64 min. – HD Video, 16mm, Super-8mm – Stereo & 5.1 Surround – 2013
In Mandarin, Spanish & English with English subtitles
Immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown share their stories of personal and political upheaval. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of the Chinese in the United States through conversations, autobiographical monologues, and theatrical movement pieces. Shot in the kitchens, bedrooms, wedding halls, cafés, and mahjong parlors of Chinatown, this provocative hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life.
“I’ve spent most of my life as an artist thinking about how to convey my observations of the world around me in the visual and aural language of film. I experiment with my perception of reality by embracing an associative, non-literal approach to images, and it is through this artistic exploration that I grapple with the natural, social, cultural and political phenomena that I witness through the lens of my camera. I began the Your Day is My Night project in late 2009 when I was talking with a relative on his 90th birthday. A Brooklyn resident for his entire life, Uncle Bob has haunting memories of December 16, 1960 when a jet crashed near his Brooklyn home. Trying to imagine the devastation in this busy neighborhood, I asked him how many people on the ground had died. ‘It was hard to know because there were so many hot bed houses in that area. They all burned and no one knew precisely who lived there.’
What are hot bed houses? I asked him. ‘Those are homes for poor people who work and can’t afford to rent their own apartments. They share beds in shifts.’ I reconstructed the moment of the crash, creating a mental image of the inhabitants of these apartments as they tried to gather their few personal possessions and escape the fire. Which unlucky person would awake from a deep sleep after a long shift at the port to the sound of the crash and the heat of the fire?
After that conversation, I discovered that 19th Century photographer Jacob Riis documented numerous examples of these beds, and it is through his lens that I was able to begin my research. In Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, he exposed to the rest of America the poor, immigrant experience he witnessed in downtown New York City. I later read The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe to give me a more current sense of the situation in current day Chinatown.
I think of the bed as an extension of the earth. For most of us, we sleep on the same mattress every night; our beds take on the shape of our bodies, like a fossil where we leave our mark for posterity. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington slept in many borrowed beds and now, hundreds of years later, his brief presence is celebrated from one New England town to the next: ‘George Washington Slept Here’ has a kind of strange signification and prestige. But for transients, people who use hotels, and the homeless a bed is no more than a borrowed place to sleep. An animal that borrows its home from another species is called an inquiline, and in Spanish inquilina is the word for a renter. Conceptual artist and sculptor Félix González-Torres photographed a series of empty, unmade beds to commemorate the life and death of his partner, as if the very sheets that remained could remind him and us of the body and the man he had loved.
Since January of 2011, I have been writing, researching, and shooting material for my ‘bed project’ in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York City. I found a group of non-professional Chinese performer/participants (ages 58 – 78) and worked almost weekly with them over a period of a year and a half. During our workshops, they each exchanged their own stories around domestic life, immigration and personal-political upheaval. None of these people has ever worked in this cross-cultural way, so it is these taped process-oriented conversations that, in the final film, enhance our audience’s sense of the bed – experienced and imagined from profoundly different viewpoints. Next, a written script emerged from our months of shooting documentary images and interviews. Using the interactive model of Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed”, I guided my collective in a “simultaneous dramaturgy”. My performers, crew and, more recently, our live audience, explored the potential for transformation that can come from a dialogue around personal histories and the imagination.
The material I collected during these interviews is the basis for the monologues in Your Day is My Night. In production, I guided my performers through visual scenarios that reveal a bed as a stage on which people manifest who they are at home and who they are in the world. Our shooting took place in two different actual shift-bed apartments located in NYC’s Chinatown. The Chinese participants (several of whom currently live or have actually slept on shift-beds) spoke of family ruptures during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a mattress excavated from a garbage heap, four men on one bed in Chinatown, amongst a long series of fascinating and haunting bed-related topics.
“Your Day is My Night” has been exhibited as a live performance at St. Nicks Alliance in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York Public Library in Chinatown, Proteus Gowanus Interdisciplinary Arts Gallery in Brooklyn and University Settlement in Manhattan.” – LS
Featuring: Yi Chun Cao, Linda Y.H. Chan, Chung Qing Che, Ellen Ho, Yun Xiu Huang, Sheut Hing Lee, Kam Yin Tsui, & Veraalba Santa
Director: Lynne Sachs
Co-producer, Cinematographer, Editor: Sean Hanley
Original Music & Additional Sound Design: Stephen Vitiello
Cinematographer: Ethan Mass
Writing: Rojo Robles, Lynne Sachs
Translations and Production Managing: Catherine Ng, Jenifer Lee
Sound Recording: Amanda Katz, Jeff Sisson
Sound Mix: Damian Volpe
Additional Editing and Translating: Bryan Chang
16mm Color Negative Hand-Processing: Joshua Lewis
Titles: Rachel Melman