EntertainmentWhat’s at the Heart of Filmmaker Robin Wang?

What’s at the Heart of Filmmaker Robin Wang?

  Robin Wang considers storytelling the highest calling. Whether his role is that of director or producer, he intuitively understands commonalities in a world which seems to lean towards disbelief of this idea. Wang is passionate about the benefits film can offer, both to audience and creator. His talent and commitment to the craft has proven to elevate any production he takes on to a higher level. While wildly diverse genres populate his credits, there are shared concepts among them; a fact which reveals his interest in nurturing them to fruition. A well-founded belief in the power of the arts is communicated in his statement, “Films are the most powerful empathy machine. Through stories and films, we put ourselves into the shoes of other people, and that is something very remarkable.”

  Director Jesse Aultman’s folk-horror film The Spirit Became Flesh is about a man who returns to his deeply religious hometown in the Deep South of America only to find that the people there worship a monster who lives in a forest. This is the clash of modern thinking and traditional superstition. As the film’s producer, Robin Wang sees the story as something quite different. He describes, “As a filmmaker, I am most drawn to stories about cultural displacement, the diaspora, focusing on characters who experience spiritual homelessness and in search of community and belonging. In this sense, I connected with The Spirit Became Flesh because it tells the story of a prodigal son; a man representing the world of science, modernity, and materialism who returns to his mythic childhood village in search of his lost spirituality. Oddly enough, every time I returned to the most conservative parts of China to visit my distant relatives with my liberal, western ideas, I resonated with what Sam must have felt when he returned to the cult. This is perhaps the power of filmmaking; it manages to speak to me with its thematic resonance despite its setting.” 

  Adhering to this thematic interest of Mr. Wang’s but in a very different style of storytelling is Echoes of Kef Time. This is the story of a group of Armenian American musicians whose forefathers escaped the 1910 genocide and relocated to Fresno, California. Establishing themselves as a highly successful music group in 1970s, the Kef Time band embarks on US tours and residencies in Las Vegas — a testament to the exceptionalism of these musicians who brought their art and culture to America. Through multiple generations, we see this family of artists struggle with the westernization of their children and grandchildren both in terms of history and perspective. If America is a patchwork of people, these Armenian Americans are a vibrant and essential thread. Echoes of Kef Time was a semi-finalist at the Oscar-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival (2022) and an official selection of the Newport Beach Film Festival, Boston Film Festival, and Seattle Asian American Film Festival. This remarkable documentary film reinforces that Robin Wang is an extraordinary producer who has proven his commitment to the most American of ideals, retaining a sense of self even while assimilating into America. 

  The effects of technology on humanity are in the very DNA of Heather’s Voice, a film which Robin began producing during the Covid lockdown. Preproduction meetings were held over zoom with Mr. Wang half a world away from Hollywood in China. Heather’s Voice poses the question of the ethics of technology, specifically in dealing with the loss of a family member and the use of virtual reality. A modern take on how far we should allow big business to establish a voyeuristic vantage for profit, the film is eerily believable in what seems to be a very timely and plausible scenario. The VFX work is most impressive but making the everyday environment familiar was equally important as the producer describes, “We explored software such as ‘Unreal Engine’ and ‘Houdini’ to create the visual wonder in the most impressive scene in the film-the virtual reality bedroom where Anna is reuniting with her dead sister on Mars. Production design also played a significant role. During location scouts, we were looking for companies and offices that looked modern, sleek, and lush enough to realistically portray a game startup company. Since the story is set in a slightly-pushed reality, our goal for worldbuilding was to hint at what the future might be heading into, rather than presenting a worldview that is too far-fetched.”

  So often, producing is the fine art of providing the proper environment for talented artists to create. It requires not only skill but experience to master this. The film Backlog is a fictionalized representation of actual events which led to a Supreme Court case concerning sexual assault. Delicate in nature and horrifying at times to watch, Backlog makes a powerful statement. The film will premiere at the Oscar-qualifying 47th Cleveland International Film Festival, taking place from 22nd March – 1st April, 2023. Robin notes that producing this film required strong control over the set size and environment for the rape scene depicted in the film. The evolution of the main character was a story he felt was incredibly important to tell. 

  Speaking with Robin Wang, the passion he has for filmmaking is palpable. The sincere tone of his speech communicates his feeling that film is informative and can be a method of healing the human spirit. He professes, “As a filmmaker, I am always curious towards stories about people and community different from my own. The more I don’t know, the more curious I am. I grew up in China but I deeply relate to stories about culture and how people try to keep it alive, despite whether the context is Armenian American, Southern American, or something completely different. I think one of the most magical things about films and movie making is that it literally transcends borders of language and culture, speaking to the common humanity that we all share. Specifically, I relate to the feeling of loss, cultural displacement, and the struggle to carve out a memory or an identity for myself and the people who are like me in the age of diaspora. Because of this thematic resonance, I am naturally drawn to stories that are not necessarily about the Chinese but are somehow all about survivals of cultures, especially in the American melting pot where there is so much untold sacrifice our older generations have made for us; each different and specific but nonetheless all beautiful and fascinating. These stories somehow all speak in the same vein, and that is the story of the human heart.”

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