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Meet Xin Li

Today we’d like to introduce you to Xin Li.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Xin. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I came to the States in 2009 from China to attend college. I finished my study in journalism at the University of Kansas. Moving to the Midwest from urban China was quite a challenging and fun experience – the culture, the lifestyle, trying to figure out where I belong. It took me a semester before I could really join my friends’ dinner table conversations on any subjects. I tried my hand at political reporting, did a story featuring a few undocumented students during the time when Kansas tried to repeal the bill that supported in-state tuition for undocumented students who went to high school in Kansas. I received brutal comments and was told to go back to China and report for the “Communist News Network”, a different “CNN”.

So I did. After an internship at a publishing house in London before graduation, I went back to Beijing and became a journalist for “Portrait”, a renowned Chinese magazine focused on feature story writing. But I didn’t get to learn “communist news reporting” there either (how disappointing), I had the opportunity to interview famous public figures, from film director Jia Zhangke, to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to feminist activist Grace Brown, the founder of Project Unbreakable, to adventurer Guo Chuan, the first Chinese sailor to sail solo and non-stop around the world (the captain has been lost in mid-Pacific for almost two years now, R.I.P.); to scholars who study interesting and unique subjects. Then one day, I felt like I’ve heard so many inspiring life stories and it was time to tell my own stories, with a camera. That’s when I applied for film schools.

A year later, I moved back to the States and settled down in Gainesville, Florida – I didn’t get into any film schools, instead, I was accepted by the journalism school at the University of Florida for their master program. A month into the first semester, I realized that I wasn’t learning anything I wanted to learn. I was a bit disappointed and decided to try again at film schools. I reapply for USC School of Cinematic Arts (which put me on their waitlist the first time I applied). About two months later, before I left for Berlin for a photojournalism project, I got a call from Amanda Pope, an Emmy-winning documentarian, also a professor at USC. She asked me if I was ready to move all the way from Florida to California, I immediately said yes!

I enjoyed my three years at film school (for the most part). Immersing myself in a world with artists and filmmakers from different backgrounds was a life-changing experience.

Making an art to express myself, my view of life, my past experience/trauma, to demonstrate my taste, and then having the art criticized or appreciated by others has tested me and pushed me forward. I learned what I want to be and what kind of films I definitely do not want to try to make a second time. I spend most of my time on documentary filmmaking, I’m passionate about telling stories of women and their bodies, sexuality, and identity. In the past three years in Los Angeles, I’ve directed and produced award-winning documentaries about Chinese immigrant culture and the LGBTQ community. Currently, I’ve been working on a feature script that is inspired by a documentary project I worked on.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
This might not happen to everybody, but you know how you may have such good instincts for something before you know so little about it, but once you learn the “rules” and the “system”, you start getting lost and losing that “instinct” or sensitivity? Or, you go through the period of time when you know what is “good” but you just can’t make the works you pour your heart into to meet your standard of “good”? About a year into filmmaking I started to doubt my instincts and panicked when I thought maybe I just don’t have the talent. I know I will get better and better with more hard work, I also know I will be in that phase of “knowing good” but not consistently achieving that level of “good” for a while.

It’ll always be a struggle to guard that voice of mine, and at the same time to keep an open mind to learn and absorb (not just imitate). I believe creativity comes from volumes of work and practice, and the best is yet to come.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I’m a producer who produces both fiction and non-fiction projects and a director who’s passionate about documentary filmmaking I care about the storytellers I work with, the subjects who share with me their life stories. I always make an effort to create a working environment and atmosphere that would lift people up.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
David Liu; Elaine Wong

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