Stay or go? Keyu Chen examines this emotionally charged question in her first professional animated film, Winds of Spring, a delicately crafted work that unfolds with the rhythm of the seasons. Based on the filmmaker’s own personal experiences, this tenderly told story opens a window onto something universal. Driven by the irrepressible need for self-fulfillment, a young girl sets aside her family traditions and decides to leave the nest. In doing so, she begins an inexorable journey toward separation, with all of its magnificent and devastating implications for both her and her grandmother, who agrees to let her go. Keyu Chen employs her signature style of fluid transitions and fine, spare lines inspired by Chinese ink painting, in a film whose nuances of light and dark reflect the protagonist’s hopes and dreams on the dawn of her departure.
Keyu Chen makes use of fine lines and fluid transitions in her delicately crafted first film, which tells the tale of a young girl who, driven by the irrepressible need for self-fulfillment, dreams of leaving the family nest.
Unfolding with the rhythm of the seasons, Winds of Spring tells the tender story of a young girl who, driven by the irrepressible need for self-fulfillment, decides to leave the family nest. Keyu Chen employs her signature style of fluid transitions and fine, spare lines inspired by Chinese ink painting in her delicately crafted first film.
Stay or go? Like all rites of passage, adolescence is laden with intense emotions. This is the subject that Keyu Chen examines in Winds of Spring, her first professional animated film, a delicately crafted work that unfolds with the rhythm of the seasons.
Winds of Spring takes a tender, poetic look at a subject as old as human experience: a story of departure, based on the filmmaker’s own life. By sharing part of her personal experience, she opens a window onto something universal. A little girl who lives with her grandmother begins to dream of growing up and moving out—an inner awakening that’s echoed in the natural world around her as it emerges from its winter torpor. Chen uses imagery of plants, animals and the elements to depict the force that drives beings along their path to freedom, a phenomenon as uncontrollable as the melting of the snow and the return of the snow geese.
The film conveys the fine balance between family traditions and personal desires as embodied by two generations: one that stands for the united family, in which children stay with their parents, while the other aspires to leave, grow up and achieve independence. We watch as Chen’s protagonist begins her inexorable journey toward separation, with all of its magnificent and devastating implications for both the girl who decides to leave the family nest and her grandmother, who agrees to let her go.
Composed of fine, spare lines and fluid transitions, Winds of Spring showcases the already well-developed aesthetic of this emerging filmmaker. Chen even crafted her own tiny brushes to recreate the technique of Chinese ink painting for this film, whose visual style evokes the young artist’s Asian roots as well as the vast spaces of her adopted home in Quebec.
The winner of the 21st edition of the NFB’s Cinéaste recherché(e) competition, Keyu Chen studied animation for two years in Beijing, then left her native China and moved to Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 3D production and interactive multimedia. She then moved on to Quebec City to complete a master’s degree in visual arts.
Who better to tell this tale about the importance of pursuing one’s dreams even if it means leaving one’s family and one’s country? Chen’s experience is a testimony to the strength of change and the call of discovery—themes she explores through subtle metaphor in this engaging film, whose nuances of light and dark reflect the protagonist’s hopes and dreams on the dawn of her departure.
What has changed for you, as an animation filmmaker, four years after your Winds of Spring adventure began?
Everything! I started at the NFB as an intern working on someone else’s project. Today, I’m making my own film! I’ve always chased the dream of expressing myself through animation, and I’ve leapt at every chance to achieve it.
The NFB gave you the support of a producer, Marc Bertrand, and a team of professionals. How did that support help you?
It allowed me to get a handle on the entire production process and make a smooth transition from animator to director. The expertise of people with production experience (in editing and sound, for example) was really valuable. One of the most important things I learned was the gratification that comes from teamwork. Not everything turned out exactly as I first imagined it, but the vision was enhanced by everyone’s contributions. That was hugely satisfying to me. The NFB has an experienced pool of directors who listened to me and supported me. It’s a wonderful school, with colleagues, friends, and consultants always around to talk things over with.
Tell us how you innovated to preserve the “India ink” effect you wanted for this film?
At first, I wanted to make the whole film from India ink, but I realized that then you’d see all the little defects. What I really wanted was to recreate the softness and fluidity, like spring at the end of winter. If you animate directly with India ink, it’s too jerky and ruins the fluidity. So I decided to use a digital brush, which allowed me to maintain the thickness and texture of the lines while giving the film more stability.
Was the Cinéaste recherché(e) competition a turning point in your career?
Definitely. When I submitted my project, I didn’t have any great expectations; I wasn’t even very sure of my French. So when I learned I had been selected, I was overwhelmed! Achieving a lifelong dream is a very emotional thing. And it changed everything for me, because I thought I’d have to go back to China after my internship. So I was able to stay.
Winds of Spring is broadly based on your own experiences. How did your family and friends react after watching it?
I told this story mostly for myself. I’m glad I did, because the film allowed me to get this emotion out of myself and express what I wanted to say about the subject. I recently got married, and my mother came from China for the wedding. She didn’t say anything after watching my film. I don’t think my parents want to understand it. For them, the reality is that their little girl went too far way, and she isn’t coming back. My husband was very moved. He knows my story, so it touched him. The film is a dreamlike mix of my memories. Some, like my grandparents’ house, are from my origins, and some, like the scenes of nature, are from my life here. When I came to Rouyn-Noranda, the forests, lakes, and mountains were everything I had imagined Canada to be (and also the NFB, because I had studied animation in Beijing, and for me, the NFB was Canada too). The wind in my film is from here. In China, it is gentle, so I had never really experienced anything like it before.
What are your future projects? Do you know what your next film will be about?
I want to wait a little before embarking on another film because I need to live my life. I need some time to recharge, write, and spontaneously draw things, without a fixed purpose. Just freely explore and accumulate experiences. Like my grandmother said, “things need time to grow.”
What are your hopes for Winds of Spring?
That it be seen by as many people as possible. The film doesn’t belong to me anymore; everyone will see in it what they want. But I would like to know how viewers react and how it makes them feel. That’s also the intent behind creating something: to scatter seeds to the four winds.
A film by
Carla Antoun – Cello
Stéphanie Bozzini – Viola
Martin Carpentier – Clarinet
Guy Pelletier – Flute
Christian Prévost – Violin
Daniel Scott – Piano
Marjorie Tremblay – English Horn
Foley and Music Recording
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Jean Paul Vialard
Oana Suteu Khintirian
Technical Coordinator -Animation
Produced as part of the Cinéaste recherché(e) competition, 21st edition