Chicago Filmmaker Jenny Shi Wins Big at SXSW

Chicago Filmmaker Jenny Shi Wins Big at SXSW

It's an unexpected win and a huge win for a Chicago filmmaker Jiayan "Jenny" Shi. Not unexpected because of the film, which is earning critical praise across the globe... unexpected because the win is from the SXSW Film Festival, which was canceled earlier this month. Despite foregoing the live event, SXSW decided to still move forward with their jury awards and Shi's debut feature documentary FINDING YINGYING was awarded the SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Voice. Jenny chatted with SCREEN following the win...

SCREEN: Jenny, what does this win mean to you and your team?

JENNY: This award is a huge recognition and comfort to us especially when we were not able to attend SXSW in person. Finding Yingying is not an easy story to tell, and I’m so lucky to have an amazing team with me. Producer Brent E. Huffman was my professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University when I started Finding Yingying. He’s been my mentor and huge supporter for years. I also learnt so much from producer Diane Quon, who believes in young Asian voices and has connected Finding Yingying to a larger world. I’d like to give a special thanks to our talented editor John Farbrother who made the magic to bring the film to life. It's also amazing to work with our co-producer and cinematographer Shilin Sun, who was with me all the time in this emotional journey behind the camera.

FINDING YINGYING could not have been made without the tremendous support of Kartemquin Films. I'm a graduate of the 2018 Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) fellowship program. As a first-time filmmaker, it's such an honor to work on Finding Yingying with Kartemquin. In the past few years, Kartemquin provided me with mentorship, guidance and all kinds of resources that allowed me to tell Yingying's story.

SCREEN: What do you consider to be most unique and impactful about your film?

JENNY: When we think about a case like this, the media is likely to focus on the crime, investigation or the perpetrator. They forget about the people left behind in the tragedy - and the person labeled only as the “victim” becomes dehumanized. FINDING YINGYING is not a traditional true crime film. It's a story of a brilliant young woman, who is loved by her family and friends, a story of her grieving family trying to stay strong and find her while navigating a strange, foreign country.

I hope after the audience watches the film, they walk away with the image of an extraordinary woman who had a wonderful life ahead and the impact of such a sudden loss in the community and everyone around her. I also hope FINDING YINGYING can help change the narrative of crime stories nowadays.

SCREEN: What are your thoughts on the live SXSW festival being canceled?

JENNY: Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone and our fellow SXSW filmmakers, as we all adapt. FINDING YINGYING is so important to us, and we are still striving to get the message out about the family and Yingying, making sure that the truth of her story is known.


Most of the film festivals that we got in have been cancelled or postponed. We are still applying for other film festivals and are still talking to distributors. But the truth is no one in the film industry or in other arts and cultural fields knows right now how things are going to play out. We are just happy we made a great film and know people will see it eventually!