“Thirstygirl” Filmmaker Heads to Sundance Festival with Short about Sex Addiction

Alexandra Qin’s debut film “Thirstygirl” was picked for the Sundance Film Festival in the short film category. Qin says she cast the main character in the short film as a sex addict, drawing on her own experiences recovering from drug and sex addiction.

| 12 Jan 2024 | 02:55

The film “Thirstygirl” begins with a scene that many can relate to: two sisters screaming at each other. A young woman, Nic (Claire Dunn), bursts into the bathroom, where her older sister and the film’s main character, Charlie (Samantha Ahn), is watching porn and sending nefarious texts. Charlie drops her phone in the toilet, where Nic sits down.

“You’re peeing on my phone!” shrieks Charlie.

“Thirstygirl” toes the line between comedy and tragedy, romance and drama throughout its entirety. Charlie is a sex addict, shown through her constant need to masturbate, watch porn, sext, and have sex.

Sex addiction is close to home for the short film’s writer and director, Alexandra Qin. The 32-year-old writer/director told me that she personally is a recovering addict from alcohol, drugs, and sex & love.

“When I was going through the worst of the addiction, I could not understand why I was doing what I was doing,” she told me in a recent interview. “There is so much stigma around sex addiction.”

In a YouTube video promoting the 10-minute short film she says it “is hot, it is sad, it is funny...sometimes. And I hope you enjoy it.”

She notes that the two characters are mixed-race Asian girls heading across the American heartland. “Charlie and Nic are heading somewhere, we just don’t know where,” she said. “All we know is that Charlie can’t stop sending nudes and watching porn on her phone.”

When we spoke via Zoom, Qin wore a gold chain and stylish top, two bicycles visible in the bright Manhattan apartment behind her. She has a magnetic personality and an easy way of speaking that makes her instantly likable.

Her hope for the film, she told me, was to destigmatize sex addiction, and to make it more understandable to a wider audience. “I’m a recovering sex addict, that’s why I made this film,” she noted on YouTube, where the first-time film director described herself as a software engineer and a prison reform activist. “I wanted to make something that would have helped me feel less alone back when I was hitting bottom.”

Qin’s passion for representation doesn’t stop there, though.“I’m only really interested in making films that expand our understanding of the Asian diaspora experience,” she told me.

“Thirstygirl” is also informed by Qin’s love for her younger sister, Nathalie, a clinical therapist and social worker who currently lives and works in San Francisco.

The short film is Qin’s first. Before working in film, she worked as a computer programmer and engineer for companies like Skillshare. She also founded Emergent Works, an organization that employs formerly-incarcerated people as computer programmers.

Her love for coding first began during her studies at NYU, where she took an introduction to programming class while studying engineering. Before coming to the U.S. for college, her adolescence was spent between Paris, where she lived with her mother, and Hong Kong, where she went twice a year to visit her father. In high school, she wanted to be an astronaut.

“Turns out, I’m actually not a good fit to be an astronaut because I’m 5’11,” she joked. Programming seemed to be just as challenging, and more artistically driven for Qin.

Coding and filmmaking might seem like an unlikely combination, but Qin told me that the two make sense in her oh-so-creative brain. “Screenwriting, unlike other forms of fiction writing, has a very set structure, similar to coding,” she said.

Qin’s love for film first came to be when she visited her father in Hong Kong as a child. When the family was remiss on how to spend time together, the movies seemed like the best course of action. As an adult, she dreamt of seeing her name in the closing credits when she would go to the theater.

In the way that she tells it, getting sober allowed her to return to her creativity and to her “inner child.” In Jan. 2021, she took a step back from Emergent Works and decided to throw herself into filmmaking full time. She got help from her husband, Esteban Pedraza, who served as the creative producer and editor on “Thirstygirl” and as “her mentor.”

Pedraza and others–including Brooke Goldman, the film’s producer, and Fletcher Wolfe, the film’s cinematographer–were responsible for helping Qin create contacts in the industry.

“I’m really lucky because all of the folks who worked on “Thirstygirl” are so talented, skilled and experienced,” she said. “And that’s why the film is good!”

Qin’s film is one of only 53 short films picked to be part of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. in the Egyptian Theatre. You can watch the film online between Jan. 25 and 28. She hopes “Thirstygirl” will catch the eye of producers who might be interested in adapting it into a full-length film.

And her ultimate dream is to be the first woman of color to win the Academy Award for best original screenplay. As she put it, “You cannot make immeasurable change without thinking that anything is possible.”