Like so many of us, Peiyuan Xi felt the real world slipping away from him as the Covid 19 pandemic lingered. As the promise of an emergence from this confinement presented itself, Peiyuan went to action to do what is most natural to him, the creation of a film. The resulting A Winter Afternoon is a tale of reconnecting with the world, something which has proven a challenge for our global society. The film recently made its world premiere as an official selection of the 75th Salerno International Film Festival in Italy, this story is an example of the social connection that lifts each of us to be our most actualized selves. A Winter Afternoon is a reminder that we make each other better by being connected in the real world rather than the digital one. Describing the impetus for creating this moving production, Peiyuan states, “After a long period staying at home, I felt like our presence as carbon-based organisms had almost disappeared. Everyone of my family or my friends seemed like their lives were simply ‘online’ and checking whether or not they were still alive was done via image, sound, or text made by artificial binary code. I felt a thirst to meet up with my old friends and family to re-link in person. After scheduling a trip together with two of my old friends to go to the Adirondack mountains, on the road back to town I found the loneliness laid like a seed laying inside my heart. Loneliness is an inherent part of the human condition, a natural state we are born into, where the connection with others’ hearts is something that can be discovered but not actively pursued.”
The two central characters in A Winter Afternoon exist in a state of melancholy disconnect; one from the world and their own futures. Leong (played by Zedong Wang), is a young man who drives a taxi during the days of the pandemic he wanted to be a police officer but this eludes him. A young woman named Wen (“Caroline” Yixuan Fu) and Leong drive up to Ontario lakeside to watch a comet from the advantageous perspective of this location. During the ride, they confess parts of their lives that have not worked out as they’d hoped. Through the simple act of sharing time in a confined space, these two people find comfort in the simplicity of platonic human contact and conversation. Though they miss the celestial event that sparked their connection, they discover something that they needed more. The decisions of how to present these scenes is remarkably effective and mature. When Leong and Wen walk side by side next to the lake waves and discuss family and food memories, the camera’s vantage from atop a Cliffside makes the conversation feel distant and insignificant. The audience is later bathed in the silence which contrasts close proximity during the car ride; a reminder that loneliness is a constant state for both these characters. A somber catharsis comes in the ending scene of the film when Leong drive alone in his car along the highway to Ontario Lake. A voiceover from him relates a peaceful sense of what he experienced and an acceptance of this emotional state.
The authentic expression of emotion, even sadness or loneliness, can exhibit greatness in the hands of a talented artist. Through this film, Peiyuan allows the viewer to see a reflection of their own experiences during the pandemic. Though we all have a unique story to tell, we can recognize the isolation of these characters. To further emphasize the emotional impact of the visual message of A Winter Afternoon, Peiyuan procured the skills of Daytime Emmy Award Winning (for Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Primetime Emmy Nominated (HBO’s Doom Patrol and Primetime Emmy Nominated Series Jane the Virgin) composer Peter Lam. These two artists had an immediate meeting-of-the-minds regarding the musical identity of the film score as Peiyuan recalls, “I first asked Peter to write a music for the ending scene of the film to enhance the feeling of being peaceful in the natural environment and loneliness with an acceptant attitude. After listening three types of demo he worked on, I wrote that WAV file name down on my hand, and asked Peter to do the same. When we show our hands together, it was the same one. We laughed loudly. He asked me if I preferred electric or live musicians and I told him I felt live musicians playing his music will be much more powerful. I truly thanked him so much because his music brings the emotional express to another level.”
For filmmakers such as Peiyuan Xi, their work is a compulsion that demands much and offers respite. When the lead actress of A Winter Afternoon dropped out three days before principle photography began, he pivoted and altered scenes and conducted a second round of casting. On the film’s third day of production, the news informed the world that 0.22 million people got Covid 19 in this single day but the cast and crew remained steadfast. Amidst reports of more Covid cases and shoots with a temperature of four-below-zero, Peiyuan and his team persevered. What they achieved for such herculean efforts is a film which is gentle and affirming. A Winter Afternoon is a graceful nudge that we all need each other to be our better selves.