Cultural Discovery with Editor Luodawei Xiao
For a creative professional like editor Luodawei Xiao, filmmaking can come from a place of experiential information or from that of curiosity. As a native of China, his work on films like the award-winning (Best Documentary at the LA Independent Film Channel and Boden International Film Festival) documentary Ice World illuminates a global audience about magnificent people and occurrences of his homeland. As the editor of films like A Black Saturday and We Were Meant To, he is able to utilize his impressive skill to empower tales of other races and cultures. He relates, “I just love the editing process. I get to make cool stuff that is not necessarily related to my own cultural background. I learn so much about people, life, culture, and art. Filmmaking is such a collaborative process. As an editor, it’s essential for me to listen and be inquisitive. Most importantly, I can’t be so afraid of making a mistake that it inhibits my choices. You can create great things when you nurture and question each other as a team.”
Those who work in the industry are quick to appreciate how Xiao is underplaying the importance of this role. Perhaps only rivaled by the work of a director, the editor is responsible for establishing the tone of a film while presenting the best performances the actors have given. A great editor is the quality control of a film and worth their weight in gold. Although Xiao grew up in Chengdu (Sichuan, China), he perfectly captured the mood of a lazy Saturday in America for two adolescent siblings in director Tori Sampson’s A Black Saturday. An official selection of the Slamdance Film Festival, this film stands out as neither plot nor character driven but rather a story which transfers a “slice-of-life” recognizable to so many of us. Far more than a narrative sequence of scenes, Xiao’s editing has crafted a sensory memory touchstone that transports the viewer back to a simpler time when contentment was found at the bottom of a sugary cereal bowl or rolling in the grass. Moments in the film, such as when Nia and Bakari (the siblings central to this film) play with toys and watch cartoons, might have seemed mundane or dull at the hands of a less skilled editor but Xiao has managed to manifest the wonderment these children feel at a relaxed pace. A Black Saturday is a romantic ode that comforts those of a certain generation and hopefully inspires those of a younger one. Relating his experience watching A Black Saturday with the audience at Slamdance, the editor relates, “I was quite surprised by how hard people laughed at the humorous moments. They are intended as funny in the editing room but there’s nothing like seeing your intention come across for the audience. Many told me it really captured what it was like growing up for them. I was very proud that, as an outsider, I can make art that connects with people who are from a completely different background than mine.”
His work on director Tari Wariebi’s We Were Meant to Be cultivated a vastly different tone for this official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. An inspiring film with fantasy elements, We Were Meant to Be is the story of a young black man named Akil who lives in a world where the introduction to manhood is achieved through a “first flight” with wings. In the story, boys are born with these wings and this rite-of-passage is a public event. Akil struggles with the anxiety that is coupled with the event as well as a myriad of normal teenage factors such as girls, father-issues, friends, and the like. Xiao worked closely with the VFX team at Encore to establish moments of grandeur and subtly for We Were Meant to Be. Most of these center on Akil’s wings which are only hinted about early on but provide a spectacular moment which completely alters the direction of the film once they appear. The first scene in which Akil expands his wings establishes that we have just left our version of reality behind and with complete abandon, happily throw ourselves into this new world. Xiao also took on the role of music selection for this Pan African Film Festival Official Selection, further establishing that the mood of the film met the director’s expectations.
In the eyes of Luodawei Xiao, the work of an editor can be as diverse as that of a great character actor or director. Losing himself in the vision of his collaborating director while opening himself up to creativity with fresh eyes, this is the allure of each new project for him. He refers to films such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Thelma Schoonmaker’s Raging Bull, and Dede Allen’s Reds as all possessing a uniqueness that captures you and moves you into a specific emotional space. Profoundly and succinctly he declares, “Brilliant editing does not have to be flashy or complicated to be awe-inspiring to me.”