To a sizeable degree, many of us have lost our way in regards to the purpose of a film. Spectacle and suspension of reality are always entertaining but at its very best, a movie manifests connection. Filmmaker Chenyun Huang’s Leaving is predicated on this very premise. The producer/director/writer/editor of this production has created a film with connection built into its very DNA. The success of this formula is vetted by the international events which have recognized Leaving including the Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival, Emerson Film Festival, New Haven International Film Festival, as well as those in London, and beyond. Though the film should be viewed as intended, a glimpse behind the somewhat unconventional methodology of Huang reveals how every aspect of this production mirrors the story itself and testifies to the power of truth in storytelling. Leaving is a story that captures the daily life of three-generations of a Chinese family while the grandfather suffers through the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Through the eyes of a little girl, we see family members’ different emotional reactions to his irreversible dementia and how it affects her perception of death.
The right people to make any film are the ones who are drawn to it. When it came to finding the crew and cast for Leaving, Huang confirms that she let the story itself persuade the right people to come aboard the film. Sending the script to potential collaborators on all aspects of the project, she let those who felt themselves gravitate to the theme of the film reach back to her. A story as emotional as this elicits passion from artists. Specifically, in terms of the cast, Chenyun took an extremely unorthodox approach. She reveals, “The setting of an all-Mandarin-speaking Chinese family greatly restricted the potential cast so I decided to use actors without any prior experience. I spoke at great length with the cast about their own life stories, weaving an air of connection through them. I was truly pleased with the spontaneous interaction that we were able to capture on camera.”
The goal of the filmmaker was to portray ordinary people’s lives and deaths without over- amplifying the sorrow. Yes, there is an obvious sadness in the story but there is also courage and love. The effect is a visceral and authentic sense of reality. Through the eyes of the young girl Huihui, we understand how adults attempt to frame a child’s understanding of death as well as how they personally react to it.
Without question, the unifying thread throughout all aspects of this marvelous film emanates from Chenyun Huang. As the driving force behind it, she chose to seek out the harmonic relationship that those working with her had to this story. Focused on the goal of placing the viewer inside the possibly unfamiliar family interaction, she manifested a perspective that would achieve this. While this was all done with great skill and talent, it is the personal element which speaks most profoundly in Leaving. This is rooted in Huang’s personal experience with her own family and grandparents who mirror that of the characters presented in Leaving. After missing the last three months of her own beloved grandfather’s life, Chenyun set out to explore the dynamic relationships among family members when their loved ones wither away in front of them. Leaving is a loving and fitting tribute to Chenyun Huang’s family and those who have love and lost a dear elderly family member.