Director Lulu Wang discusses 'The Farewell'

Directors, from left, Lulu Wang at the premiere of her film

Directors, from left, Lulu Wang at the premiere of her film "The Farewell" during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, 2019, Minhal Baig at the premiere of her film "Hala" during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 26, 2019 and Chinonye Chukwu at the premiere of her film "Clemency" at the Sundance Film Festival.

Compilation photo / AP

Lulu Wang loves her grandmother.

“She has been my foundation, my rock, as long as I can remember, and it was so natural to make a movie to share how we feel about each other.”

But the filmmaker knows it takes more to create a movie that works than good intentions.

“My job as a moviemaker is to challenge,” Wang recently shared after a screening of “The Farewell.” While others who write and direct films may rely on their own points of view, Wang insists that her job, as the leader, is to “encourage collaborators to bring their best to the set each day. Because film is such an immersive experience, it’s difficult for any one person to know what will work. That’s why I rely on the people around me.”

For Wang, who was born in China, and raised in Florida, the film brings a wonderful to celebrate this most important person in her life. “We all struggle through our lives, and our grandmothers help remind us what actually matters. In film, catharsis and closure are essential elements to the movie experience so, when we developed the script for the film, we tried to balance how we treat the internal drama within the family, people who often scream on the inside, trying to maintain as much joy and comfort as possible.”

Helping Lang fulfill this vision for the film is the breakthrough performance from Awkwafina, a performer most associated with comedy. “I only knew of her as a rapper,” Wang admits, “but I was intrigued as soon as I heard she was interested in the film. The content rings true to her, because she was raised by a Chinese grandmother, but she rarely gets the chance to consider a role like this. As soon as I saw her audition tape, and the way she can communicate expression with her face, and reveal the conflict inside, I knew she was just what we needed, so much so that I adapted the character’s proficiency in Chinese to fit her command of the language. I simply knew she was right for the film.”

What Lang is less certain about is how to handle the reactions of her family members to a film that tells their story. “They all came to the set, and they will all come to the premiere, but we haven’t yet talked about all the details in the movie. What I like about the film is how it asks the question, ‘who is the one being tricked here,’ because it is filled with so much love.”

Asked why “The Farewell” features so many images of birds, Lang simply smiles. “I don’t know. I like birds. I do think they symbolize the spiritual, the perspective, the balance we seek in our lives. Sometimes they are signs in life, but we never truly know the answer.”

As for her next film, Lang dodges the question just a bit. “I don’t think it will be about family,” she laughs, “but, no matter the story, it will be Asian American, and it will be me.”