Stephanie Liu and Lizzy Xie, Copy Editor and Online News Editor
// “I am not a virus. I am human. We are all human.”
Acalanes alumnus Abey Lin and senior Sabrina Lin used this recurring message to remind their audience of the inherent humanity of each individual in the face of the coronavirus outbreak in their film, “Catching Love.”
In late December of 2019, the COVID-19 virus broke out in the city of Wuhan, China. The virus has since spread around the world with over 300,000 confirmed cases globally; fear spread faster than the disease ever could.
“As we watched the coronavirus begin to frequent the news more and spread to other countries outside of China, my family immediately anticipated that this would spark discrimination. From that point, we already had a short film concept in mind and began prepping for it,” senior and assistant director Sabrina Lin said.
True to the Lin family’s predictions, COVID-19 caused a spike of xenophobia and racism against Asians. Reports of physical assault against people of Asian descent increased, and a video of the assault of an elderly Asian man in San Francisco recently went viral.
“Every day, I would open my phone and see video after video, article after article of people being physically attacked or discriminated against,” Abey Lin said. “Many of my friends and I have experienced [racism] often in forms such as verbal insults and disgusted looks when going to public areas. And because of all this, many Asians are finding themselves in constant states of paranoia, especially in public areas.”
Sabrina Lin similarly reported experiencing feelings of paranoia since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I hadn’t been directly discriminated against; however, it felt as though every time I entered a public space, immediately all eyes would be on me. There was an undeniable fear which surrounded my family and me, simply due to the color of our skin,” Sabrina Lin said. “The growing trend of severe violence and prejudice against Asians was not something we wanted to wait to experience before taking action.”
Using their artistic talent and experience, the Lin siblings created a film to counteract the highly-contagious fear and negativity that had started to pervade communities.
Abey Lin currently studies film at the Beijing Film Academy, specializing in acting and directing. He also has experience as a cinematographer, editor, music composer, and producer.
“Having a wider, jack-of-all-trades approach to film really allowed me to have deeper creative control in my projects, and I believed it really helped when it came to films such as ‘Catching Love’ as I was able to play various roles during the production,” Abey Lin said.
Meanwhile, Sabrina Lin only started directing films rather than acting in them this past summer. She says that this project was a good experience as an emerging creator.
“Personally, this film was transformative even though I was the co-creator. As someone who has access to technology, experience in film, and an awesome co-creator [Abey], I felt like there’s no better time than now to utilize those resources and address the issue,” Sabrina Lin said.
“Catching Love” relies upon a succinct script to present a positive narrative and counteract the fear that has accompanied the COVID-19 outbreak. Each person featured in the film introduces themselves, then says: “I am not a virus. I am human. We are all human.”
This message, amplified through a myriad of voices, serves as the powerful centerpiece of the film.
“When we began writing, we knew we wanted our script to be simple yet powerful. Something easy to remember, yet heavy enough to make a lasting impact. We felt the three repeating lines ‘I am a human,’ ‘I am not a virus,’ and ‘We are all human’ fit our vision perfectly, and that by repeating the lines throughout the film, the lines would continue to resonate with the viewer even after the film ended,” Abey Lin said.
Although most cases of discrimination associated with COVID-19 are against people of Asian descent, the film features a diverse cast, underscoring the message that the coronavirus issue is universal.
“We casted with a really open mind. Even though the film is a response to xenophobia, we wanted to highlight the underlying unity in diversity. This means casting people of all different backgrounds, lifestyles, and cultures,” Sabrina Lin said.
All of the people who appeared in the film are family and friends from the Bay Area, giving the film a more personal and local feel.
“Lynn [the final person featured in the film] is actually Sabrina and I’s childhood piano teacher and taught us almost everything we knew about music. It was actually quite emotional having old teachers, childhood friends, mentors, and figures of inspiration come together,” Abey Lin said.
Senior Tabitha Kenney, another individual featured in the video, hasn’t experienced any racism or discrimination due to COVID-19 but has seen others make ignorant remarks about it.
“I would never call any of those individuals racist or xenophobic, though the insensitivity could come off that way,” Kenney said.
All filming took place at the Lins’ house in a week in early February with a minimal set consisting of two lights, one camera, one black backdrop, and a swivel chair from the kitchen counter. The Lins brought in Matthew Turano, fellow Acalanes alumnus, as the sound operator.
“A few people came in each day to film, and after collecting all our footage and audio, I wrote and recorded the instrumental background music for the film on our piano. With all the puzzle pieces now ready, I edited for about two days straight, finishing the whole film in a little over nine days,” Abey Lin said.
Although two students created the film, there was nothing amateur about the production; the filming process was of a professional caliber.
“I originally expected a low key film, which was a mistake. The experience was the most professional I have ever experienced. Every aspect of the film and background seemed planned,” Kenney said.
Since the film premiered on YouTube on Feb. 19, it has received over 5,000 views from an international audience.
“[‘Catching Love’] was reposted and shared by people in various countries outside the United States, including Canada, Italy, Brazil, Korea, Japan, and China. So many people, including my distant relatives, my friends, and even people I had never met reached out to speak about their own experiences with the discrimination following the coronavirus, and how this film really resonated with them,” Abey Lin said.
In addition to responses from individuals, The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s independent news source, recognized the film in an article.
“The article by The Daily Californian was mind-blowing and almost like a relief. With the increase in fear and the spread of the disease, we really wanted to spread the message just as fast. The article was a confirmation that people are listening. I’m hopeful that it will continue to gain momentum and influence positivity in the nearing pandemonium,” Sabrina Lin said.
The Lins and their film were also featured on the KTVU2 Fox News channel, broadcasting their message nationwide.
“It is completely surreal and such an incredible honor to see ‘Catching Love’ on national television, and I can only hope that this helps us spread our message further and further,” Abey Lin said on an Instagram post.
The outpour of positive reviews from people ranging from close family and friends to strangers from around the world and even various news sources fulfilled the Lin siblings’ goal of introducing a positive message amid the COVID-19 scare.
“It was so moving to see our message being spread around the world, hopefully changing the lives of those who watched the film, and those around them,” Abey Lin said.
As both COVID-19 and the fear surrounding it impact more of our daily lives, the message of “Catching Love” should also become more prevalent.
“This virus is far more than a physical threat. It questions the perseverance of humanity in the face of an unpredictable menace. It challenges your ability to love and trust those around you. Fear and paranoia are natural human traits, but so are empathy and camaraderie,” Sabrina Lin said. “I think as one species fighting this virus; we are infinitely stronger together.”
Watch the movie below: