"YAI NIN" is director/grandson Champ Ensminger's tribute to his grandmother and late grandfather. In Thai, 'Yai' means grandmother, and 'Nin' is the shortened name for Ninlawan Pinyo - the star of "YAI NIN", a family matriarch, and businesswoman in Chiang Mai. The short film documents Nin running her Thai sausage (naem) business where employees call her "Mom" and laughing at texts from her kids and grandkids in America. In this interview, Champ shares why he made "YAI NIN", what he hopes you'll take away from the film, and lessons learned from his boss grandmother.
Director, Champ Ensminger, and his grandmother, Ninlawan Pinyo
What motivated you to make "YAI NIN"?
The film very much feels like the summary of my experience of being around my grandmother in Chiang Mai as a child visiting from the U.S. and as a resident in 2013-2015. On top of these memories of a place and person that I hold very dearly, the absence of my late grandfather made the project feel especially urgent. As a Thai American who continues to live between cultures, I made the film as a historical document for the Thai diaspora to remember a place and family we've left behind.
What do you hope people take away from watching "YAI NIN"?
I think that especially now, it's important for elders to be centered and to be acknowledged for their successes and sacrifices, their vitality despite their age, and their roles in other people's lives. If seeing my grandmother helps audiences channel their thoughts towards older people in their own lives, I think that makes the film a success.
What's your favorite scene in the film?
The phone call in the hair salon that introduces us to my grandmother is always a fun scene for me to watch. It being the first scene we filmed, I knew she was going to be nervous. I don't think I helped, because when I felt like she was too relaxed in the scene, I asked my mom to call her from off camera. The call you see her answer really did take her by surprise, her loud ringtone and everything. I think a film subject's personality comes out when you watch them react to spontaneity.
What was your grandmother’s review of the film?
I showed her a rough cut of the film on a tablet when we were in her driver's car on the way to the airport. I sat behind her biting my nails, hoping she would like it. When she finished, she gave the tablet back and said, "Cool," in English.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from your grandmother?
I've learned from my grandmother by her example. I've observed her walk into every room with confidence, especially when she means business. I can't count how many times she came to my rescue by walking into a room of government officials and putting her foot down. When a grandson needs his visa extended and can't speak Thai in legal terms to explain himself, ask for Ninlawan Pinyo and she will know exactly who to yell at!
Follow YAI NIN on instagram @yainindoc