This is it! This is our last interview from the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. In this segment, we chat with the crew behind Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story about the life of Eddy Zheng, a former convict turned activist and community leader. We talk to director Ben Wang, composer Scott “Chops” Jung, and the man himself about the making of this brutally honest documentary.
Thanks for listening to our interviews with the filmmakers of the 2016 LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. Keep checking back on kollaboration.org for new video, audio, and written content about the Asian American community.
ABOUT THE FILM:
BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY is a documentary feature about a Chinese immigrant who became the youngest prisoner at San Quentin State Prison and later one of the nation’s most recognized leaders on prison reform and youth violence prevention. Eddy entered the criminal justice system at 16 years old with limited understanding of the English language or the U.S. judicial system. After spending time in the California Youth Authority, he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison as soon as he turned 18. While in prison, Eddy learned English, earned his college degree, published his poetry, and transformed into a nationally recognized leader—inspiring youth, activists, and politicians on issues of prison reform and youth violence prevention. As an advocate for Ethnic Studies in the prison college curriculum, Eddy was sent to solitary confinement for 11 months, where he garnered support from community activists and leaders. Even as Eddy fought systemic injustices, he continued to fight an internal battle. Spending nearly two decades in prison left a physical and mental toll on him, an all-too-common phenomenon for the incarcerated. What is more, Eddy had to reconcile with his family, for whom the shame and stigma of prison caused a lifetime of secrets and lies. Despite being released from immigration custody in 2007, Eddy has been ordered deported to China and awaits the final court decision. With the looming possibility of deportation, Eddy must negotiate what it means to “live freely”—attempting to rebuild a family, reconcile with his victims, and make a lasting change in society at large.
This is the second to last of our interviews at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. This time we talk with the Matthew Abaya, the director of the supernatural action thriller, Vampariah, his star Kelly Lou Dennis, and his editor Lawrence Iriarte. We talk about the multi-cultural inspirations behind the vampiric creatures of the film, Matthew’s journey from directing shorts to features, and advice for up and coming filmmakers.
ABOUT THE FILM:
MAHAL (KELLY LOU DENNIS), AN ELITE MONSTER HUNTER, patrols the sinister streets of San Francisco as members of the undead lurk in every dark corner of The City, preying on unsuspecting humans with their bloodlust. Bampinay (Aureen Almario), an aswang (a supernatural, vampire-like creature from Filipino folklore), embarks on a serial killing rampage on men who sexually objectify and use women.
We chat with director William Lu and the stars of his debut feature Chris Dinh and Julie Zhan at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. Chris describes the “love triangle” that he had to navigate to get Will to do this film with him, Will’s background with VC’s “Armed With a Camera Program”, and the trials and tribulations of night shoots during pilot season.
ABOUT THE FILM:
Lonely, mild-mannered Cameron (Christopher Dinh) is content racing around the dark streets of Los Angeles as a late-night courier for his slick boss, Eddie (Billy Sly Williams). Then one fateful night, an important client, Martin (Kelvin Han Yee), asks Cameron to pick up something very special at the airport – his daughter Jasmine (Julie Zhan), who is flying in from overseas. Cameron accepts the job, but isn’t prepared for the sparks that fly between him and the fiery beauty. While Martin’s thriving hot sauce business keeps him occupied at the office, Cameron and Jasmine find comfort in each other’s company as they wander about the city enjoying some of Cameron’s favorite dining spots. He shares his love of cooking with her and his dream of someday leaving Eddie to start his own food truck. However, he soon discovers that Jasmine is harboring a secret that may destroy her father’s trust. Unfortunately, Cameron also holds a secret of his own that threatens to derail his budding romance with her before it ever fully blossoms.
Our next interview from the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications is a fun discussion with director Lena Khan, and actors Danny Pudi, Karen David, and Jon Heder of the Grand Jury Award Winning narrative film, The Tiger Hunter. The crew talks about what it took to get the film made, what drew each of them to the story, and give their advice for up and coming actors and directors. In addition to best narrative feature, the film also took home honors for “best ensemble cast” and “best director.”
ABOUT THE FILM:
THE TIGER HUNTER is the story of Sami Malik, a young South Asian who travels to 1970s America to become an engineer in order to impress his childhood crush and live up to the legacy of his father–a legendary tiger hunter back home. When Sami’s job unexpectedly falls through and he ends up living in a tiny co-op with two oddball roommates, he must resort to constructing an elaborate charade with the misfit accomplices in hopes of convincing his sweetheart that he’s far more successful than he truly is…or perhaps ever could be.
THE TIGER HUNTER is an offbeat comedy-drama about Sami and his band of polar opposite roommates. As Sami tries to pull off the farce of a lifetime, what ensues is a series of adventures involving outlandish schemes, an arch-nemesis in an absurd office environment, and a somewhat functional Dodge Charger with a character of its own. Together, although their plans may contradict each other with terrible consequences, Sami and his rag-tag group must work together while meeting the usual host of obstacles-—the “usual,” that is, if back-alley brawls, trips to prison, or catastrophic LSD-related misunderstandings are just your usual, everyday fare.
We interview the cast and crew of the new supernatural thriller feature film The Unbidden which premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. We chat with director Quentin Lee and cast members Amy Hill, Akemi Look, and Hayden Szeto about making the film, advice for rising filmmakers, and what’s next for The Unbidden.
ABOUT THE FILM:
LAUREN (TAMLYN TOMITA), A MYSTERY NOVELIST, LIVES ALONE IN A CREEPY OLD HOUSE on a quiet, unassuming suburban street. Lately, she experiences restless sleep due to a progression of unexplained nightmares involving a bloodied and tortured man (Jason Yee). Their severity pushes her into a near catatonic state. As a reprieve and possible cure, she enlists her lifelong besties Kat (Julia Nickson), Anna (Elizabeth Sung), and Rachel (Amy Hill) for a Halloween séance. As horror film buffs know full well, women in the genre often don’t fare well. They are either killer bait or the big bad behind the supernatural shenanigans. In indie cinema filmmaker and Festival veteran Quentin Lee’s THE UNBIDDEN, the machinations of women drive forward a narrative in which an either/or back story rarely defines any woman’s character.
Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications continues with an interview with the feature film, The Last Tour. We chat with producer/actor Franz Elizondo Schmelkes, producer/actor Diana Lee Inosanto, director/actor Ryun Yu, and actor Elizabeth Ho about independent filmmaking, using impromptu engineering to solve production problems, and how the director helped create the theater program at MIT.
ABOUT THE FILM: JUN, A BURNED-OUT GULF WAR VETERAN, is kidnapped from his L.A. neighborhood, flown to North Korea, and pressed into service for one last, secret mission: to watch over a hostage and insure that no harm comes to him while Jun’s employers extract an unspecified confession out of the prisoner. A crisis of conscience, a daring escape, and suddenly, this international prisoner drama literally shifts scenes from a North Korean gulag into… well, somewhere else?!? And what exactly WAS that “confession” that was being extracted, anyway?
Welcome to Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) currently being held across Los Angeles and organized by Visual Communications. For this segment, we interview the filmmakers of Pali Road, a feature-length thriller that’s also the festival’s closing night film. We chat about the making of the film, diversity in entertainment, and their favorite foods in Hawaii. The film is set for a limited theatrical release in several major cities across the nation this week on Thursday April 28, 2016.
ABOUT THE FILM: PALI ROAD is a mysterious and thrilling journey in search for true love between two different worlds. Lily, a young doctor, wakes up from a car accident and discovers she is living a completely different life. Now married to her boyfriend’s rival, Dr. Mitch Kayne, and a mother to a 5-year- old son, she has an established life she remembers nothing about.
Everyone around her denies that her boyfriend Neil ever existed. As Lily begins to doubt her own sanity, memories of Neil resurface, causing her to encounter unexplainable incidents. While desperately searching for the truth of her past life, she questions her entire existence; but in the end, she discovers the meaning of true love.
PALI ROAD will keep you on the edge of your seat and have you constantly second-guessing what is real.
Shot in Hawaii and starring a world-renowned cast: Jackson Rathbone (TWILIGHT), Sung Kang (FAST & FURIOUS), Henry Ian Cusick (THE 100, LOST) and Chinese superstar Michelle Chen (YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE).
The 34th annual CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) was held in San Francisco and Oakland from March 10-20. Though attendees may have left with different impressions following the full program of screenings, panels, and events, I believe the common thread linking the attendees’ experiences was CAAMFest’s exploration of the power of legacy.
Tyrus kicked off the festival in a packed Castro Theater. The audience was visibly absorbed by the moving documentary about Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American artist who overcame numerous obstacles in pursuit of his passion. Despite circumstances that separated him from his mother at age 9 and the racism he endured as a Chinese American, Wong persevered for his art. Whether it be paintings for Hallmark cards, storyboarding for a feature film, or even building an elaborate kite to grace the sky, he applied his artistic vision relentlessly and it was only recently that he’s being celebrated for his lifetime of work.
The 105-year-old Wong, who was in attendance, received a standing ovation following the film’s conclusion. During the Q&A, an audience member shared that he inspired her to live to 105 – which was appropriately met with a round of applause – and that the younger generation should look to Wong for inspiration when pursuing passions in life, despite all odds.
Legacy-defining continued with a presentation made by Pixar animator/director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle on the making of the Academy Award-nominated short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team.” Together in one of the smaller theaters of the Alamo Drafthouse, we watched the seven-minute storytelling feast for the eyes come alive with well-timed comedy and beautifully animated action sequences, accompanied by a thrilling Mychael Danna-composed score.
During the Q&A after the screening, Patel and Grindle explained how the film was developed, how the story changed overtime, and how different influences were incorporated into the animation’s appearance. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, had told Patel to “just tell your story,” and the story that came to him was about what it’s like to grow up as the child of Asian immigrants, a narrative that is rarely seen in mainstream media. Even Patel’s father was touched by the film, as shown in a video recorded during a private screening at Pixar. Moved by this, an audience member requested an encore and we wound up watching “Sanjay’s Super Team” a second time around.
Muslim Youth Voices, an organization dedicated to celebrating and telling stories from the Muslim community, hosted a screening of student productions made by Muslim kids from Philadelphia and Minneapolis. Under the guidance of filmmaker Musa Syeed, the young filmmakers dug into the depths of their developing creative sides and brought forth a wide array of short films. From mind control brownies controlling a high school girl, to a short documentary on a spoken word poet, these kids embraced their Muslim identities and were empowered to tell their own unique stories rather than resign to the negative stereotyping of mainstream media.
If I wasn’t convinced before of the theme of legacy at the festival, the screenings I saw on the last day at the New People Cinema certainly did the job. I saw two documentaries, a short and a feature, which were part of the Pacific Showcase from the Pacific Islanders in Communications. John Antonelli’s Roots of ‘Ulu talks about how the ‘ulu (breadfruit) is being revived as a significant food in the Hawaiian culture, while Matt Yamashita’s Sons of Halawa follows the last native Hawaiian of Halawa as he searches for a successor to carry on the teachings of his ancestors. Both were about upholding legacies in people’s consciousness to keep them from disappearing altogether, informed especially from a culture that has withstood colonialism in its past.
Finally, to round out the theme of legacy found in CAAMFest’s programming, I also saw the theme realized in the people who make the festival possible. As an intern for CAAM, I helped with checking in and out volunteers and got to witness everyone who generously gave their time to volunteer. As hard-working as the staff is, this festival wouldn’t succeed without the enthusiasm and desire from these members of the community, some of whom have volunteered for decades. While each volunteer is given a voucher ticket at the end of each shift, there were several who will let it be known that perks are not why they keep returning each year. Rather, it’s the love they have for the festival that drives them to get involved. The volunteers are ultimately extensions of the festival’s constantly growing legacy.
Whether found in a thought-provoking documentary or in the smiling face of a long-time volunteer, CAAMFest was all about solidifying legacies for the younger and future generations to look to for inspiration and drive.
Director Andrew Ahn’s debut feature-length film, “Spa Night,” goes head first into exploring identity issues, family commitments and personal desires. The Koreatown-centered drama follows an immigrant family who, after being forced to shut down their restaurant, must find other ways of bringing in money.
“David, the son of the family, takes a job at a local Korean spa to help pay the bills, and when he’s at the spa, he discovers this world of underground gay hookups that scares and excites him,” Ahn explained in a phone interview.
This is his second project that has a focus on what it means to be a gay Korean American; his first one being his 2012 short film, “Dol.” Narratives about gay Asian Americans are rarely seen in mainstream media, and Ahn thinks it’s due to the limited number of Asian American filmmakers and hesitation to touch on the subject matter. That’s why he hopes that there can eventually be more filmmakers bold enough to tackle it.
“Homosexuality is a topic a lot of Asian American cultures, especially first and second generation[s], don’t want to deal with it. Whether if it’s because of religion or tradition, it’s hard to talk about,” he contemplated. “There’s a value to learning about people who might have a slightly different experience from you.”
Ahn originally conceived the idea for the film when a friend told him of a hot hookup he had one time at a Korean spa. His first impression of hearing about this experience: disgust.
“It sounded wrong to me because for so much of my life, Korean spas have been a cultural space,” he said. “It’s like a very Korean space. I went as a kid with my family, like with my dad, we would scrub ourselves and it was super tied into my sense of Korean-ness and then also family.”
At the same time, his friend’s story intrigued him. He found the idea of two identities – gay and Korean American – strongly co-existing in the same space fascinating enough for him to visualize it as a feature film almost immediately.
In the early stages of the film’s development, Ahn found support via the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Labs he participated in. Looking back on the early enthusiasm for it, he believes that despite it being a unique story and in a setting that’s rarely ever seen on screen, there are universal themes that people can connect to; such as the powerful of family, a sense of responsibility to parents, and trying to live an authentic life.
Filming for “Spa Night” took 17 days, with a day and a half for pickup shoots. Ahn said the shoot went very smoothly, especially since he was surrounded by cast and crew members who both understood and cared deeply for the story. He also liked that the producers were able to help him keep on top of his game, especially when faced with emotionally-driven scenes that were inspired by moments from his life.
On the other hand, making the transition from making short films to making a feature-length film was a huge learning experience for him.
“With a short film, you can hold the entire story in your head and know exactly what happens before and after, really quickly and really confidently,” he explained. “With a feature, you’re doing scenes out of order, you have 100+ scenes in the film, and so what you end up having to do is really prepare. Like you really have to know when you get on set: What are the scenes that I am shooting? What are the scenes that come before and after this? What’s the state of the character emotionally?”
That along with pre-production, post-production, and launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the film was also exhausting work.
But on the evening of its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, all the blood, sweat, and tears wound up being completely worth it. It has drawn in a lot of praise and lead actor, Joe Seo, even won the U.S. Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance.
“I had so many people come up to me after the screening and told me how much they related to some aspect of the film, whether it was being Korean, or being gay, or being the son or daughter of immigrants,” he described. “It was really great for me to get that kind of response because it’s such a personal story in so many ways. I’m always afraid that people won’t be able to connect to it. But the experience was really wonderful, to be at Sundance and to screen in competition. It’s very validating that what we did has worth and that an organization like Sundance wants to give this film that kind of platform is amazing.”
“Spa Night” has since gained Strand Releasing as its North American distributor. There are plans for a theatrical distribution sometime this fall, but it’ll still be making its way around the film festival circuit before then. Upcoming details for “Spa Night” can be found on its official Facebook page.
Minji chats with Tae Song, one of the actors in the film “Spa Night” in this edition of “Coffee Break.” Tae recounts his journey as an actor, from performing in improv groups in high school and college, to musical theater, and finally to his big screen debut.