By Christine Bragan
When Yvonne Ng left her native Singapore to study photography in the United States, little did she know she was on the path to becoming an Academy Award winner! The recent City College of New York graduate, who received a scholarship from New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), won a Student Academy Award for her powerful short film Cloud Kumo, about a Hiroshima survivor and her granddaughter.
NYWIFT Board member Christine Bragan spoke to Yvonne about the making of the film, her inspirations, and how her mother’s support has been integral to her success in the United States.
Christine Bragan: First of all, congratulations are in order.
Yvonne Ng: Yes, thank you very much! It’s all very exciting.
CB: It is! So why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?
YN: I actually come from a photography background. I was a commercial photographer for over ten years here in New York. I really wanted to make a film, but I didn’t know how to, so I enrolled in the MFA program at City College of New York. I just graduated this past year with my thesis film, Cloud Kumo.
Cloud Kumo Trailer
CB: What drove you to make a film about this particular topic?
YN: A few years ago, I attended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference at the UN. That was my first encounter with bomb survivors and the NGO’s working for the cause. This is a very urgent matter. I felt the media had not been talking about it, so I asked myself what could I do. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in filmmaking with the intention of making a film to share the stories and experiences from the atomic bomb survivors.
CB: Amazing. What do you hope to accomplish as a filmmaker? How do you define success for yourself in the filmmaking realm?
YN: Actually, I decided to develop a trilogy, and Cloud Kumo will be the first chapter to this series. My hopes for this trilogy, which will eventually turn into a feature, are to raise social awareness, and to encourage help people to learn more about this issue. And, as a filmmaker, I am also very interested in documentaries and about human rights. After I graduated, I was working as a gaffer on a short thriller—the message behind it is [that there are] 64,000 missing black women in this country. It’s about the lack of police investigation, and everything that has to do with gender and sex. So, I’m very drawn to stories, or documentaries, that talk about humanity and social causes.
CB: Who are some creators, directors, or writers that you admire?
YN: One artist and filmmaker that I really admire is Agnes Varda. She has a strong photography background and filmmaking. I even got to meet her a few years ago when she came for the New York Film Festival, and it was a delight. Another person that I really admire is one of my favorite DPs, Mark Lee Ping Bin. His philosophy when it comes to capturing images, is very Zen, much about allowing the environment to tell the story instead of being the one that’s in full control.
CB: It’s an interesting time in the entertainment industry, be it film or TV, where the distribution models are vast. How do you think about that when you’re creating a film and you want to share whatever message or story that you’re communicating through your art? Do you think about how you’re going to get that in front of people? Do you have a tendency more to try to create something for a theatrical experience versus a streaming experience versus a television experience?
YN: I’ve done theatre work in the past with photography. It was a collaboration of mixed media and it involved dance, sculpture, stop-motion . . . so I think when I’m coming up with a story, I use a base of my own knowledge of what I can do and what I know is out there. I craft the story first and then explore what the outlets are, and from there I [decide] what’s the best way to share this story. For example, with Cloud Kumo, the ending of the film is a dance piece that actually summarizes the entire story. I’m always very open to collaboration with other people. One thing that drew me to filmmaking is the opportunity to work with every single person on the film crew. They’re not working for me—it’s a collaboration.
CB: I was going to ask you about that. How did you put your film crew together?
YN: So we have two crews—the one in New York and the one in Japan. Half of the New York crew were professionals, and the other half were my classmates and friends. It was important for me that the people working on this film had a connection to the cause, because that brought a different level of commitment. As for the crew in Japan, because I had never been to Hiroshima before, I contacted the film commission office, and they helped me put everything together.
Yvonne Ng accepts her Student Academy Award in September 2016
CB: That’s amazing. Where did you grow up? I watched your acceptance speech, and you got very emotional when you were talking about your mom, so I’m just wondering how much of an influence does your family have on this trilogy.
YN: I was actually born and raised in Singapore, and my family is still over there. I came to this country June 9, 2003 to go to the Brooks Institute of Photography. My mother did everything she could to put me through college in this country, and supported my decision to move to New York and to work out here. Being a foreigner, visa issues, connections and all that, it was really daunting. I moved to New York when I was 23, and within a span of three months, I was shooting for a lot of Condé Nast editorials—Vogue, Glamour, People—doing still life shots for them, and carving out my own career as a photographer. My mother taught me to go for your dreams because she never had the opportunity that I had. When I made the decision to come to this country to study, my uncles said, “Why spend so much money on your education? Why don’t just take the money, go set up a business and get married?” But my mother supported my decision to move to New York. “Knowledge is something nobody can take away from you,” she told me.
CB: That’s right.
YN: When I got into filmmaking, she had her hesitations because she knows how difficult it is for women in the film industry, you know. I remember, I was Skyping with her, and I told her, “No, I don’t want to live in regret. If I drop dead tomorrow, I want to be able to say that at least I tried. I just want to know that I did my best.” And so, with that, she said, “Okay, I’ll do whatever I can to help you out.”
Learn how you can help support students like Yvonne through the NYWIFT Scholarship Fund.