Opinion: How ‘Streams Flow From A River’ avoided ‘regurgitating hatred’ & embraced authenticity

Streams Flow From A River

Shant Joshi, president & executive producer at Fae Pictures, discusses upcoming Canneseries shortform drama Streams Flow From A River and how it embraced using a team that had first-hand understanding of the issues in the show.

It is a commonly held belief that to achieve a high-quality production, one must put aside certain ‘political’ restrictions. Many believe that prioritising identity factors like gender, race, sexuality, disability and diverse life experiences can stifle and frustrate creativity freedom.

When it came to stories about ‘the Other’, screen institutions rarely prioritised authenticity, primarily because the audiences they were serving did not belong to those groups.

Now in an age of global connectivity, unheard voices are finally being listened to and we are beginning to realise how inauthentic and hurtful historical depictions of ‘the Other’ were. Some may call this ‘cancel culture’ – we call it decolonisation.

As such, I’m committed to decolonising Hollywood by creating cinematic content for, by, and about queer, trans and BIPOC people.

Shant Joshi

Our process of decolonisation starts with Christopher Yip’s Streams Flow From A River, a Chinese-Canadian family drama in this year’s Canneseries Short Form Competition. When trying to tell new, representative stories, we’ve found there are two key tenets to consider:

Firstly, was Christopher telling an untold story that we were personally intrigued to watch on screen?

And, was Christopher telling a story rooted in his experiences that could play a role in healing societal divides?

The show tells the story of a Chinese-Canadian immigrant family that owned a laundromat in the Canadian prairies who were divided by the conflict of their individual circumstances. While the impetus for telling of the story was the rise in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic, Christopher understood that it wasn’t constructive to simply regurgitate that hatred on screen.

Instead, Christopher’s vision was far more progressive, as the villain of the series was each character’s own conditioned immigrant behavior of struggling alone and eating bitterness to avoid showing weakness.

Representation doesn’t start or end on the screen. Assembling a crew doesn’t just mean bringing talented people onto set, it meant bringing together talented, kind and loving people who understand what is trying to be achieved, and are passionate about its ambitions.

When considering the context of the series being made, it made sense for this show to have an all-Asian writersroom and a crew that was made up of at least 75% people with East Asian backgrounds. This meant working with a lot of first-timers, as the industry had not given many of our crew opportunities for their careers to grow.

Because we were working with a team who personally understood the world that we were eager to build through the story we were telling, and because we fostered passion through authentic, equitable and fair production practices, the work that made it onto the screen was excellent.

Passionate and authentic storytelling leads to deeply engaged audiences. For those from the Asian diaspora it is perhaps because they can relate to the characters’ experiences, or for those from other communities it is because of the empathy the story elicits.

Too often we find the industry prioritising creative impetus and sometimes an aggressive and ambitious drive for short-term success, rather than an appreciation for the process of storytelling and its power to bring people together. In fact, these stories have the power to connect us, create empathy, and make the world a more inclusive place.

For our team, prioritising authenticity, equity, inclusivity, and decolonization did not hurt our series, our successes, or our relationships with the industry or with audiences, it only empowered those things in a sustainable way that we believe will lead to fulfilling careers and personal lives.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to share the story of making this series with Christopher. We could not have achieved this without the support and hard work of the Fae Pictures team including Lindsay Blair Goeldner, Abdul Malik, Lauren Saarimaki, Daniel Northway-Frank, and many others.

Shant Joshi is president & executive producer at Fae Pictures, a production company based in LA, New York and Toronto. It recently produced the Sundance and GLAAD award-winning film Framing Agnes.

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