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Life & Work with Shiouwen Hong

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shiouwen Hong.

Hi Shiouwen, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Growing up, I never thought of art as something I would pursue one day. I was not particularly good in art classes, nor did I show much interest at the time, with only painting and crafting classes offered in my local school. One thing I do remember I was good at was language, and I always dreamed about traveling the world since I was very little. And later, my dad encouraged me to take English literature as my college major. Now looking back, that was the beginning of everything. Born and raised in Taiwan, I had a happy childhood. My parents were very supportive of things I wanted to explore and that empowered me to dream big and small. But as I grew into my teenage years, people started calling me naive or hinted I was not smart, just a wishful thinker. Starting college was the turning point. My studies in English literature allowed me to immerse myself again in stories dreamed up by writers who created an alternative world. In my third year of college, I had a chance to join the summer work travel program for international college students to exchange experiences and work in the US. Meeting college kids from all over the world in Ocean City, Maryland, I worked as a photo assistant on the boardwalk.

As a first-time solo traveler, I was beyond excited. It was there that I met a group of artist friends who shifted the course of my life. For the first time, I felt I had ‘found’ what I love – to travel and make art. After I came back to Taiwan to finish my last year of college, I started taking computer art classes on the side just for fun (ok, I also dreamed about creating those bad-ass graphics for MTV). Upon graduation, I knew I wanted to go back to the US and turn the fun experiences I had into a full-fledged profession. A year after, I got the opportunity to study Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. During the 2-year program, I crafted my skills and made a short film that toured the international film festival circuit. That was the starting point of me venturing from computer graphics into live action storytelling. After a few years of working in New York, my husband and I went away for a 3-month artist retreat, making another short film along with two friends in Taos, New Mexico. After that, we both felt we wanted to make this adventure our professional path, so we moved to LA right after New Mexico to pursue directing careers.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I was new to the directing ‘business’ and it took me a while to warm up to some of the ins-and-outs of the industry. Although I learned so much from the film community here in LA, career-wise I couldn’t immediately really see a clear path for myself. After making several spec commercials, creatively I felt stuck. One day while impulsively searching for the next project in hope for an opportunity to be seen, I took a moment to reflect and ask myself “what do I want and what truly fulfills me?” My mind took me back to the summer by the oceanfront – travel and making art. I realized my true underlying passion has never changed and I just need to find a way to honor it. It took a long time for me to find my position and figure out what kind of director I want to be. I am still trying and still figuring things out along the way, but when I traveled to Honduras and shot my very first short documentary, that was it for me. I felt the same ‘I-found-it’ moment again that I felt back in that summer.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I freelance as a director, photographer, and motion designer, mostly for commercials and NGOs. I am excited to share my newly released documentary ‘NEHA’ on my website! It’s about a girl with Down syndrome in India starting school at age six, and her journey along with other children of special needs from an extremely marginalized community. NEHA –

I traveled to India filming the story in late 2019 and finished the documentary in early 2020 before COVID hit. We are living in unprecedented times where people are hurt and need to be heard, particularly the most vulnerable. As the worldwide pandemic forces us all to collectively experience the despair of isolation and neglect, Neha’s story is a reminder that we can only be stronger by taking care of each other, leaving no one behind. In my opinion, documentary filmmaking is a very liberating and personal art form as stories are constructed and told largely from filmmakers’ experiences.

Therefore, I try my best to be careful and respectful in dealing with my subjects and conscious about the kind of message I am sharing. That’s what makes my work unique as it is the extension of my value and my voice representing the subject matter. I believe it is the same for all documentary filmmakers who dedicate their time to sharing stories of their own observations.

What sort of changes are you expecting over the next 5-10 years?
Based on the ongoing global movements risen over the pandemic, there will be more people and more minority groups standing up to make their voices heard and fight for their own rights. Because of that, I do think the documentary community will grow, and hopefully more funding will be there to support stories that represent different faces and voices. If you can, please consider a donation to Bodhi Tree School that helps the school continue to provide children of special needs with food and healthcare during this difficult time.

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Shiouwen Hong

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