Sarah Di is a multidisciplinary artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Initially, Di set out to become a dermatologist, but she discovered a love for filmmaking during her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. Di has gone on to create an “sprawling interactive fiction game” and play the Chinese zither (guzheng) at Carnegie Hall, and is currently working on a documentary-inspired film centered around her relationship with Chinese-American food from the early 2000s to the present. She also recently won the Asian American Film Lab's 72 hour Film Shootout award for Outstanding Female Content Creator for her submission filmed entirely in her bedroom using nothing but her Panasonic DMC-ZS100 and an Amazon basics tripod! In the future, Di aims to produce her very own feature-length film! Aside from telling meaningful stories and practicing self care, she advises young artists to put together a portfolio, and emphasizes the importance of “[having] physical evidence of [their] work, no matter how small.” Read on to learn more about Sarah Di and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Sarah Di
Heritage: Chinese American
Hometown: Darnestown, Maryland
Current City: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I’m currently making a documentary-style film about how my relationship with Chinese-American food has changed from the early 2000s to now.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
My favorite project is this sprawling interactive fiction game I made a couple months ago centered around an office space with a dark secret. You can find the game through this link: https://friendlygrape.itch.io/duplicate-bureaucracy.
I also won a 72 hour film shootout recently! My film is a fictional retelling of a thought I had while juggling work and class. When the pandemic began I started living with my parents again, and along with that came a lot of self-doubt and feelings of stagnation. All of my friends were scattered across the country; like me, they also had to adjust to working and living online. And since I was so preoccupied with staying connected to people on the Internet, my physical social presence deteriorated. Although there was no physical barrier preventing me from leaving my room, my tether to the online world became what shackled me to my bedroom.
In the past I liked to incorporate magical realism and science fiction into my work, since I personally find experimental, speculative, and sometimes supernatural films to be the most intriguing and thought-provoking.
I shot the film in my bedroom using my Panasonic DMC-ZS100 and an Amazon basics tripod.
Due to the time crunch, I had to move quickly. I drafted my script in an hour on my phone’s notes app and shot as many scenes as possible (from as many angles as possible) to limit the amount of back-and-forth between my laptop and the camera in post. One workaround I used while filming was using only blackout curtains and house lamps to change the direction and amount of light in my shots. I recorded the voiceover in my closet since it was the most soundproof room in my house.
I finished filming in 6 hours and spent the remaining time editing. Since it was summertime and I no longer had access to my university-provided Adobe CC license, I edited my film on iMovie.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Build up your portfolio! It’s important to have physical evidence of your work, no matter how small. Document everything. Don’t be afraid to include the work you think is unpolished - unpolished work is better than no work at all.
How did you get your start?
I got my start in film 1.5 years ago as a freshman in college, making small videos for class. Because of the positive reactions I got from my classmates, I kept on filming.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Apart from finding the time to write a script, shoot footage, and edit, I think a big challenge is getting visibility.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I‘ve been playing the Chinese zither (guzheng) for over a decade. I even performed at Carnegie Hall! I can also play the Chinese violin (erhu) and I’m learning how to play the guqin!
Who do you admire?
The people I admire the most are my family! (haha)
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I didn’t always want to be in the arts (not as my full time job, at least). Funny enough, I previously wanted to become a dermatologist. Though, after my first job in a chemical engineering lab, I realized that the work wasn’t for me XD.
If you come from parents who aren't in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the arts?
My parents' jobs are probably as far away from the arts as you can get (a professor and a software engineer). Early on, they solidified a great admiration for STEM in me. Their experiences as immigrants also taught me a lot about what it takes to succeed anywhere. Be assertive, be persistent, and struggle, but also never forget that if things go south, rely on the people around you for support.
What skills did you find most to be the most helpful in your career?
I think the ability to make connections and network are the most important skills to have in film and in fine arts. There is always time to improve your skills, but if no one is aware of your work you won’t get far. Knowing a person who knows a person can open so many doors career-wise.
Where did you study at?
I’m currently an undergraduate junior at Carnegie Mellon University.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
One milestone I want to achieve is to film a feature-length film. I also want to learn how to play the musical saw!
What do you love most about what you do?
I love how thoughtful film is. In a good movie, almost every aspect of what is shown on screen is meticulously planned out beforehand. I find the attention to detail admiring and almost poetic.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
My self care comes in the form of movies and music! I have a playlist for practically every mood I’m in. Sometimes whenever I need a breather from the work I’m doing, watching a movie always does the trick. I have a few comfort movies and musicals that I know every line to, like Legally Blonde and Xanadu. My self care hasn’t changed drastically because of the pandemic, though now I’m hooked on true crime podcasts.
As a storyteller, how do you pick the stories you want to work on and what goes into putting a story together, whether on stage, page, or film?
I pick the stories that feel the most compelling to me, usually the stories that I can relate to the most. I try to create work that I personally find interesting, and in that respectwhothe audience is for my work becomes secondary. Hopefully someone enjoys my work, but my motivation for films is to inspire conversations between people who think like me.
What inspires you?
I’m often inspired by the weird and unusual.
To find out more about Sarah, please visit her at:
Instagram: @disarahdi and @difriendlygrape (https://www.instagram.com/friendly.grape/?hl=en)
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