By Katie Chambers
Welcome, new NYWIFT member Ching Juhl! Ching is a Chinese American filmmaker, video journalist, and music educator who has directed, filmed, edited, and produced three feature films, promotional videos, and hundreds of shorts. Her feature documentary My Yang Gang Diary, which she shot entirely on an iPhone 11, won Best Feature Film Award at Toronto Documentary Film Festival in 2021.
Ching has published more than 800 videos on various social media platforms with topics ranging from live interviews to current events to music productions. She taught music at St. Joseph’s College for 15 years. Ching currently directs Music Studio Manhattan and conducts Smartphone Video Production workshops in colleges and organizations.
Ching spoke to us about the benefits of shooting on iPhone, the intersection of music and filmmaking, and the friends who brought her to NYWIFT.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I am Ching Juhl, a Shanghai-born New York City based film director, video journalist, content creator and concert violist. I am the proud mom of Sean Juhl, a violist who just joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In recent years, I have enjoyed shooting videos and films with iPhones. My feature doc shot on iPhone won five awards internationally in 2021-2022.
I first met you when NYWIFT co-presented the screening of that most recent award-winning documentary feature, My Yang Gang Diary, at the Socially Relevant Film Festival earlier this year. Tell our members about that experience making the film – I know you were so inspired by 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang that you left your college teaching job to campaign for him full-time and made a film about your time doing that across the country. What was it like being fully immersed in that world 24/7?
Becoming a Yang Gang [member] in 2019 (a supporter of Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign) was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had in my lifetime. Reading Yang’s book The War on Normal People and witnessing how people volunteered for his movement Not Left, Not Right, But Forward, was incredibly inspiring.
I was fascinated by what grassroots movements were like and how a political campaign was conducted, and I documented every event I went to in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, and New Hampshire. I quit my teaching job, which I had been doing for 15 years, so I could devote my time to the cause.
You shoot most of your work on an iPhone. What are some tips for other filmmakers who want to use their phone as their primary tool?
I have been using video camcorders in different formats and sizes for more than 20 years. As a video journalist, shooting with an iPhone has changed the whole game. I shoot events on the streets, in my car, and capture music concerts and my cats.
The quality of the phones has improved greatly, and the audio of the newer iPhones is impressive. I like to shoot with iPhones because of their accessibility, lightness, low budget production and unobtrusiveness.
In addition to being a filmmaker, you are an accomplished musician. How do those two artistic mediums overlap for you? What are some of the similarities and differences as forms of expression?
Thank you for asking. I studied classical music in China and the United States. The similarities of pursuing music and media production is that one needs to work with discipline, consistency, patience, and passion. I used to practice the violin for three hours daily when I was 11. When preparing concerts and auditions, I practiced six hours every day.
I really enjoy making videos and editing films. The storytelling in media is different from playing classical music. Making films is my way of composing, while playing the music of Bach or Beethoven is to interpret the composer’s work the best I could. As a classical musician, I mainly played other people’s compositions. However, these days, I fiddle on a five-string electronic violin so I can go wild on the color, timber, texture, and the sound projection.
What is the best advice you ever received? And the worst?
My viola teacher Csaba Erdelyi suggested me to enter the Guranna International Viola Competition in 1988. I commented, “I don’t think I would win.” He said: “Don’t think about winning or losing. You need to be heard!” I ended up winning $10,000, and I bought my first video camera that year. (Now you know how old I am.)
What is the worst advice? When I wanted to move to New York City, people said, “Don’t go to NYC, you will be starved.” I came to NYC with no job, no money, and no family 23 years ago and I still made it.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT?
Filmmaker and family friend Dawn Young has been talking about NYWIFT to me for years. Nora Armani, the founding director of the Socially Relevant Film Festival also highly recommended your organization. Meeting you, Katie, at the screening of the My Yang Gang Diary in March 2022, inspired me further to join NYWIFT. I am very impressed by the programing and the opportunities to networking with women artists. I wish I joined you earlier.
We are so happy to have you! And what is next for you?
I am cooking up a feature documentary about classical music, China/US, twisted family drama, and unforgettable celebrations. I am going to Germany to film part of it in August 2022.
Connect with Ching Juhl across social media:
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