A-Yi

As long as they’ve lived in their shared home, A-Yi (Cantonese for Auntie) has been a fixture of their daily lives. The elderly Chinese woman started out looking for a spot to store her buggy and collectibles, but over the years she began to grow vegetables in their backyard and forged a strong bond with these housemates, despite no shared language.

Can the roommates overcome the language barrier to tell A-Yi that they are moving and that she will probably lose access to their space? And what will happen to her when they’re gone?

Director’s Statement

I met A-Yi when I moved into the Whale House about seven years ago. Over the years, she not only stored her cans under the deck of our house, but also started a huge vegetable garden on the property and taught us a lot about taking care of our own garden.

Because we didn’t share a common language, we couldn’t communicate any other way than using our hands and feet. My roommates and I found ourselves wanting to find out more about her. Google translate was not an option for the unique dialect of Cantonese she spoke as we discovered over multiple attempts to communicate through the app.

In January of 2019, the last of the original roommates was moving out, which marked the end of an era at the Whale House. I had a sense of urgency to tell this story before everyone left, including A-Yi, who had to take down her garden once everyone moved out.

We weren’t sure what the future would hold for the house, the garden, and A-Yi – and the chaos of the Whale House being emptied out was the perfect visual setting for the film, so I grabbed a little old handy-cam we had around and captured those early moments.

I then approached Gregory Czaplak (who not only produced, but also shot and edited the film) with my idea and he was on board. With Nicolas Ayerbe Barona added as a co-producer my production team was complete, and we started developing the story.

Of course there was still the issue of finding a way to speak to A-Yi and we were lucky to get the help from our translators and cultural advisors April Liu and Dong Yue Sue. For the very first time in nearly eight years of friendship we were able to communicate via spoken language and were able to find out so much about one another. We learned a lot about A-Yi’s upbringing which I decided to bring to life via animation, created by artist Jesse Schilperoort and the animation team at Workshop Media, to complete the story. Mark Dolmont help us achieve the right emotion through sound and was able to bring some rough audio from the handy-cam back to life.

Releasing this film with Cantonese and English subtitles was extremely important to me. I think people from both cultures should be able to watch it with their families and enjoy this amazingly unique friendship.

It is a very interesting time to release a film about community when we are not able to actively have one. We hope that it brings a smile to people’s faces in times like these and reminds them to be kind to one another.