DOC NYC 2022 Women Directors: Meet Christine Yoo – “26.2 to Life”

Christine Yu is a director, producer, writer, a volunteer at the San Quentin State Prison, and a co-founder of the San Quentin Film Festival. As a producer, he has worked on non-fiction series for National Geographic, History, Oxygen and PBS, among others. His independent work focuses on lesser-served voices. Career highlights include the documentary short “Conversation with Claudia, “ A special project for PS1 / Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), serving as co-writer of the cult anime series “Afro Samurai”, and directed, produced, and co-wrote the award-winning Korean-American rom-com “Wedding Palace. , ,26.2 To Life” Yu’s first feature documentary.

“26.2 To Life” is screening at the 2022 DOC NYC Film Festival, running November 9-27.

W&H: Describe the film to us in your own words.

CY: “26.2 To Life” tells the story of three inmate men convicted of murder, who are members of the 1000 Mile Club, a long-distance running club at San Quentin State Prison, organized and coached by experienced, volunteer marathoners, who come to jail. Train and workout with imprisoned runners. The club’s running season culminates in an annual marathon, 105 grueling laps around the prison yard.

The film captures the marathon inside the oldest prison in California and explores what got these guys started on and off the track in San Quentin. Although they are intertwined with absentee fatherhood, multi-generational incarceration, the criminalization of caste and poverty, and the fight for freedom, Markel Taylor, Rahsan Thomas and Tommy Lee Wickard each have unique stories to tell.

The marathon serves as a metaphor for how these men serve life sentences to live. I was inspired to tell the story of the 1000 Mile Club because their story was one of redemption and resilience, and it showed me that individuals can and do make a difference, that change is possible and it is happening.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

CY: 20 years ago, I became friends with a Korean-American partner, Hyun Kang, who could easily have been my brother—but he sentenced himself to life in a California state prison, without any hope of ever getting out before dying. . I’ve always been interested in social justice issues, and especially those related to the criminal legal system, but until that time, I didn’t personally know anyone who had been in prison. My friend’s experience made me think more deeply about the impact of imprisonment not only on the individual and their family, but also on the larger community. It also inspired me to understand how people who expect to be in prison for the rest of their lives find ways to live.

The opportunity to know that question came after I read an article in GQ About 1000 Mile Club. I knew right away that I wanted to make a film about marathons. i don’t get van gogh ,prisoners exercising“Out of my mind. I’ve experienced the “runner’s high” and the sense of freedom that comes from running and I can imagine how beneficial it can be to people in prison. Which I still don’t understand. had not come to terms with how important an ongoing community can be to play a role in the process of individual and social change.

I have a narrative background and I was going to write a narrative script. But when I started doing research, talking with coaches, current and former jailed members of the club, and going inside prison, I was forced to tell this story as a documentary because I felt That people needed to hear what I was hearing straight from the source.

W&H: What do you want people to think of the movie after they see it?

CY: I hope the film will spark a dialogue about our approach to incarceration, rehabilitation and community engagement. The 1000 Mile Club taught me that, with support, rehabilitation is a real goal and can transform the prison system and our relationship as we know it.

My team hopes this film will inspire new 1000 Mile Running Clubs in more prisons and communities across the country and we are building a toolkit to facilitate that goal.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

CY: Shooting in prison and telling a story that required multiple-entry access for a long time, it was not knowing when the next time we would get access to shoot. Also, we knew that lockdown can happen at any time, and nothing is guaranteed, so every second counts in. This was further complicated by the fact that I had no contact with the subjects the day before the shoot, so the plans had to be made in advance. Often I asked Tommy’s wife, Marion, to help coordinate the shooting, especially when we shot inside cell blocks or in areas off the track. She will relay the schedule to Tommy and then Tommy will share it with the rest.

It was always a priority to carefully plan which gear to move in. First, gear is impossible to access on a truck or in a holding area, so whatever we carried inside, we rolled around in rolling laundry hampers so we could be mobile. Inside the cell block, it was quite dark and there was very limited space to maneuver, so we had to be improvised and flexible.

On race days we had multiple-camera coverage and multiple field teams gathering footage, but without access to walkie-talkies inside the prison, we had to cover a sporting event without the benefit of immediate communication between teams. We had to make very detailed plans about who was doing what and when. There was a lot of consultation with the coach about what would happen, so we worked on some assumptions, but also had to be prepared to react spontaneously.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insight into how you made the film.

CY: This is the first time I have made a feature length documentary, so I knew I would have to raise funds independently. We began production through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and raised money through donations, grants, and investors as we progressed.

Also, I did a lot of the shooting and editing myself and did a lot of field work with Associate Producer Zahwa Hirsch Shooting Sound to get as much footage as I could, which saved a lot of money.

I am grateful to all those who have taken this journey with me and were involved in making and completing this film.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

CY: At some point when I was growing up, I noticed that I never saw people who were Asian on TV or in the movies and I loved TV and movies! During the rare event that Asians were on TV, their portrayals were distorted and felt foreign to me and the world in which I lived as an Asian American. Plus, I’ve always been involved in the arts growing up. I was a competitive pianist, painted, and did a little bit of theater.

I’ve always wanted to try acting and thought I had a good chance of being cast as one of King’s children in the upcoming local theater production “The King and I” because they were about to be Asian. Beyond the fact that most of the kids were white, I remember that as an Asian, my world of potential seemed so limited. It was these events that ultimately inspired me to become a storyteller.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

CY: My dad always used to tell me, “Fall seven times, get up eight times.” I’ll remind myself this when things aren’t going my way.

The worst advice is being told not to give up when faced with adversity or pursue something I care about.

W&H: What is your advice for other female directors?

CY: If you have a film you want to direct, go out and make it. Don’t ask for permission and educate yourself as much as you can about finances and legality. But I would tell this to any director, woman or man.

The only thing I would add, especially for a female director, is that your journey will be more difficult than that of our male counterparts, so collaborate with people who will have your back in tough times. For this film, I put together an all-female producer team and it was an incredibly collaborative environment.

W&H: Name your favorite female-directed movie and why.

CY: I really enjoyed “Nomadland” by Chloe Zhao for its humanity and scope, and it meant a lot to me when it won the Best Director Oscar.

W&H: What, if any, responsibilities, do you think storytellers face in the world of turmoil, from the pandemic to the loss of abortion rights and systemic violence?

CY: I feel a responsibility to focus on the stories of underrepresented voices. But I don’t see it as a burden in any way; It brings me joy and purpose to be able to tell and share stories that may have remained unknown or hidden if I didn’t have a camera.

The ultimate hope is that “26.2 to Life” can bring awareness and spark dialogue about the rehabilitation and reimagining of our prison system.

W&H: The film industry has a long history of undermining people behind the scenes and behind the scenes and reinforcing and creating negative stereotypes. What steps do you need to take to make Hollywood and/or the Doctor’s world more inclusive?

CY: My answer to the industry’s history of underrepresentation has been simply to forge my own path. The best thing I can do to improve this situation is to be my own person and move forward on my vision. For this film, we put a lot of thought into the casting and made sure there were diverse representations of themes and story. My core producer team was also all female. So it is quite possible that projects could be created to reflect greater diversity in the workplace and highlight non-traditional perspectives, but doing so should be a priority for the team and the filmmaker.