Guest & Alumni Spotlights


By Christian Pham



By Alyssa Bright

Tell us a little about your film Lan Yan, what’s it about?

Lan Yan is about a bus driver in Shanghai and his twelve-year-old daughter living in the traditionally Shanghainese architectural community that’s now been reserved for low-income families. It’s about their opinions and views on living in this communal way of life versus what Shanghai has now become, which is a more isolated, but more modern metropolis. People who can afford it, live in these apartments that are really tall where there’s less sense of community which is one of the cons touched upon on the documentary. But it’s also just about how hard it is living that kind of lifestyle (in the low-income buildings) because you don’t get all the advantages you would living in an area that has more opportunities for you and your kids. All within thirteen minutes!

How did you go about choosing people to be in your film?

They honestly kinda chose us. We’d originally intended to do the doc with another tenant but he’d backed out and we’d become friends with the daughter who was interested in helping us so she introduced us to her dad and we became friends with her dad and he wanted to help us so through that, gaining a friendship, that was our way into meeting everyone and learning about the community. They became our guides in the same way they become the viewers’ guides when they watch the doc. We stumbled upon them the same way you do when you watch the film.

What inspired you to choose this topic?

We really just fell into it. We were looking into doing a doc on an old slaughterhouse that had been turned into a shopping mall and just by being there we caught a glimpse of Lan Yan, which totally sticks out like a sore thumb because everything in that area is very upscale and modern and that is a very run down 1800s British style building in the middle of the mall and nice apartment buildings so that was visually interesting and we went to check it out and meet and talk with the people there. It was after we built relationships that we realized we wanted to do the doc with them because they had such a unique and interesting story. It was very much by chance and poetic the way we found it.

Did you have a translator?

Our producer, Pawara Soh, is fluent in Mandarin so that was extremely helpful and a lot of other filmmakers there were students in Shanghai at the time and they were learning English and were pretty fluent and they were able to translate. In China there’s different dialects and in Shanghai there’s Shanghainese but people only speak it if you’ve been there for years and years, hardcore locals. It just so happened that the only girl in the entire class who spoke Shanghainese happened to be on our team, and that became really helpful because the people we were filming had been there for years and years and they all spoke with really heavy Shanghainese accents. Even people who spoke Mandarin had trouble understanding them so we really lucked out that we had her on our team. That was also really interesting in itself — the different tiers of language in China.

Lan Yan has seen a lot of success, what other film festivals has it screened at?

It just finished at Napa Valley Film Festival. It also screened at Seattle International, LA Asian Pacific, CAAMFest (which is San Francisco’s Asian Film Festival), Cannes Shorts Films Corner, and it played in a couple festivals in Asia such as Chopshots in Jakarta, Indonesia. Pawara really led the way with gaining an audience. It’s done fairly well. We’re actually hoping to finally release it online because it’s been a private screener so far. So we’re hoping to do a big launch in the next couple of weeks which will actually be nice to finally share it with everyone, not just people at film festivals!

What was your favorite part about making Lan Yan?

All of it! The adventure and how we fell into it and being in a completely different culture and region form anything I’ve ever dreamed of and am used to, yet still feeling like what we were capturing is the most relatable thing in the world. I know we all connected with it and for me personally there were so many ties and themes that really hit home with me and my family and personal life, which really amazed me, how different we really can be but the issues we deal with day to day are the same around the world, even if we conduct ourselves in different ways, the heart of the issues we all face are really universal, as cheesy as it sounds, that was really cool to be in on that and experience that.

So you made this film as part of the SFSU Shanghai Documentary Program, tell us about that program and your experience living in China!

It’s an amazing program, there should be more programs like it, and I think they should all be taught be Greta Schneider because she did a fantastic job! Being a filmmaker in a different country and having to learn how to use those tools that you’re taught in school to tell a story in a country where you don’t speak the language and you’re not privy to certain information that other people there are is such a great exercise I think. It really helps you grow as a person and I know it did for everyone who went on that trip. There was so much growth and learning experiences and things didn’t always turn out the way we wanted, but sometimes those experiences ended up being better and we wound up learning more from it. I can’t express enough, it’s definitely something everyone should take advantage of when you’re at SF State. The journalism program has something similar where you go to another country and you have to write about a topic for like a month, it’s basically the same thing but rather than film doc, it’s a written story and they have to research a topic and write an article. Its’ cool, the whole concept to get to go to another country and actually practice what you’re here for at SF State. That’s a really valuable thing.

So you also studied abroad in Australia! How do you compare your experience studying film in SF, Australia and Shanghai?

They’re all so different. Australia was sort of the same deal where I felt like I became a better filmmaker because I was testing myself and testing what I knew in a culture that I wasn’t accustomed to, even though it was slightly easier because I could at least speak the language. There’s something to be said about going somewhere completely different and finding a story and making it into a reality and building a network there. I learned a lot of technical stuff because of the program I was in and I learned a lot about film festivals actually because I attended my first festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and that was an eye-opening experience to see film festival culture. Shanghai was less about technical and more about research and building a story out of things that actually exist around you since it’s documentary. I learned so much about what goes into making a documentary in such an intensive course. And SF State was the basis and the foundation for all of the above and everything to do with filmmaking. In short, they all, in their own unique ways, made me ten times a better filmmaker than if I hadn’t done them.

What are you up to now that you’ve graduated from SFSU?

I’m now working in the feature world. I’m finishing working on the Steve Jobs film that was shooting in SF. I’ve been doing production work and that was cool. It’s the first film with such esteem and stature that’s completely shot in the San Francisco Bay Area. That was an amazing experience to be a part of for the SF film community. Danny Boyle is a genius! And I’m continuing to work on my own stuff as well. I do love documentary and I’m interested in all avenues of filmmaking so I’m kind of moving back and forth.

What advice would you give to student filmmakers?

It seems like I’ve gone with this theme to travel, but it’s true, the traveling aspect and doing things you wouldn’t normally do are so important. Living and being adventurous and having an appreciation for life itself, I honestly think that’s the best thing you can do at this point in your journey. Alejandro Inarritu, who just won best director, traveled Africa when he was our age, I think he was working on a ship, and he did that for years before he ever went back to Mexico and started making films and he said he owed everything to that experience. He wouldn’t be the filmmaker he is today if he hadn’t done something spontaneous and Werner Herzog says the same thing. Every filmmaker you look up to says the same thing — living life, doing something different, and making films nonstop, whether they’re good or bad, is the best thing you can do! I think it’s all essential to the process.

spot light silviapic

Silvia Turchin is a documentary filmmaker whose work explores memory

and nostalgia, often amidst urban landscapes, and seeks to gain intimacy with 

the past through keen visual and aural observation of the traces it has left in our 

current day-today surroundings.

As an educator, Silvia believes in a hands-on, collaborative classroom that 

fosters the development of each student’s creative vision. She has also taught 

film production at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, the San 

Francisco Art Institute, and Cal State Monterey Bay.

Her most recent experimental documentary, F-Line won Best Experimental Film 

at the Fargo Film Festival. Her films have screened at festivals and venues such 

as Ann Arbor, Big Sky, Pacific Film Archive, Dresden, Mill Valley Film, 

Sebastopol, Frameline, and Haverhill Experimental Festival. Silvia received her 

B.A. in Creative Writing from USC, did post-graduate work in film editing in 

Barcelona, and holds her MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University.

You can see her experimental documentary, F-Line, here:

INTERVIEW ALEX 1184868_10155218100705514_180838742876239113_n


by Marian McColm


You had a great cast in Better the Devil, how did you go about casting?

We held auditions for all of the parts. But since we knew we wanted this project to be something we could use beyond graduation, we wanted to try an get someone recognizable for Lou (the Devil). We used ImdB Pro to email actors and ended up finding the perfect one in Tim deZarn. Anyone can get an IMdB Pro, there’s a monthly fee, but you can get a free trial and it’s totally worth it if you want to go the route we did.

The actors were from school, with the exception of Katrina Sherwood who we found with SFCasting.

We were really fortunate to have such a great cast.

You were also in the film! Did you know you were going to play the part when you wrote the script?

Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be in that big of a role! I was thinking maybe a little cameo or something, but an actor dropped out last minute, so I just took that role. I think it worked out in the end. I hope so.

I know personally you’re an actor (appeared in my short film Pee), and a director. Does your experience with acting help you direct?

(Laughs) Actor? I wouldn’t call myself an actor! I guess I’m outgoing and like to be in front of a camera so I try to give myself fun things to do, maybe that makes me a little vain… There is definitely an advantage as a director though; you can empathize with the process and that helps communicate more clearly when directing actors.

That applies to everything! That’s why when going to SF State it’s helpful to play every role: act, do grips, DP… The more you learn the more you can contribute.

For Better the Devil you used a Kickstarter, what made you want to use it?

I wrote the script without a budget in mind. So, when we all looked at it to do the budget, I thought, “Oh man, what did I do?” We had ideas about how to do some of the practical effects, but if we wanted to do everything in the script and do it well, we knew we would need to source more funds than we could contribute ourselves. We saw other student films being successfully funded and made through Kickstarter, so we started researching that.

Were there perks to using it?

Yes. It starts you off with an audience that wants to see this thing through. It gets them engaged and makes them fell apart of it. Gets them energized! And you can feed off that energy as well.

Did it cover your whole budget?

It covered like 90% of the project. You just forget about things like festivals, or underestimate sound, and then other little odds and ends always pop up. A lot of that was just the learning curve of doing my first big project. So some of the cost came after Kickstarter and was just out of pocket for me.

Have you used it since?

First and only time so far. Definitely considering it for future projects though.

A lot of us student filmmakers wonder, “what do we do now that we finished our short film?” What did you do with Better the Devil? Did you submit it to any festivals?

I’ve actually used this film as a calling card less than I originally planned because it’s been relatively successful in festivals and I’ve had to keep it private while I submit. It’s been in six or so now, the most noteworthy ones being PollyGrind, Another Hole in the Head, and Dragon Con. I could keep submitting, but I figure a year is enough. I want to get it out there to the public now. I’m waiting to hear back on one or two more fests, then I’ll put it up on my website. (

Any advice for film students?

Just go out and make something. The best thing you can do is get together with friends and make each other’s stuff. And don’t be afraid of rejection or failure. Deal with it and learn from it. You are going to make bad stuff, I know I have, but you learn from it and apply that to the next thing. Robert Rodriguez said “Every director has at least 10 bad films in them”, so you’ve got to try to get those ten bad ones out of the way as quickly as possible.

The same thing applies to writing a script, the first draft is never good. No one sits down and shits out gold. I just wrote a script and my first thought was, “this is garbage!” But it’s important to get through that first draft, and revise, and edit, and keep working until you’ve got something you’re proud of. It’s a process.

Also, listen to Scott Boswell and Pat Jackson.

insta-viewred carpet


by Marian McColm

What does the time frame look like for running the Mill Valley Film Fest?

Call for entry is March 1st and it’s open until June and July is  when the programmers start locking it down. From the beginning of July to the end of August the films are selected. The programmers also go to screenings and talk to people. There are usually around 1250 submissions, and most of them are… not amazing. But it’s worth it to discover those great films.

How many of the films from open submission are accepted into the festival?

Around 15-20% – maybe less, really depends on the year

Is interning for film fests a good way for film students to get their own work into festivals?

Yes, absolutely. There are almost always non-profits that’ll teach you. And if you’re good, you’ll get a lot of recommendations. When applying make sure you stress that you are organized, are able to work with others, and that you are not a fan, but a professional.  They need to know you’re not going to flip out if you see Ryan Gosling.

Mill Valley Film Fest is hard to get to; we might have Film Finals at the Kabuki which is tough on parking. How do you get people to go to a remote or difficult location?

I mean… we have movie stars.

That’s actually an operational issue, so I don’t have to deal with it too much. We still get complaints about parking, but you have to make it a destination, an event. Sell it on the uniqueness of the event. Where else are they going to see these films? The value is in the experience.  Advertise the MUNI. Give ‘em wine! You can do that here, right?

What is your advice on social media for advertising?

Establish a voice. Is your organization funny, snarky, sarcastic? Really plan it out. I’ll use a spreadsheet to plan out what I’m going to push on what day, because you don’t want to overload people. But if they like you on Facebook, make sure to like them back, if they tweet you, tweet them back. It all comes from the voice you develop, you are the festival!

What are some worse case scenarios that can happen at a film festival?

Um, the film doesn’t play, that really sucks. The key is missing that needs to go into the DCP, there’s record heat, people are passing out, and people need water. One time a celebrity decided they wanted to go wandering into the National Park when it was closed. He was almost arrested, but talked his way out of it somehow…

What do you do when these things happen?

You do what you have to do! Disasters happen all the time, you prepare as much as you can. Give yourself a strong platform, because it’s constantly moving.


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