College: City College
Awards: Student Academy Award, 2017
Aftermath of a Nuclear ‘Kumo' in the First Film of a Trilogy
In May 2014, Yvonne Ng attended the U.N.'s 2014 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting as a participant of a Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai International.
"In Buddhism," she says, "we learn, in the words of Daisaku Ikeda, that a great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, can even enable a change in the destiny of all humankind."
How could Ng, a New York commercial photographer in her 30s who was born in Singapore, change herself to diminish the nuclear threat? Thinking about the power of movies to inform and stir emotion brought her to City College's MFA program. The upshot was her 15-minute thesis film, "Cloud Kumo," which won a silver medal in the Alternative Category at the 2016 Student Academy Awards, a competition that drew 1,749 entries from around the world. Ng is City Film's fourth Student Academy Award winner in 10 years.
The movie concerns a fictional Hiroshima survivor who battles illness, and her granddaughter, who carries a radiation-related genetic defect. The grandmother "does not see herself as a victim," Ng says. "She rises above her situation, never giving up hope that another day will be bright and beautiful."
Shot in Hiroshima and New York City on a $30,000 budget, "Cloud Kumo" (kumo means cloud in Japanese) cast an actual hibakusha - a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Michiko Ishii, a musician and poet, was 7 years old when the bomb dropped, burning her severely. Ng hired child actors in Hiroshima for flashbacks.
To play the adult granddaughter, she found Yokko, a New York Butoh dancer, a practitioner of a confrontational Japanese theatrical and dance form rooted in the anguish of war. Yokko, who is from Japan, performs a modern dance in the film. "It was by pure luck I ran into her. She had zero acting experience, but when I sent her the script, she agreed immediately."
Ng's film mixes fiction and documentary. "I was keen on having a survivor star in the film." She and Ishii lacked a common language, but they connected. Although she had never acted, "The quality and depth that she brings to the camera is immense," Ng says.
She credits City Film's program directors, Andrea Weiss and Antonio Tibaldi, with helping her to cut miles of footage into a concentrated short. "Every time we screened a cut, they asked, ‘What is the essence?'" Andrzej Krakowski, who teaches screenwriting, "helped tremendously, too. I had to rewrite my script so many times!"
"Cloud Kumo" is the first in a planned trilogy about nuclear issues. The second deals with the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the third will be about uranium mining.