SOAS: MIXED ROOTS
MIXED ROOTS, our new three-part series in partnership with the Centre for Film Studies at SOAS University of London, explores people’s experiences of intimate, cross-cultural relationships in Africa and Asia. Ahead of the first screening next Wednesday 24th May at 4pm, we put some questions to Sarah Ping Nie Jones, the director of UMBILICAL CORDS. Find out more and book tickets: HERE.
Check back soon for updates featuring the directors of parts 2 and 3 in the series:
Hafu by Megumi Nishikura & Lara Pérez Takagi (screening Wednesday 31st May)
Indochina: Traces of a Mother by Idrissou Mora-Kpai (screening Wednesday 7th June)
In Umbilical Cords you set out to explore the mother-daughter relationship, featuring a number of stories including your own. What did you discover that you didn’t expect?
I was inspired by the relationships between me and my flatmates and our mothers – the different languages and cultures flowing through the house. When I started filming, I thought I’d make some soundbites for some online platform - musings on transnational motherhood. I had no idea of what was going to unfold within my own relationship with my mother, the scale of the conflict to come [over the ‘race’ of my partner], and the five-year journey with all the women in the film. It became such an important part of our lives – without it, I don’t know how I would have been able to process everything that happened between my mother and I, and I know that it also transformed the other mother-daughter relationships in the film.
I think the most unexpected thing for me was the experience of interviewing and filming my own mother. When we did the first interview, it was after we had not spoken for a year, and it was the first time we spoke about the very painful conflict between us. Having the camera between us acted as a mediator – tempering the rage and pain, allowing us to take the time to find words without becoming immediately defensive, forcing us to listen to the other. My mother opened up to the ‘camera’, with me behind it, in ways she has never been able to speak to me directly. Watching my mother speak about me as opposed to at me, was a powerful experience and shifted how I saw her. I can’t say what it shifted for her though – but I imagine just to chance to talk to ‘someone’ about it (my mother is deeply private, despite having agreed to the film), was a relief - even though it was me!
It’s a deeply personal film. What were the main challenges you faced being both the film’s director and one of its protagonists?
I think the biggest challenge, again assisted by the camera, was holding back my own outrage at what was happening – but occupying the position of enquirer, and being able to push and ask and challenge, was immensely joyful. The camera liberated me from my position as ‘daughter’ and allowed me to become enquirer and actually my own protagonist in relation to my mother. The camera helped me to step back from the situation, even in/during the situation, and find some perspective outside of my own experience. Editing the film was the toughest part, trying to tell the many ‘stories’ and not only ‘my story’ even though they were all interwoven - separating out the strands and knowing which was which, and trying to find my mother’s perspective within that. It was gruelling emotionally, to sit with all this material that was heaving with the weight of the mother-daughter bond, when I was in such turmoil around it, and to try and find a way through.
Your work often focuses on identity and freedom. What do you like about film as a medium to explore these complex themes?
The power of film, particularly in an actual cinema, is that in that moment of stepping into a darkened room, instead of having your own stream of consciousness projecting in your brain, you are able to experience someone else’s, intensified. As you sit in that seat, in the cavern of your consciousness, you are taken through the images, the emotions, of someone else’s life – you get to experience their subjectivity, for however brief a moment, but at some moment in the film you will forget you’re you and think you’re them (well, that’s certainly what happens to me!). It’s like stepping into someone else’s skin. You are liberated from you at the same time as exploring someone else. A great release and expansion. Erotic, non?
UMBILICAL CORDS is screening on Wednesday 24th May at 4pm, preceded by a short film Hackney Lullabies, directed by Kyoko Miyake. Find out more about book your tickets: HERE.