Experimenting with 16 mm

The following responses are written based on an interview with Ruby Yang and Lambert Yam. A selection of their works is screened in the ‘Yam and Yang: Experimentations in 16 mm’ segment.

Ruby Yang and Lambert Yam being interviewed at M+, 2024. Photo: Annabel Preston

Prompt: Elaborate on Your Experimental Cinematic Techniques

Yang: These films were made during my stay in America as a student. I started my career as a painter, so I regard film as a way to explore art. At that time, I was so young and innocent, therefore, these films were experimental since they could be seen as the monument of my path to finding my own cinema language. Before I started to make films in this style, the film industry had been mainly controlled by Hollywood. However, with this smaller format, I was able to film more freely, and the most interesting fact was that this format was soon adapted by Hollywood into their new productions. Actually, the main reason I adopted the 16 mm format was my limited budget. Majoring in film studies was not a common practice for Asians then, and the 16 mm format camera was an affordable option for us. However, when I look back now, that practice could truly be called ‘experimental’, given that many students were encouraged to get off their career in filmmaking.   

Yam: When I began making films at university, I was deeply influenced by Italian, Japanese, and French filming styles. Living in the Chinatown of San Francisco for many years, I attempted to be a storyteller of the city. However, different from most film works highlighting its prosperity and modernization, I moved the focus to the so-called bachelor society and the ethnic minority groups who lived in poverty. In this way, I managed to show the ‘broken American Dream’. If I were to compare myself to a painter, then I was using film as a brush of life. Forty to fifty years ago, the cameras were not as advanced as today, and the 16 mm format camera was lighter and more convenient than the traditional ones for me to film anywhere at any time. To some extent, it was a brave decision to apply this format because we were not able to see the images while filming; indeed, it was surprising to discover how the low-contrast scenes contributed to the poetic presence of these realistic stories.

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