Part Documentary, part narrative, completely enlightening look at what it means to be a Chinatown NY resident for decades and still sharing a bed by shifts, called “shift-bedding.” This film had it’s world premier in February at The Museum of Modern Art’s Doc Fortnight.
“Since the early days of New York’s Lower East Side tenement houses, working class people have shared beds, making such spaces a fundamental part of immigrant life. Initially documented in Jacob Riisʼ now controversial late 19th Century photography, a “shift-bed” is an actual bed that is shared by people who are neither in the same family nor in a relationship. Simply put, it’s an economic necessity brought on by the challenges of urban existence. Such a bed can become a remarkable catalyst for storytelling as absolute strangers become de facto confidants.
In this provocative, hybrid documentary, the audience joins a present-day household of immigrants living together in a shift-bed apartment in the heart of Chinatown. Seven characters (ages 58-78) play themselves through autobiographical monologues, verité conversations, and theatrical movement pieces. Retired seamstresses Ellen Ho and Sheut Hing Lee recount growing up in China during the turmoil of the 1950s when their families faced violence and separation under Chairman Maoʼs revolutionary, yet authoritarian regime. Yun Xiu Huang, a nightclub owner from Fujian Province, reveals his journey to the United States through the complicated economy of the “snakehead” system, facing an uphill battle as he starts over in a new city.
With each “performance” of their present, the characters illuminate both the joys and tragedies of their past. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of Chinese immigrants in the United States, a story not often documented. Further, the intimate cinematography and immersive sound design carry us into the dreams and memories of the performers, bringing the audience into a community often considered closed off to non-Chinese speakers. Through it all, “Your Day is My Night” addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life in relationship to this familiar item of household furniture.”