Celebrating SXSW: Finding Yingying wins prize; The Dilemma of Desire thrills

Jiayan "Jenny" Shi's debut feature documentary, Finding Yingying was awarded the SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Voice. Finding Yingying, a vérité documentary, tells the story of the Zhang family, who arrive in the United States from China in search of their missing 26-year-old daughter, Yingying. An international student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Yingying was only in the U.S. for six weeks before disappearing in the summer of 2017. Unlike typical crime stories, Finding Yingying is a personal, intimate story about a family dealing with grief and finding resolution, and who Yingying was – why she came to the U.S. to study, and the challenges of finding justice as foreigners in the U.S.

Kartemquin was also excited to re-introduce the world to the exploration of "cliteracy" with two-time Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Maria Finitzo's thought provoking feature The Dilemma of Desire. Entertaining, thrilling and radical, The Dilemma of Desire explores the work of four women who are shattering myths and lies about female sexual desire, bodies and - ultimately - power. The film is a powerful reminder that true equality will come only when we all arrive at a place of understanding and acknowledgement that women are sexual beings, entitled to live their lives fully within the expression of their desire. One of film's participants, artist Rebecca Baruc, had her op-ed Why We All Need To Learn More About the Clitoris (and Female Orgasm) featured on the DailyBeast. 

In uncertain times like these, we are grateful for the writers and outlets that continued with their festival coverage, however abbreviated it may have been. While we all miss the comradere and jubilation that comes with the festival premieres, Jiayan "Jenny" Shi and Maria Finitzo's work continues to be celebrated. 

Finding Yingying

"This poignant documentary, which follows the story of Yingying Zhang... combines the care and steadfastness of a true-crime procedural with a rare sensitivity to questions of cultural difference, family dynamics, and the immigrant experience." - SXSW Documentary Feature Jury

"Intimate and haunting...Shi's film — which received a special SXSW jury prize for breakthrough voice — is a sensitively told true-crime story. It's much more than that too, grappling with matters of tradition, ambition, familial bonds and cultural disparities, and peering through the wider lens of the global economy, and the revenue that 300,000-plus Chinese students bring to U.S. colleges every year." - Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter

"It’s remarkable how Finding Yingying gets away from the traditional framework that governs how these stories are told, allowing the Zhangs to be seen separately from the horrific situation they find themselves in and on a larger scale, illuminating the subtle societal influences that shape not only their attitude towards what happened to their daughter but how the case is being processed in America. [T]hrough the near-radical level of compassion [Shi] shows in rejecting any implication that Yingying be seen exclusively as a victim or that everyone connected [to] her be seen only in the light of their pain, she finds that there are many other places besides the courtroom where justice can be served." - Stephen Saito, The Moveable Fest

"Jenny has helmed an intense and heartbreaking work that tenderly tells the story of Yingying Zhang...The interweaving of photos of Yingying, lines from her diary, her family’s pleas for information, and the investigation into what happened to her craft a hypnotic, assured film that does justice to its subject’s life and legacy. [I]f you can get through it, you will be treated to a wonderful, thoughtful examination of what justice means across two different nations. It is amazing but it will break your heart." - Bobby LePire, Film Threat

"But Finding Yingying isn’t a true crime story, so it doesn’t exploit the gruesome details of Yingying’s murder to titillate or horrify the viewer. Instead, Shi takes an interest in the kind of societal mechanisms that make humane crime prevention impossible in the U.S., and, on the other hand, make the speedy prosecution of these violent crimes fairly simple in China...Still, in its simplicity and attentiveness, Finding Yingying speaks to the failure of institutions in the U.S. to support the needs of both citizens and residents, while simultaneously profiting off of them." - Cassie da Costa, The Daily Beast

"Shi was there from the beginning, a contemporary of Zhang’s at the school, and so her access feels completely different than this film would have in anyone else’s hands. So does her focus. The details of the case are here, but what’s different is the human element. For example, Shi travels with the family as the days drag on in the search for Zhang before her body was discovered, and she’s there for the emotional tumult of the trial. Instead of a typical true-crime approach that focuses on the investigation, “Finding Yingying” becomes about the impact of crime, especially in how things become more painful when they happen halfway around the world." - Brian Tellerico, RogerEbert.com

"Some filmmakers might fall into the true crime trap of trying to solve the “mystery” of who Yingying was at heart, but Shi leverages the difficult task of finding Yingying into a powerful exploration of the singularly modern spaces exposed by her loss. If the movie feels a bit too intimate for a traditional release in the current market, its personal touch and true crime veneer could make it an instant hit on a streamer like Netflix." - David Ehrlich, IndieWire

"In the end, Finding Yingying is an engrossing documentary highlighting the vibrant life of Yingying Zhang, an incredible person and student whose life was taken from her way too soon." - Corbin Stewart, Keith Loves Movies

"While it’s hard to enjoy Finding Yingying, the documentary itself is an impressive film that helps us learn more about the young soul who had a dream similar to most of ours. Through her dedication and hard work, she even managed to partially fulfill it, and if not for fate, Yingying could’ve gone all the way." - Ulkar Alakbarova, AWFJ (Alliance of Women Film Journalists)

The Dilemma of Desire

"Sex positivity is more of a force than ever in the cultural conversation, yet the traditional, reductive myth about sexuality still endures: men like sex, women don’t. When it comes to sex, women are the objects, not the subjects. Maria Finitzo’s new doc calls bullshit on the old order — which was never based on any kind of truth — and calls for a revolution. Gender equality must extend to every part of life, including the bedroom." - Women and Hollywood

"The Dilemma of Desire is an unabashed celebration of women’s sexuality...[the film] will empower women to embrace their sexuality and that is a beautiful thing."
-Raquel Stecher, QUELLE MOVIE

"The Dilemma of Desire begins a conversation. A conversation which is vital and up until recently has not been happening. Women have been forced into silence. Only now do we feel strong enough in enough numbers to bring this to the table. Male sexuality has always been a given. Attention and space has been allotted to it whereas female desire has been ignored and, even more aggressively, silenced. Finitzo’s film is empowering." - Carey, OrcaSound

“The Dilemma of Desire is mostly a profile piece, bouncing between subjects invested in the cause of how we talk about female sexuality. It’s well-constructed, and the interviews strike a nice balance between being thought-provoking and entertaining. Again, this is a film that will almost certainly produce wonderfully informative and revealing Q&A events, and I regret that these couldn’t have started in a town as progressive as Austin. It’s a movie designed to get people talking. Let’s hope that conversation is allowed to start soon." - Brian Tellerico, RogerEbert.com

"I really enjoyed The Dilemma of Desire, unable to shake many of its messages and moments of enlightenment. It is a fascinating exploration in female sexuality and everything it encompasses. I found myself rewinding...shock and curiosity driving me to make sure I did not miss a beat. It is an eye-opening and a vital informational showcase for everyone today, yesterday and tomorrow." - Stephanie Archer, Film Inquiry

"In the deeply engrossing new documentary The Dilemma of Desire...director Maria Finitzo (Those Left Behind) examines how little we know – and how much we need to know – about the clitoris and beyond. With a captivating cast of talking-head interview subjects, Finitzo creates a comprehensive overview of the erotic world of women that dispels all preconceptions and false notions. Desire is not the dilemma; male dominance and supremacy are...The Dilemma of Desire is a marvel, fierce in its focus to rewrite the rules of behavior for all to follow. Begone, O Phallusy! The age of Cliteracy is upon us." - Christopher Reed, Hammer to Nail

"What I loved about this documentary was that it really holds nothing back. When it comes to female pleasure, there’s always more knowledge that we can learn. And hopefully, anyone reading this gets a chance to see this film because it’s an amazing insight on both pleasures and knowledge. It shines the light on how vital sexual education is with the proper information and emphasizes the importance of both men and women. The clitoris isn’t a dangerous thing to talk about. And it never should be." - John Garza, Reel Anarchy

"In The Dilemma of Desire, Finitzo channels the energy of that conversation into a brisk, entertaining and edifying cultural history of the clitoris, making the convincing case that its absence in the public discourse, woefully underrepresented, if at all, in scientific research studies in relation to its male counterpart and largely made to feel as if it’s too private to talk about, has stymied the progress towards achieving full equality for women." - Stephen Saito, The Moveable Fest