AAAFF Review: "Sister"

Short film is a letter to the children of China’s One Child Policy

No one forgets the first time they see themselves on the big screen. Not as an actor, but as a person whose story is worth hearing. I’m 22 years old and Siqi Song’s “Sister” is a first for me.

The 8-minute animated short, which won the audience award for Narrative Short at this weekend's Austin Asian American Film Festival, seems simple enough as the narrator, voiced by Bingyang Liu, recounts growing up with his little sister. The use of felt dolls, given stop-motion life by Katelyn Lovelace and Collen Sinclair, is unassuming and quaint at first, until we see how Song’s imagination shines through his use of the material. Scenes such as when the little sister plants the big brother’s lost tooth, and it actually grows and unfurls stems and leaves, create a lighthearted tone by demonstrating the kids’ wild imaginations.

It is endearing up until a twist. Spoiler alert: The narrator confesses he never had a sister, at which point all the scenes rewind and replay without her. The little sister was aborted because she was born second. She was aborted because of China’s One Child policy. Suddenly, the once-sweet story has a painful underbelly, and Song dedicates the film to the siblings we never met, in both English and Mandarin titles.

I’ve never had a film dedicated to me.

As a Chinese adoptee myself, a girl born at the height of the policy, I know the two possibilities for unwanted Chinese girls was adoption or abortion. I’ve never seen any art done on the matter, and this one does so with such grace, honesty, and craft. As the narrator grieves the loss of his almost-sister, I grieve the loss of my almost-family and feel how we are two sides of the same coin, connected by one policy. The One Child Policy.

I can’t say whether he only meant the film for babies aborted during this time period. I can’t say if I, as one who is still alive yet still very affected by it, count. But art often moves more people than it realizes, and how lucky am I, even if I’m not the intended audience, to be touched by this film.

“Sister” is a note in a bottle, carried across decades and continents and language barriers, to China’s children around the world and the ones who have left it. It says we remember you. It says we miss you. It says you are still with us.


Austin Asian American Film Festival, June 13-16,

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Austin Asian American Film Festival, AAAFF 2019, Sister, One Child Policy

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