Filmmaker Spotlight: Kirsten Tan

“Dahdi (Granny),” directed by Kirsten Tan, is featured on the X1 Asian American destination this February in the Lunar New Year collection. We had the chance to ask Kristen what inspired her filmmaking journey and how her Asian American heritage influences her work.

Image Credit: Kirsten Tan

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!

Kirsten Tan: “Dahdi (Granny)” is a film inspired by an incident that happened in Singapore in December 2012—a group of Rohingya refugees were rescued from the sea and brought ashore. Having no legal statuses, the shipwreck survivors were sent back to the ocean and left to fend for themselves. What the Singaporean authorities did was legally faultless but it affected and prompted me to make a film to question the line that we draw between moral and legal responsibilities. At times like this, do we simply follow the law or do we follow our conscience?

How did you get into filmmaking?

KT: I come from a fairly small world in Singapore. I grew up in a conservative Chinese household—many subjects at home were taboo and weren’t discussed. Growing up, cinema was my first portal to a larger world. Confiding in films, I understood the world’s humor, tragedy, and morality. I saw the sheer breadth of varying modes of existence in differing cultures. Cinema helped me understand myself and the world at large. When I came of age and discovered that it was possible for me to make films, I just simply dived into it.

What are some films that have inspired you?

KT: I’m a film nerd and watch a lot of films but if I really had to pick some films I love, off the top of my head, it would be: “Persona,” “A Taste of Cherry,” “Amour,” “The Lobster,” “Ratcatcher,” “Tokyo Story,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “A Separation,” “The Spirit of the Beehive,” and “Force Majeure.”

Image Credit: Kirsten Tan

Do you have a favorite Asian American film?

KT: It would be a toss-up between “Treeless Mountain” and “Songs My Brothers Taught Me.”

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

KT: Being Asian is so intrinsically a part of who I am that it’s hard to specifically isolate and extrapolate how it has influenced my work—I would prefer to see it as an inextricable complexity rather than something that can be distilled from the rest of the many other facets of my identity. I’m proud of my Asian heritage, but often, I hesitate to define what “Asian” means since Asia is huge and infused with many different cultures and opposing points of view. Defining something so expansive may end up being reductive instead.

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

KT:  Apart from cinematic heroes like Ang Lee and Gregg Araki, some of the most exciting young filmmakers at work today like So Young Kim, Cary Fukunaga, Daniel Kwan and Chloe Zhao are all making films that we can look forward to. That said, there is much more to be done to achieve fairer representation of Asian Americans in front of and behind the camera.

What’s next for you?

KT:  After making “Dahdi (Granny),” I made my debut feature “Pop Aye” which premiered at Sundance 2017. Since then, I’ve just been promoting and traveling with the film to different film festivals and suddenly, a year has gone by and we’re deep in 2018 already. I intend to make a mini-break before I start writing my next feature project!

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Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Kirsten Tan! Watch “Dahdi (Granny)” on the X1 Asian American destination or with Xfinity Stream this February.

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For more Filmmaker Spotlights or Asian American news and entertainment visit Xfinity Asian American.