Baby, Don’t Cry stars Zita Bai, Vas Provatakis, and Producer Qiyu Zhou discussed the coming-of-age film with The Natural Aristocrat at Fantasia 2021.
This Fantasia International Film Festival interview contains spoilers.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT [NIR REGEV]: I want to start with the scene that spoke to me the most, when Fox puts a gun to the head of the girl who’s bullying Baby. It seems at that point, that Baby still has feelings of remorse. That she can still go back to regular life… But she decides to go on with the slap anyway.
I’m curious about the whole dynamics for that scene and what it felt like? Very intense scene.
VAS PROVATAKIS: It was a very, very intense scene and everyone acted it so, so great. I think that moment sort of spoke to Fox. I don’t think that he’d felt the same way for Baby, that he felt for anyone else in his life. He had a genuine interest in her.
And I think, in that moment, while it is twisted, he is trying to see if she’s someone that he could actually love… In his own, kind of messed up version of what love is.
When she finally goes in for the slap, he starts to see like, oh, this woman, this girl has guts. She’s tough in the same way that I’m tough. I feel like I could actually become vulnerable with her. This is all internal stuff.
I don’t think that he would ever admit to any vulnerability, at least not in the beginning of the film. But I think that’s what was going through his head. He just wanted to see what she was made of.
ZITA BAI: I definitely felt like it was a test for Baby and also a question for her. Do I want to grow up with this man or do I want to go back to my old life? I feel overall in the story Fox is Baby’s vehicle to kind of cut ties with her old self in order to grow up and learn about her own voice. So I think that was for sure the defining moment of their relationship.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I noticed at the beginning of the movie, there’s this little blurb where it says based on a true story. And there’s just so many racial overtones and comments in Baby, Don’t Cry… I was wondering if that was something that happened in your own life, Zita or where it’s based from?
ZITA BAI: I think a lot of the racial tension truly happened to me when I lived in Seattle. Because I was born and raised in China, I moved to Seattle as a young teen and didn’t speak English. And I guess at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the racial slurs. But thanks to this film, it gave me a second chance to look at my past and also analyze what was truly happening.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: There’s this aspect I noticed all throughout the film where Baby’s always crouching down kind almost in submission when she feels she’s wronged someone. She does it with her mother, Helen [Sun] and, also with Vas, later in the movie when he’s insulting her.
I feel like there’s this kind of distortion of self with it. As Baby is actually submitted to people that have wronged her. I was wondering what that means to you on opposite sides? Especially because Fox gives his harshest insults to Baby when she’s crouching and saying ‘I love you’ repeatedly.
ZITA BAI: Thank you so much for asking that. I think all the hard times like Baby and Fox swim through prepped Baby to become a stronger person. It helped her to confront her fears, confront people who did her wrong in life.
So in the end, it give her the courage to go on this journey on her own. I feel that everything happened to her in this film, it had to happen to her in order for her to grow up.
VAS PROVATAKIS: I think also, it shows the strength of Baby’s character to be able to stand in love for him in that scene where Fox is really laying into her… And hold him to that standard. Even when he does not deserve it at all.
It actually makes him start to reevaluate his choices and what he’s been doing with his existence pretty much. So it’s like her strength and love gave him a strength as well.
QIYU ZHOU: To add on to what Vas said, it’s also a progression. At the beginning she’s crouching down when she’s taking heat from others. But slowly she’s more able to be comfortable with herself. The body language changed slowly as the movie progresses.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Actually on the filmmaking side, I liked how the footage was a mix of high production & low-fi quick cuts. It reminded me of something you’d see in the eighties, and I really liked that era. What inspired you to go that direction?
ZITA BAI: I just have to say, I did the Hi8 footage! Sorry. It’s not as glamorous as the footage we shot on Alexa, I believe. (laughs)
I think what was important with Hi8 footage was when I first moved to the states, I couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t articulate how I was feeling and that’s why I got into filmmaking.
That’s why I developed a love for videos and movies. I feel like, Hi8 footage kind of just accents, how Baby feels, what she’s thinking. What she chooses to see. Then we have a contrast with what we are seeing.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I feel there’s so many section in Baby, Don’t Cry where Baby desperately wants the life of someone else, but can never reach it. Especially at the beginning of the film when she’s sitting in the bathroom stall, listening in to conversations. Or the phone recordings at her workplace. Is that how you personally felt growing up Zita?
ZITA BAI: At the time, I was young, I was curious about how white girls would talk about in a bathroom. (laughs) And so sometimes I would just like sit there and listen to people talking. And that part is real, sorry, if I was creepy back. (laughs)
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: That’s okay, it was great for the movie!
QIYU ZHOU: It was good because going back to the Hi8 footage, we intentionally made it look really, really natural. Like you can tell it’s totally different from a person who learned how to shoot a film.
It’s meant to look super, super natural and very raw. We wanted to keep it real. And also it’s a focus on the teenager’s perspective, same as the bathroom scene. Like everything you said, the observation of other people’s life.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What were the Xs underneath Fox’s eyes supposed to represent? I was wondering all film if it was supposed to mean he was in prison because it also disappears in some scenes.
VAS PROVATAKIS: Oh, so this is actually one of those, little secrets that I have with the movie. (Director) Jesse [Dvorak] and I talked about it that it would give kind of duality with Fox’s character.
And I think if this is all from the perspective of Baby, there’s some times where I think you’re supposed to question if what she’s seeing is real… Or is she kind of just manifesting it in her mind so that she can feel better? Whatever it is. And I think that that has something to do with it without getting too specific.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was the leukemia aspect why Fox is so reckless all film or was he always like that in your opinion?
VAS PROVATAKIS: I think he was always like that. I think with the leukemia line, he was just f***ing with her.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Really? I was wondering if it was true or not most of the film since it didn’t really get referenced again.
VAS PROVATAKIS: Yeah, that’s the cool thing about Fox. You don’t know, that’s one thing I love about him is that he’s a very ambiguous guy. I had that idea in the back of my mind when we were in production and I kind of always returned back to it.
You don’t know if Fox wants to f*** you or fight you. That’s kind of like the two sort of things you always fall back to.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was Baby’s mother supposed to have like elf ears? That was a detail I keep noticing but not certain if it was intentional.
ZITA BAI: Thank for you noticing that! I think that really comes down to how teenagers sometimes manufacture truth in their head. Going back to what’s real and what feels real to her. And at that age, she’s like trying her hardest to cut ties with her past and mommy here.
Her mother served as some of the metaphor of what she has to walk away from in order for her to grow up.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I thought the mother was a complex character because she was weak & aggressive towards her husband & Baby at the same.
ZITA BAI: Yeah, I think that just comes down to how certain immigrant families function because the dad always works and the mom’s always at home doing chores.
Sometimes there’s this lack of communication and it leads to misunderstanding. Like does my husband love me or does he just care about money? And as as a kid, Baby, tries to comprehend what’s going on between her parents, through her own lens.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: That whole scene where you’re eating out of an empty plate. I found interesting because you’re wonder how long has Baby been doing this? For years? Just playing along with her mother’s delusions.
Was that something personally inspired?
ZITA BAI: First of all, I love my mother, I have a great relationship with my mom! And she’s a college professor, nothing like mommy in the story, same with my dad.
It really comes down to when I first moved here, I moved here by myself and I stayed with American homestays. My homestay parents didn’t really like, parent me much. So I just feel like I had to learn everything on my own. And I think in that scene you’re referencing, Baby couldn’t receive things from other people,
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was the intention of the film to make Fox more like Baby as the movie moves along and Baby more like Fox? I noticed Baby kept descending down to Fox’s lifestyle while Fox’s improved as a person.
QIYU ZHOU: That’s a very good observation!
VAS PROVATAKIS: Really, yeah. I would say one of the most interesting things about the film to me as you just pointed out is, Fox begins this story as this very aggressive reckless person. And as he goes throughout, he kind of learns to temper himself a little bit and there are definitely curves in that road.
He definitely has to get there. I feel by the end of the story, he’s learned how to see things more through the eyes of Baby, which is growth. It’s good for him.
ZITA BAI: I think what’s important about this film is it’s not just Baby’s journey. It’s Baby and Fox’s journey together. And also mama’s journey too. Like all three characters need to learn how to be by themselves and how to grow up.
I think the nature of a relationship is how you subconsciously influence your partner.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was the animated Fox superimposed at the end something you came up with in post-editing? Or was it always in the script?
ZITA BAI: In the script, we wanted to hire a real Fox to run. But we realized it wasn’t very realistic. (laughs)
VAS PROVATAKIS: All the foxes were SAG, and this is a non-SAG production! All the foxes were SAG-ing. Right. And you know, this is a non-SAG, non-union credit.
ZITA BAI: We actually looked into the possibility of renting a fox or shooting a fox.
QIYU ZHOU: But it would be pretty hard to direct a fox! The cartoon fox is definitely easier to direct, so…
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Why do you feel Baby is attracted to Fox? I mean from the opening he steals her camera, slaps her, kind of aggressively puts her down… And yet Baby becomes more attracted to Fox than ever. So what it about that dynamic?
ZITA BAI: There’s a saying everything happens for a reason, a season or a lifetime. At that time of her life, she needed someone to help her, or she needed someone to love. She needed someone to express her feelings to and Fox just came into the picture.
And I feel like I’m sure this goes for a lot of people, when we look back in our teen lives… Did we really love our first love or our first love was just there to love? (laughs) I think it was just perfect timing. Those characters they just saw each other.
Nobody really saw how broken and how strong at the same time she was. And until Fox came into her picture, she saw something within herself. She wanted to be seen.
VAS PROVATAKIS: Piggybacking off of what Zita said, I feel like Baby had been through a lot of really dark experiences in her life. So she’s used to the darkness, she understands it. So I think Fox and Baby gravitated towards each other because they both had been through the darkness and they saw it in each other.
And then through finding each other, when you fall in love with someone, there is a certain flame that sets a fire and it makes everything more. It’s like through all the s*** that they’ve gone through in life, they found some burning love that made them, grow and get better.
QIYU ZHOU: They see themselves in each other.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks everyone!
ZITA, VAS, QIYU: Thank you!
– Be sure to watch Baby, Don’t Cry tonight at 9 pm EST at Fantasia International Film Festival.
– Visit QiyuZhou.com to learn more about the film’s producer.
– You can also watch this Baby, Don’t Cry cast interview on YouTube! Comment today.