Date of Submission

Spring 2015

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Kelly Reichardt

Project Advisor 2

So Yong Kim

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Adinah Dancyger

Artist Statement

Chopping Onions is a narrative short film about Soli, a six-years old Korean-American and her Korean grandmother during a Summer in New York City. Cultural disparities and language barriers break the purely romantic stage of their relationship, potentially ruining their innocent friendship forever. The oscillation between Korean and English customs in the film speaks to an existential question about cultural identity, which is at the root of the tension that develops between them. Based off of my upbringings as a first generation American, raised in New York City by a Korean grandmother, Korean mother, and a Polish father, the film depicts a fictionalized story reenacting autobiographical accounts from my childhood.

Soli and her Grandmother are inseparable. However, this summer is different from the previous ones, as Soli starts day camp. As a newcomer, she struggles to assimilate. While most of the kids eat white-bread sandwiches, Soli eats Korean food and is teased for it. Her confusion and frustration develops and manifests in rejecting Korean food at home, getting in trouble at camp, and running away from her Grandmother in a public park. As the film shows the changing relationship between Soli and her Grandmother, the story progresses through Soli’s perspective.

With interests in both narrative and experimental storytelling, Chopping Onions is an attempt at creating a coherent story while avoiding straight-forward explanation. More so than plot development, I wanted to capture the essence of Soli and Grandma through daily rituals and how these change over time. Food is a thematic device used to portray togetherness, cultural difference, points of contention, as much as forgiveness. Language is used to present the advantages and disadvantages of their communication. The limitations of language for each character grew out of a question I continued to ask myself while writing the script: “How can you show, not tell?” This concern was also in tandem with my limitations in speaking Korean. Many times I doubted my decision to make a film in my second language. However, this challenge helped me answer my question by thinking about the content with universality. Through editing, I found that facial expressions, body language, reactions, and silence were the most effective ways of expressing Soli and her grandmother’s relationship.

Despite casting my Grandmother in the film, the pre-production, production and post-production processes made Chopping Onions less about revisiting a personal past and more about the experience of being a writer, director, editor, and producer. Making a narrative required money, time, and other people, making both wise and regrettable decisions. The romanticization of the original idea was lost for a long time, only to be found again when piecing the footage to its full potential. This brought a sense of closure to how I remembered a part of my childhood. The film developed more of a bitter-emotional palette than a sentimental one, which in the end, I found relieving.

The themes at hand are universal in their simplicity. The blend of fiction and reality unite to organically tell a story with a central focus. Chopping Onions introduces two characters and a relationship that is hopefully relatable to anyone with close familial ties and childhood memories.

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