It’s likely that you’ve never stopped to ask yourself why it is that you enjoy watching a film so much. Billions of dollars are spent in the United States alone each year to watch movies; so it’s obvious that we love them but can we put our finger on what exactly it is that attracts us. Writer, director, and producer Shiyue Xu communicates more about the love of movies in her film Locust Tree than just about any other production before. This simple yet inordinately sincere story relates how impactful the medium can be. Simultaneously inspiring and heartbreaking, the setting of the “Paradise Cinema” and the characters of Locust Tree were adapted from a real life event. Luka displays a passion for those too often overlooked by society. Shiyue’s commitment to the creation of films which present the lives of minority groups is present in this film as with so much of her work. As an Asian female filmmaker, she has a deep understanding of the need for greater representation in the industry. An official selection of both the Las Vegas International Film & Screenwriting Festival and the Santa Fe Film Festival, Locust Tree earned a Best Director award for Shiyue Xu at the 2021 Independent Shorts Awards. The uncommon factor of Locust Tree is that it speaks to both filmmaker and audience regarding how this artform can alter the course of our lives.
Xiaohuai is a young girl caught at a crossroads. When her father started a small shelter in the family’s courtyard to help a few homeless and disabled people, it quickly grew to a size that demanded much. While Xiaohuai took on the selfless tasks of helping those in need, her mother abandoned the family and moved to America. In her duties at the shelter, Xiaohuai created the “Paradise Cinema” which transferred her love of movies to the inhabitants of the shelter and provided much desired escapism. This young girl begins to understand the immense power that films can have to all people, regardless of their circumstances. When Xiaohuai’s mother calls from the U.S., her proposal to bring the daughter to study at a film school there poses one of life’s great dilemmas; to live in constant service of others or to pursue the realization of your own dream. This is the world of Locust Tree. This is the creation of a filmmaker with a gift for finding the dichotomy of life; the juxtaposition of hope and despair.
The story resonates on many levels; as individuals, as connected members of a society, as audience members, and as an artist. In a most intuitive and original way, the concept speaks to the connection and understanding that film offers. Shiyue’s style is a convergence of remarkable skill as a director and producer, but also imbued with a genuineness that cannot be faked. From the shot designs to the tempo of the action, there is an originality to Locust Tree which is stark and exciting when compared to so many other films. Shiyue Xu remarks, “I believe that film is a powerful form of art that can offer people hope, healing, and strength. Through my films, I aspire to convey this energy to the audience. I want them to experience the transformative power that films can have on emotions and perspectives. Movies have an incredible ability to touch our hearts, evoke deep emotions, and transport us to different worlds. They can provide an escape from the challenges of reality and offer a sense of catharsis. By carefully creating stories that resonate with universal human experiences, I hope to create a connection with the audience, allowing them to find solace, inspiration, and even a renewed sense of purpose. Film, to me, is not just a medium of entertainment but a means to communicate profound messages and emotions. Through the characters' journeys, struggles, and triumphs, I want viewers to feel a sense of empathy and understanding. I want them to see themselves in the characters, to relate to their challenges, and to witness their growth. This connection can be a source of empowerment and encouragement, reminding them that they are not alone in their experiences.”
Even though so much of the action takes place in a setting with numerous people present, there is a deeply intimate tone to Locust Tree. We feel that we are silent passengers physically but also emotionally with Xiaohuai, whether she is struck by her mother’s statements on an international call or accompanying her as she explains the process for running a projector to deaf residents of the shelter. The real-life “Paradise Cinema” was a location in Beijing which provided movie explanations for the hearing-impaired, disabled, and blind individuals. Shiyue visited the now defunct private cinema during her creation of this film and notes, “I was deeply moved by the spirit of selfless dedication exhibited in this situation. It was heartwarming to witness how the individuals behind this cinema were driven by a genuine love for movies and a desire to make them accessible to everyone, regardless of their challenges. This sincere commitment to spreading the joy of cinema and creating an inclusive space left an indelible impression on me.” She adds, “At the same time, there was a bittersweet feeling as I recognized the challenges and realities that such initiatives can face. The closure of the cinema, despite its noble purpose, served as a poignant reminder of the financial and logistical hurdles that can arise when pursuing such endeavors. It underscored the delicate balance between passion and practicality, and it was a testament to the complexities involved in maintaining and sustaining projects that hold deep significance. “