By Carin Chea
Kate Bohan is an award-winning director and filmmaker. Her feature film, Kayla, is a finalist at some International Film Festivals, such as the International Women's Film Festival, etc.
Kayla has already garnered several awards and accolades, with the list growing by the day. The protagonist of the film is Kate's daughter, Kayla Bohan, who was only seven years old.
Oh and, did I mention, this was Kate's first ever foray into feature filmmaking, and Kayla's first starring role? For the first time, a mother and daughter team have made a feature film, and if the Bohans have taught us anything, it is that anything and everything is possible if you have enough grit, determination, and an unflinching belief in yourself.
Kayla was recently awarded very high honors by the Los Angeles Film Awards, where it received numerous wins in various categories. The awards included Best Child Actress, Best Song and Best Drama Screenplay (Feature). The LAFA Team had this to say, "Congratulations on winning. Our jury loved your work on Kayla. It is beautiful and original, and we hope you take pride in it!"
Inspired by Kate Bohan's life history, Kayla is a deep examination of the human spirit and a testament to its unwavering strength in the midst of life's deepest tragedies. I had the absolute privilege of meeting the freshman filmmaker quickly ascending into tenure fame, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Tell me about Kayla.
Kayla tells the story of life and death, losing and gaining. To leave or to live - love heals life. A seven-year-old girl is forced to find balance between Chinese culture and Western culture, Kayla has a happy family - her mother comes from China, her father from the United States.
After losing her father unexpectedly, her life changes forever. Her dreams and hopes are mercilessly taken away. She now has to grow up quickly to take care of her sick mother, and Kayla learns how to deal with poor and grueling situations while missing her father deeply. But she still inspires the people around her with love and singing and always finds courage, even when she feels lost.
It is a very unique film. through the vision of the little girl, we can see that we can all be strong, be kind, and be brave. It has always been what we are pursuing, just like the beauty in the fairy tale world.
You were a news anchor and also a photographer. How did you get into filmmaking?
My major was broadcasting in Beijing, China. I was a reporter and news anchor. I love movies and my daughter motivates me. She was the one who got me thinking, and continues to surprise me every day and helps me grow as a person and mother. She was the one who pushed me into the role of director, and I thought "Maybe I could make a movie about her!" I wanted to preserve memories. I had never made a movie before.
In 2016, I made a short film and it was very successful. It won a couple of awards in New York and in other cities. With all this success and attention, I was very encouraged. I felt prompted to tell the whole story in the form of a feature film.
When did your daughter Kayla realize she wanted to act? Did she always know she was a triple threat (the ability to sing, dance, and act)?
When she was 4, she asked me, "Mommy, can you send me to the stage because I want to act! I want to own the stage!" She did very well. She controls the whole stage. She's very brave.
Before this movie started, I hired someone to help her learn the entire script, and she did! She listened on set and she was great!
In every US city that has a Chinese community, Kayla is very well-known and popular, especially as a singer. She's very talented. You know, children are not always focused. But, it was very easy working with Kayla. I think the highest performance level is invisible in this movie. You cannot see any traces of performances in her. You only see her portrayal of the character. She's a very gifted actor.
Do you feel that you are different from other Chinese parents?
Yes, I am very different from other Chinese parents. I disagree with a lot of them. Some of them force kids to do whatever they don't like. For example, Kayla plays the piano and I don't care about what level she reaches in her studies. I think it should be about the beauty of the music, it should be a happy journey for the kids. I want to support my kids in whatever they love, from my heart.
I think happiness is not how rich you are and how many buildings you own. Happiness is doing whatever you like, and doing it very well. Childhood is a happy journey, I would like to respect their time.
What was it like, casting your daughter in this film?
Kayla was great in my short film and I knew she was ready for the feature. And, the feature film was ready for her. Everything that Kayla likes as a hobby, she has to approve herself. I support her and I stand beside her all the way and I hope this will be a happy memory for her.
What was your inspiration behind the movie Kayla? How much of this film is based on real-life events?
The short - I had this idea a long time ago. I waited for my daughter to grow up a little more before making this film. I worked very hard on this idea and this script. I wanted to see if my daughter was willing and able to make this film.
The feature film is based on the short. About 60% of the film is based on real-life events. The only part that wasn't true was Kayla's father passing away, but it was true in my real life. My first husband passed away from a car accident, so I understood the feeling of loss.
After my first husband died, I tried to bring my son to the USA. At that time, over 20 years ago, I worked in the Shenzhen TV station, which is next to Hong Kong. It's a beautiful, international city. I wanted to leave because I didn't want to face the memories. I brought my son over to this country even though I was poor and lonely. He was 8 years old and I was worried about him.
But, on that first day of school, when I was waiting for him after school, he was smiling so big, and he said, "Mom, I like this country. I like this school and all my teachers. It's very different from China."
In that moment I knew that I had made the right decision. He graduated from Political Science in Georgetown and 3 years ago, he graduated from Columbia Law. Now he is an attorney at a big law firm in New York.
During that time, my son and I supported one another. When he went to college, I realized I could pursue my dreams. My son always encouraged me. He said, "Mom, don't give up. You can do anything." He stood by my side. I am very lucky to have him.
When I went with him to Georgetown when he was 18, I prayed to my husband in Heaven: "Our son is in college now. He has a great roommate and he's ready to start his new future." I helped him [my husband] finish his dream because he wanted our son to do whatever he wanted.
Describe the experience you and your daughter had while filming Kayla.
Kayla was very respectful. She called me "director" on set, and I didn't tell her to! She's very adorable. For example, sometimes other people on set would ask her what to do and she would re-direct them to me and tell them, "You should ask the director."
A lot of this movie was based on real life. For instance, in the airport when Kayla said goodbye to her dad (because he couldn't go to China with us), she said, "Mom, I don't want to go to vacation in China. I want to stay here, Daddy will be lonely" and she started crying. When she was saying good bye to her father, the entire airport was touched. You see that in the movie, but that also happened in real life.
Another night, when we were in China, she was staring at the sky and said, "Mom, I wish I could be a dove." I asked her, "Why?" Kayla said, "Because dove's have wings, and I could fly to Dad." I put this part in the movie too, the entire scene really happened in real life.
Congratulations on your movie's success! It has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews and won several awards already. What's next for the movie?
Currently, I'm trying to find a distributor and submit to film festivals. Kayla was a finalist for several of them. Right now, for example, Sundance, Berlin Film Festival, Hong Kong International, Santa Barbara film festivals, and more, are considering my movie. I'm a finalist for several other ones.
Right now, we are selecting our final distributors. If that is finalized, it'll have a worldwide distribution.
How was it like casting the actors who would portray you and your husband in this film? How did you find all the actors for this movie?
I had a team and a casting director. It was a hard process, especially casting Kayla's mom because I need someone who spoke Chinese and English very well. They had to be right for the role. I didn't care if they had a lot of credits or a famous name. They just had to be right. I didn't find her until the last 3 days. A lot of famous Chinese actresses flew here from China to audition, but they weren't right. The people I cast were very natural, they completely did what I needed.
I think this movie will elicit a reaction from the world. When I wrote the script, I cried a lot. This is a warm and touching movie, it is definitely worth taking a look at. I was involved in every part, in every department, every step of the way.
WHat is it like, being a female director?
I'm very proud to be a woman in the arts. Women are standing up and being heard all around the world. It's a very exciting time for us. When I was applying to film festivals, I saw that many were looking for female directors! They're very welcoming. It was a very positive experience.
How difficult was it to make this film?
Well, this film for me is a miracle, but it wasn't easy. Last year, I could not imagine how I would have the courage to do all the things I have done to get this movie made. I had to keep moving past all the nay-sayers. I received a lot of rejection from other filmmakers. People told me to quit and I said "NO! -- I could not do that.
Directing the film was like having 1,000 jobs at once, I am the director and the producer, and I also I had to guide my little daughter. I led two teams from China and the United States to complete the film. Through many film festivals it has received a lot of positive reviews, and people are telling me that they deeply impressed by the film.
This is my first full length future as a professional film director and something I can be very proud of. With a huge example of strength and two years of hard work, I have not only learned a lot of things, but also buried different dreams and determination to work hard.
What is the message you want to send across in Kayla?
I feel that people right now are looking for a warm and influential film. Kayla is THAT film, especially for those wanting to see a multi-ethnic and diverse movie. This allows viewers to see the world through the eyes of a little girl who is having a hard time in a strange country, experiencing hardship and loss and through all is still able to show the world that love will always be there - that it will never leave!
This film is suitable for all ages, and not just that - it will change people's thoughts on how they view the world. It will let them see how life is wonderful, that love is equal; it doesn't see doesn't see countries or race. Most importantly, it will show you that if you have a dream, just keep going and that dream will eventually come true. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
To receive updates on Kayla, including future screenings, please visit https://www.KaylaMovie.com
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