Bryan Sih’s next film will be set in a rural military town in the Rockies. He envisions the mountains will feature prominently in the background, and there will be horses — lots of horses — and snow. The film will be visceral and sensuous, Sih said, but he isn’t sure exactly what will happen in it.
“I’m not obsessed with story or plot that much,” he said. “I’m interested in mood and visuals.”
But the Los Angeles-based filmmaker knows he will eventually need a plot and characters for the project he plans to begin filming in January. He hopes to come up with the storyline and to write the script while in Jackson this month as the November artist-in-residence of the Uncommon Art series presented by Teton Artlab in collaboration with the Anvil Hotel.
As part of his Artlab residency, Sih will give a Zoom talk and screen one his most recent short films, “Thank You Never Come Again,” which tells the the story of a second-generation Chinese mechanic searching for his father, who disappeared during the pandemic after he was forced to close his barbershop in Chinatown.
The film explores gentrification, displacement, and the disappearance of valuable and vulnerable community members. The event, open to all, will start at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Zoom.
As a child Sih was always drawing on Magna Doodles, the toy that allowed kids to draw and erase pictures on a magnetic board.
“I would go through Magna Doodles like paper,” Sih said. “I’d use them and break them from pressing too hard. I was always interested in trying to draw what I saw in my head or manifest what I saw in my head. It calms me. It’s meditative.”
But by the time he was in high school his drawing skills plateaued, and he moved on to painting, then music, then filmmaking. The camera was more immediate while still allowing him to capture and create what he saw in his head.
His visual background in painting and drawing influences his filmmaking; he thinks about the images he wants to capture more than a plot.
“I feel like I’m coming from a more visceral, gut reaction,” he said. “I think about something I want to cut to when I’m presenting something else. I’m more interested in those moments than just a cause and effect and a climax and a resolution.”
While plot is not always important to Sih’s work, he does use his films to explore ideas and issues that are important to him, such as housing insecurity, justice and gentrification. The script he is working on while in Jackson will likely deal with squatters in a Colorado mountain town, he said.
“I’ve been thinking about housing and getting evicted in the pandemic and people who don’t have a parent’s house to go to,” he said. “What happens to people on the fringes that don’t have a family to go back to if they lose a job?”
Jackson Hole provides an ideal place to work on his script, he said. Not only is the landscape inspiring, the town faces unique housing issues that Sih is curious to learn more about.
He also hopes to partner with a local organization focused on housing to collaborate with on a project. Housing justice and gentrification are issues he is passionate about and has explored more in urban areas. He’s curious about housing and the other challenges rural communities face as well as the dynamic of how things play out in small towns between people.
Having grown up on the East Coast, Sih is used to snow, he said, but he is approaching winter in the West with the fascination of an outsider.
“I’m really curious about these places within the overall context of American culture,” he said. “There are dynamics that are playing out in these communities that are important to look at.”