the subject, and listening to their thoughts, experiences, and feelings. The film language becomes my brushstrokes that form the body of the characters that are rich in emotions.
While I use various materials and processes in each film, my methodology is consistent. The subject matter of each film determines the materials and the forms of work. Stop motion animation seems like a perfect medium because the freedom to experiment with materials that fit each story is wild open. I also love stop motion because it has the quality of feeling real – because everything is physically fabricated and filmed in the real world, and unreal – because the inanimate objects come to life through the illusion of movement. In my work, I strive to find the space between unreal and real to understand how our inner world interacts with reality.
You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?
I’ve been directing independent short films and have worked on the production of several features and TV animation series as a designer and animator in the past few years. My short film SISTER, which explores deeply personal childhood stories, was nominated for an Oscar in 2020. I also recently directed an animated series titled ALL IN A DAY’S WORK, which shines a comedic spotlight on young entrepreneurs and small business owners. The series was released online in early 2021.
How do you define “success” in art?
The “success” in art is always in the eye of the beholders. I think successful art connects people. It helps people to see the world through different lenses. Therefore it allows them to connect with others emotionally. Having had the opportunities to live in China and the United States for many years, I’ve seen both cultures from opposite perspectives. I am fascinated by how the world forms through diverse perceptions of reality. As a filmmaker, my work takes a critical view of social, political, and cultural issues, with an aim to help people understand diverse cultures and connect by showing details of individual experiences.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
My daily life is to juggle between different kinds of communities, such as the filmmaker community, Stop Motion Animation community, Asian community, gardening community, or even a cat lover community on social media… “community” means every aspect of my life. It provides me with a sense of belonging, a safe space where I can freely express myself, get inspired, and connect with others. And most importantly, the community helps me to grow into a better artist and person by providing support and understanding.
When I first moved abroad, it made me realize how important my previous community was, and I struggled to fit into the new community. But it was not long before I realized that the move helped me inform my identity and a fresh perspective as a storyteller. I am grateful for my unique point of view. The cultural misunderstanding I see as barriers at the beginning now become my primary source of inspiration. I aspire to make films that can break community boundaries – that can help us understand each other and our cultures a little better than before. This is what drives me every day as a filmmaker and storyteller.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?
Make something people never seen.
text & photo courtesy of Siqi Song