Travel Films Week: Finding a Brave ‘New World’

Still from There Is a New World Somewhere
This is a guest post by Li Lu.
It’s quite serendipitous that May is “Feminist Travel Films” month here on Bitch Flicks. My film, There Is a New World Somewhere (TIANWS), is exactly that. We are crowdfunding on Seed&Spark, a platform exclusive to truly independent films and filmmakers. We are midway through our campaign, and my team and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s going thus far.

Our film is centered around Sylvia, a troubled young woman. Sylvia struck out from her small town roots in Texas to try her luck in New York City. Why New York? Well, I think E. B. White said it best:

Many of [NYC’s] settlers are probably here to merely escape, not face, reality. But whatever it means, it is a rather rare gift, and I believe it has a positive effect on the creative capacities of New Yorkers – for creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.” –from E. B. White’s Here Is New York

Still from There Is a New World Somewhere
Her “creation” comes in the form of painting. Sylvia strives to achieve success as an artist, but after years of rejection, the honeymoon is over. Now, the city is oppressive rather than inspiring. When an old friend invites Sylvia back to Texas for her wedding, Sylvia jumps at a chance to escape her diminishing self to find the confidence she’s left behind. But on the night before the wedding, she meets Esteban, an electrifying drifter. He dares her to join him on a roadtrip he plans to take through the Deep South. On the morning of the wedding, the two strangers speed off toward New Orleans, leaving the wedding party behind.

Sounds like a dreamy escape, doesn’t it? Travel, for most, is the highest form of escapism. Vacations take you away from the monotony of the daily grind and are the only allotted times when we are allowed to shut that phone off 100%.

This kind of “escapism” is tied to a kind of forgetting or relaxation, but what happens when the act of letting go becomes a euphemism (or “excuse” instead of euphemism) for burying deeper problems at bay? Sylvia, our heroine, takes escapism to the absolute extreme – she literally runs away into the unknown to avoid facing her own shortcomings. It’s an intimate portrayal of a young woman at the sobering, pivotal moment when she must choose to continue to try or to retreat completely. I’m sure everyone has had that moment when you ask yourself: At what point do my dreams begin to hurt me?

Still from There Is a New World Somewhere
Esteban isn’t a perfect man either. He’s a failed musician and has refused to let music become a source for third party pain. He drifts from one place to the next, and seems to kindle a true lust for life. Sylvia admires him and attaches herself to him in hopes of emulating his free spirit. The two find each other at different points in their lives, but they are both just as lost.

This is where the road comes in. Roadtrips are amazing. They give the explorer the freedom to experience and connect with different people and places along the way. There is no itinerary other than the time you allow yourself to become lost within it.

So is this kind of escapism “bad”? Is it selfish? Why does this term connote a negative, judgmental tone?

Ultimately, no. I think it’s necessary to detach from our obligations and get lost for a while, even if it hurts the ones we love. As human beings (let alone professional creatives), we forget that inspiration is the key element to everything that we do. In all honestly, forcing creativity is the crux of the problem. I recently picked up a book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work to try to see how my heroes did it. The ultimate conclusion? Practice makes perfect, but you can’t rush it. Although Sylvia ditches her friends for a random stranger, she is choosing to embark on a journey of self-discovery, even if she did so unconsciously. And she has to hope that her friends can understand and love her all the same.

Still from There Is a New World Somewhere
What makes this a feminist film? As a female filmmaker, I want to tell this story because it is so intensely intimate to Sylvia’s point of view. I relish the intimacy of films such as Oslo August, 31 or Lust, Caution, and I want to make a film that doesn’t shy away from hard or complex issues. The love scenes will be scenes, not flashes of toned muscles and fluttering eyelashes. Yes, you can call it a coming of age film, but please don’t expect quirky shrugs or one-liners. This is a film about the fight, and all the beauty and ugliness it can contain. I’m not shying away from the hard stuff. I’m not making a self-important film either. I think anyone who has tried to express anything creative can relate to Sylvia’s fears and can take away something meaningful from the film. As Wim Wenders said, “I want to make personal films, not private films.”

All in all, the story of TIANWS and its journey to getting made has clearly been an introspective one. Putting this process out there for all to see is scary as shit. But when I feel this vulnerable, it usually means I’m doing something right.

Here’s to going for it.

To all the roads ahead,


Li Lu was born in Suzhou, China & raised all around the US. She is an alumna of USC’s School of Cinema-TV. Her narrative work has played international festivals and screening series. Her music videos have aired on MTV, Nickelodeon, and YouTube, with some surpassing 1 million views. She loves Siberian huskies.