ShortList 2019: ‘Sister’ Director Reflects on Growing Up in China’s One-Child Generation (Video)

Director Siqi Song used her experiences growing up in 1990s China, and those of her friends, in this stop-motion family fantasy

Siqi Song grew up in China in the 1990s as a rarity: a younger sister. At the time, the country had instituted a “one-child policy” to control population — and while exceptions were made, the policy meant that most families had a single child, or in some circumstances a second child if the first was a girl.

“My parents had to make a choice whether they wanted to give birth to me or abort me, and little sisters were almost always the ones to get aborted,” said Song, whose older sibling is a big brother. “Almost all my friends were only children, and I always wanted to make a film on this topic.”

That film is the animated short “Sister,” one of 12 finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival. An eight-minute stop-motion film in which an older brother reminisces about his sister, it slips in and out of fantasy and finds a new and affecting way to address a policy that suppressed the Chinese population from 1980 until its abolition in 2015.

Warning: Spoilers ahead. (You should really watch the film now, then come back and finish the story.)

“Sister” was spurred by a conversation Song had with a Chinese friend when she was attending CalArts. “He said he was supposed to have a little sister, but because of the policy his sister was never born,” she said. “So the first part of my film is based on my story, but the second part is based on my friend’s story.”

Using wool figures because she thought the material’s softness and texture fit the blend of memories and imagination in her story, Song gradually introduced elements of fantasy as an older brother (the voice of her CalArts friend) describes his sister — and late in the film, we learn that the little sister never really existed except in her brother’s imagination.

“The whole film was a fantasy, and I wanted it to be playful,” she said. “I didn’t want the audience to feel like they are being cheated when they find out the truth. That’s why I made it more of a fantasy at the beginning.”

Song, who is now working on an animation fellowship from Film Independent’s Project Involve, said she started working on “Sister” while in school, and while the Chinese policy was still in place. “I had the idea right before they changed the policy,” she said. “When they changed the policy I wanted to give up on making the film — but it became a historical time period that my generation experienced and that we still talk about.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at and vote through Aug. 21.