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Filmmaker interview with Francesco Raffo

Filmmaker interview by Patrick Foley

Thank you for speaking with us! Give us a brief overview of your short film Cha

Thank you so much for having me! Cha is about heritage, family, and belonging. Our goal was to create something that resonates with people and shows the impact of racism and violence on those most affected by it. Grandma’s story is one of heritage, family, devotion, fighting for your place in the world, and we treated this film as a celebration of all of that, as much as we talked about the pain caused by racism and violence.

What does the film mean to you – why did you want to tell the story of Jiho and his Grandmother?

Stories that have a social impact have always interested me, especially revolving around immigration and the struggles of fitting into a new society. With Cha, we also explored the idea of generational gap and how different people are reacting to these issues, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, that has brought to life the hatred that Asians have suffered for so long. Working to tell this story with a diverse group of people, to shine a light on this conversation, has been an honor for me, and I'm proud to have had the chance to help bring Cha to the screen.

This is the fourth film you have produced with director Xiwen Miao. What is special about your partnership and how does the filmmaking and creative process work between you?

Xiwen and I have a close professional relationship that has developed over the last few years. So far we have made four shorts that have received 30 festival selections and numerous awards. We have now worked on six music videos together in the past few months alone. Her directing style and the stories she is interested in exploring have always been captivating to me. She is an incredibly talented artist and I am proud to collaborate with her in any project she will have in the future.

Joy Sung Kim and Thomas B. Tran have a marked chemistry in the film as grandmother and grandson, with plenty of endearing moments which demonstrate their close bond – despite some significant differences of opinion. How important was casting the roles to show these differences, whilst maintaining the familial love the pair share?

Joy Sung Kim worked with Xiwen and I on Farewell Symphony, and we knew that the character of Grandma was perfect for her. Her poise and talent fit the ideal person we wanted to play such an important role. Thomas came on shortly after we casted Joy, and they started working together immediately, with Joy helping Thomas with his Korean, teaching him the proper pronunciation of the lines he had in the script. I give full credit to Xiwen and the talent for creating this chemistry and bringing to light such a tight and difficult relationship on set, despite not having any in person rehearsals. They did such a great job, I was very impressed with both of them.

Jiho and his grandmother hold different opinions on fighting back against the hate they are subjected to from some in their community. Do you think that there has been a generational shift in the Asian-American youth of today and their willingness to speak up and fight back against injustice and intolerance?

The generational gap spans multiple issues, especially when it comes to socioeconomic and racial struggles. Our film hopes to inspire a conversation about these matters.

What role can cinema play in pushing back against intolerance?

Cinema can inspire conversations, and conversations can help change the way the world works. With Cha, we really hoped to do just that.

The film borrows techniques from the horror genre during an intense chase scene. Was this a deliberate decision from the director and what were the purposes behind this? I personally love the allusion that the aggressors are as scary as any on-screen monster

Xiwen wanted to show a duality of terror and overwhelmingness caused by such a heinous and horrific attack. She wanted to really make the audience understand the monstrosity that it takes to carry on something so disgustingly evil, and at the same time she wanted to point out the larger than life nature of a blatantly racist attack. I think she delivered on that, leaving a very impressionable feeling on the audience.

It is notable that we never meet Jiho’s parents. Given the close bond with his grandmother, what was the meaning behind what feels like a very symbolic omission?

We wanted to leave out Jiho's parents to have one more degree of separation between the two protagonists, furthering their divide in opinions and life experiences. Xiwen also wanted to strengthen the idea that younger generations should not only be respectful of their elders, but to also engage with them in better understanding their origins, something that was as part of the story as anything else.

It felt like 2019’s Parasite was a watershed moment for English language-speaking audience’s perception of foreign language films. With language playing such an important role in Cha, have you noticed a changing trend in audience’s interest in multi-lingual films?

Parasite and The Farewell really changed the landscape of Asian centered stories in mainstream American cinema, especially when it comes to foreign language films. We are seeing audiences opening up about the idea of these stories being worth exploring. With Cha, we really wanted to push how language is not only part of the culture, but it also defines the relationship the characters have, and it affects how it evolves. The deliberate use of certain words and expressions in the film set major moments for our characters and the story.

What do you love the most about short films?

Shorts present the opportunity to make meaningful work, explore different narratives and styles. Having the chance to work with incredible artists like Xiwen allows me to support important stories that can hopefully spark change and interesting conversations. Shorts give you the possibility to push the boundaries when it comes to storytelling and filmmaking as a whole, and that is something that I would love to keep pursuing.

What is the one thing you want audiences to take away from Cha?

With Cha, we really try to inspire conversations and show them how racist attacks leave a long lasting impact not only on those directly affected by it, but also on the ones that are around them. Our goal is to also celebrate Asian culture, in the hope to bring people together and explore these wonderful traditions, especially around tea.

What are your next projects?

I am still working closely with Xiwen, and we are developing a few projects right now. Along with that, I have been working as a producer and in production for a number of companies in both the music video and commercial world. Over the next few months, I am planning to produce more shorts, while also continuing to collaborate with the clients and artists I have had the pleasure of working with lately. I have a few projects in the works for this coming year, and I am always trying to expand my network for more opportunities.

Finally, what do you love most about being a producer?

I am passionate about my work in everything I do. Each project gives you something new, it's an opportunity to learn a lot, and the people I have the pleasure of working with are incredible. I am really proud of all the jobs I have had so far, with the hope that they will continue on this level. Being able to help artists in this field and collaborate with so many people in things that excite all of us is truly a pleasure and an honor.


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