My Anna Sophie Loewenberg interview just hit the presses yesterday in Asian Jewish Life. It’s called Loewenberg: On Screen, Off Screen & Behind the Scenes. My special thanks to Erica Lyons for doing a fantastic job with the editing, and also giving me a huge helping hand with the photographs for the piece. Thanks also to Susan Blumberg-Kason, who contacted me about doing the interview.
Additionally, since the entire interview didn’t make it into Asian Jewish Life, Erica gave me the go-ahead to share those unpublished excerpts with you — exclusive interview extras that you’ll only find here on Speaking of China, which cover more of Anna Sophie’s latest documentary about a gay papercut artist. So without further ado, here they are:
How did you become interested in exploring gay life in China?
Anna Sophie Loewenberg (ASL): Even before I was doing documentaries and print, I tended to be drawn to people on the margins of society in general, so that was kind of a natural fit for me. Pretty much my biggest fan base is actually gay, so that kind of pulled me in. So many of the people who are interested in and support my work are part of that movement. So that was kind of a natural thing for me. Whatever it is, if you don’t quite fit in, if you’re somewhat of a square peg, that tends to be what I find interesting to tell stories about because I think it tells us a lot about society and how the society as a whole either accepts or doesn’t accept those people and also how those people are able to function within the larger society, I think that is really interesting.
So could you tell us more about your documentary and what it’s about?
ASL: It’s called The Siberian Butterfly and it’s about a papercut artist who does traditional Chinese papercuts, he’s from Shanxi Province and so he’s from the heartland of this type of folk art. He’s married, he has kids and everything, he was basically just like a typical nongmin [peasant]. But he at some point 10 or 15 years ago, he really started to come into his gay identity and realized that he was gay. He moved to Beijing and he had very interesting homoerotic themes in his art, kind of taking a very traditional art form and really bringing a modern perspective to it. So it’s really profiling him and his life. I’m working on it with Queer Comrades, which is an NGO in Beijing for LGBT media and they’re helping me produce it.
How did you find the subject for your documentary?
ASL: I met him, actually, through one of my old housemates. I had a housemate who was also a filmmaker, his name is Fan Popo, he’s fairly well known in the gay community in China because he does a lot of films with gay themes. When he was 20 years old or something, he actually wrote a book in Chinese about gay cinema around the world. So we were housemates. People often say to me, “Oh, this would be great for Sexy Beijing, that would be great for Sexy Beijing.” And so he said, “You have to meet the Siberian Butterfly, I think you guys would love each other and he would be great for Sexy Beijing.” So that’s how I started to have the idea.
So, how has the project turned out for you? (continued)
ASL: …It’s been different, it’s definitely been challenging and, in talking with a guy from Queer Comrades, I just hope that it’s not boring for people because it’s just not that upbeat, fast kind of a pace that Sexy Beijing has. But like they say, part of their mission is about telling the stories of LGBT people in China much more so than just selling their stories. It’s not about a didactic, you know, “It’s great to be gay!” It’s not necessarily about showing people who aren’t gay that this is why being gay is okay. It’s not about a gay poster boy. It’s just one of many stories of people who are not part of the mainstream but yet are very unique and special in their own way. They say they feel people who are very interested in this issue will find it interesting. But it’s a lot more intimate and quiet.
P.S.: Check out a clip from The Siberian Butterfly: