We’re back with another interview from Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. For this segment we chat with documentary filmmaker Leo Chiang, who’s film Out Run is currently in the midst of it’s festival circuit run. We talk about his experience covering this unique and important story as well as his advice to young documentarians.
ABOUT THE FILM: As leader of the world’s only LGBT political party, Bemz Benedito dreams of being the first transgender woman in the Philippine Congress. But in a predominantly Catholic nation, rallying for LGBT representation in the halls of Congress is not an easy feat. Bemz and her eclectic team of queer political warriors must rethink traditional campaign strategies to amass support from unlikely places. Taking their equality campaign to small-town hair salons and regional beauty pageants, the activists mobilize working-class trans hairdressers and beauty queens to join the fight against their main political opponent, a homophobic evangelical preacher, and prove to the Filipino electorate that it’s time to take the rights of LGBT people seriously. But as outsiders trying to get inside the system, will they have to compromise their political ideals in order to win? Culminating on election day, OUT RUN provides a unique look into the challenges LGBT people face as they transition into the mainstream and fight for dignity, legitimacy, and acceptance across the globe.
It’s a year-long celebration for the Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), celebrating 25 years of supporting, developing, and advancing content for and by the Pacific Islander community. The Honolulu-based media arts non-profit organization celebrates creating TV programming, funding documentaries, and having showcases in various Asian American film festivals.
“Some of our goals are to develop the programming, enhance public recognition and appreciation for Pacific Islander history and culture,” Executive Director Leanne Ferrer explained via Skype interview.
PIC is one of five organizations that make up the National Minority Consortia; the others being the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), the Latino Public Broadcasting, the National Black Programming Consortium, and Vision Maker Media. Prior to PIC’s founding in 1991, many of its producers worked with CAAM (then called the National Asian American Telecommunications Association). The producers were encouraged to create their own organization specifically for Pacific Islander content and to get the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund them. After the producers stated their case at a meeting in Honolulu, PIC then started to become a reality.
“It’s a great story because without the help of our Asian counterpart, I don’t think the producers here would have thought about it,” said Ferrer. “So it’s really great to be a part of that tapestry that gives a voice to minorities.”
The funding and support from PIC has been crucial for a number of Pacific Islander content creators – including Ferrer herself, who received funding from them as a filmmaker for two short films back in the early 2000s. She later joined the organization in 2009 as the program manager, before becoming the executive director in 2014.
PIC has grown overtime, thanks in part by partnerships, screenings, and helping out partners whenever possible. They’ve grown so much that they’re now producing various series for TV.
They’re just about to start the fifth season of Pacific Heartbeat; PIC’s first national series, created by Ferrer, where various documentaries that have been made possible by the organization are screened.
“I love Pacific Heartbeat,” she said. “I’m happy I’m able to package that in one place for people just to see the breadth of Pacific Islander stories.”
PIC also produced a second series with Rock Salt Media called Family Ingredients; an eight-part series hosted by chef Ed Kenney that celebrates and explores the world of food and how it plays a role in family history. It begins airing on PBS in July, and will be the first series to screen outside the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month window.
Ferrer named two recent films PIC helped make happen that have been particularly resonating with audiences: Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s Kumu Hina and Tony Vainuku and Erik Cohn’s In Football We Trust. She believes that its responses are a succession of PIC’s goal to tell a universal story.
“When we’re funding it or when producers are making it, it’s always in the back of your mind as, ‘Is the general audience going to get it or are we just making to this small section of Hawaii? Are we going to be preaching to the choir?'” she elaborated. “That’s good storytelling when you can give it to a broad audience and get that reaction.”
In a time now where diversity is in demand for heightened quality and quantity, Ferrer believes that the Pacific Islander community should be included in the conversation more.
“I personally don’t think there’s enough [representation] and I think there could be a lot more,” she explained. “In mainstream media, it seems like we get recognized being in football and maybe with beautiful scenic shots of where we live, [but] it still can get better.”
While she acknowledges public figures like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for bringing a face to Pacific Islanders as a part of the American tapestry, she hopes to see more exposure, minus the stereotypes.
Ferrer also believes that working together with the Asian American community can help in the long run. She sees the common ground with both communities through cultural similarities and finds them to be a good mesh. However, she doesn’t want to see the two communities being lumped together into one group.
“There are a lot of organizations that serve both Asians and Pacific Islanders, but Pacific Islanders are usually underrepresented,” she stated. “It’s not to say anything bad about those organizations; it’s that you have your hands full with the Asian population.”
For PIC’s 25th anniversary, many events are planned, including the anniversary reception in September and the Hawaii Media Makers Conference in November. There have also been one-minute vignettes posted on their social media, acknowledging 25 people, films, and other organizations that have helped PIC become what it is now.
In the future, Ferrer hopes for more partnerships to form, funding to be raised, training given to Pacific Islander producers to tell the community’s stories, and for PIC to become a go-to source for Pacific Islander content.
In the mainstream media, she hopes for the Pacific Islander community to be integrated more into the American tapestry and have their contributions recognized.
“I want more Pacific Islander content creators,” she said. “I want there to be more content aggregators. I want more people interested in Pacific Islander media and what Pacific Islanders have to say and give to the world.”
New media, especially platforms like YouTube, WordPress, and Instagram, have redefined the entertainment industry and have allowed even the average person to create and distribute their art. Ten years ago, being a Blogger, YouTuber, Vine-famous, or even “big on Instagram” weren’t credible past-times, much less viable careers. Now in 2015, PewDiePie has earned $12 million dollars last year playing video games on YouTube, web-based sketch comedy group Smosh released a movie, and YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan has her own book and cosmetic line.
One person who has been on the frontlines of this evolution of storytelling is actor, writer, and filmmaker Chris Dinh. Most recognizable for his work with WongFu Productions, Dinh also has done a number of independent work with friend Viet Nguyen. Most recently Dinh and Nguyen released their crowd-funded movie, Crush the Skull, a full length feature based on their shorts series with the same name.
“I’m trying to find my thing too. The thing that makes me laugh. It tends to be in that dark comedy realm. Super dark and hopefully fun. It’s just meant to be a fun ride.” Chris Dinh
While Dinh visited Boston for a Crush the Skull screening at the Boston Asian American Film Festival, Kollaboration got to sit down and talk to him about what he thought of new media and the future of storytelling.
Kollab: How do you define new media?
Chris: If I had to define it, it’s anything that is… I almost want to say anything that is digital, but not only digital, but anything that has been created organically out of a need to just express a person’s interest or passions. It can not only be YouTube, but now there’s Vine and there’s Instagram and Snapchat. Anything that you can just pick up and do yourself and tell a story that can reach an audience.
Kollab: Why did you get into new media with YouTube and all that?
Chirs: I was working at a traditional production company, it wasn’t indie, but it still worked in the traditional ways. And it’s a very slow moving system and I just felt like we would spend all this time in development, but we were never shooting anything. Then I saw how quickly people were uploading YouTube videos, and I just felt like it was exciting. I wanted to be a part of it somehow, I didn’t know how, I just wanted to be a part of it.
Kollab: How did you end up a part of it?
Chris: So I got into it because there was a film festival in New York, this really cool group of Asian Americans started it, and they started this cool thing called the 72 Hour Shoot-Out. It’s a competition, they give you perimeters, you shoot and deliver a short film within 72 hours. That was one of the first short films that we did that was digital for me, and that was my first taste of the online world. Shortly after that I met the WongFu guys and it was the right place at the right time kind of stuff. They were doing what I wanted to do, so I just wanted to hang out with them and do whatever they wanted to do.
Kollab: Crush the Skull was made entirely with new media, you started with YouTube and then you went on to Kickstarter to make the film. Was there anything about that process that surprised you?
Chris: What’s surprising about that is how hard it is. Actually, I don’t know if it was surprising, because I knew it would be really hard. Because we had just done the WongFu campaign, and then I was going out there and doing another campaign right after that. It made me feel weird to keep asking for support, I felt bad about it. But timing wise, we had no other options, we had to. But we had some amazing people come through to support us. It was both tough, and inspiring. Because you’re like, ‘Oh mygosh, we’re not going to make it,’ and then people came through for us, and then we feel super inspired by that.
“Something that maybe Asian American who have a really negative opinion of Asian american films. Like for some they just get turned off when they hear that term, and so maybe capturing some of them like, ‘Hey it could be fun! You should support it.’ The more you support it, the more fun films like this can exist.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Being a part of independent films like Crush the Skull, you do so many different roles. Do you prefer it that way, or do you wish you had a larger crew?
Chris: I wish I had a larger crew who wore many hats. (But) it’s really fun for me. I grew up watching Charlie Chaplin, and I was so inspired to read and learn that he was the same way. They were kind of like the YouTubers of the day. They were doing everything, producing, writing, casting, composing, how cool was that? It’s so rewarding to be able to do.
Kollab: With all these platforms, the market is almost too saturated. Do you think it’s still worth it, or should they start through the traditional route?
Chris: I think that you should try everything. Maybe you tell your stories best through Vine, or YouTube, or a novel, or poetry. There’s so many ways to express yourself, it’s so cool to see what works for you. Yes there’s a lot of saturation, but there’s communities that are being created and I think that put it out there and find your community. But it’s definitely worth it to share your story.
Kollab: Because of your presence on YouTube and social media, it’s a very different connection to fans. How would you describe your relationship with fans?
Chris: I like how easy it is, and I hope that anyone who follows our stuff can just come up and say hi. Storytelling is supposed to be a way to connect with people, and it would be weird if it was like, ‘Yeah, I want to tell stories and connect with you, but I don’t want you to feel comfortable enough to come say hi.’ (At the BAFF panel on new media) when we were talking about creating our own space, people feel like they’re just consuming it, but it’s actually participating. It’s so important, not only making that content, but just the act of clicking on it and watching. That’s all a part of creating that space together for all of us to share our stories. For me, that’s how I see the relationship (with fans). We’re all in it together, and we’re creating the space together.
Kollab: Regardless of the platform, why is storytelling and creating a shared space so important?
Chris: I hope I don’t sound crazy, but someone once said that when language was created, it was when we created time travel. I always found that really fascinating because I think storytelling is very much a part of being human. You share a story because you want someone to share in that experience with you, and sometimes it’s just about sharing in that experience. Sometimes it’s I want you to know more about me, or I want to know more about you so we can become closer. We try to tell these stories so you can step into my shoes for a little bit so you can know what life is like for me or what life is like for you. I think it’s all about understanding each other a little better and stories are a great way to spread empathy.
“Empathy is how we’re going to find and settle these big huge conflicts in the world today. When we always see these other groups as “the other,” we’ll never be able to find peace or resolution. I think that’s what story is all about, in all these forms. It’s all about sharing stories so that we can relate to each other and share in these experiences.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Now that all these new platforms are available, what do you hope to see for the future of media?
Chris: This is where I’m going to start sounding crazy. I think the future is going to be really crazy. We’re going to be able to get to a point— and it sounds like it’s really super futuristic, but it’s not because we’re super close— I’m going to be able to wear a virtual reality helmet and almost live the experience of my parents. Someone will be able to program that world so I can see what it was like growing up in Vietnam, or stepping onto the boat for the first time to escape. Language is a beautiful thing, but one day when we can totally step inside someone’s stories, literally step in through technology, then I’m going to appreciate my parent’s stories in a totally different way. I think that’s subconsciously what we’re trying to achieve in storytelling and technology. Until you can really experience it, I think that’s the future. That’s crazy talk, but at the core, that’s what story is.
Kollab: Any last general advice or words of encouragement?
Chris: For any storyteller out there who wants to start telling stories, on whatever platform that they choose, my advice would be to take it as seriously as, let’s say a doctor takes med school. All the people who are doing it at the highest levels consider any of the various ways to tell stories see it as a profession and as serious as medicine or law, or business. It’s going to be as difficult as any of those other fields, so treat it accordingly. That’ll help you have a long future in it. We see a lot of the fun outcomes, but what you don’t se is that they take it very seriously. It’s a pretty difficult journey, so be ready for that.
A month ago, Kollab Blogger Lily Rugo attended the Boston Asian American Film Festival. Here is her recap on the films she watched and her recommendations!
The Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) wrapped up another successful year of bringing guests and films from all over the world for the seventh year!
The festival was held Oct. 22-25 and showcased a variety of feature length films and shorts. The feature films included Seoul Searching, Miss India America, Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, and My Life in China. Their Shorts series each had a theme that related back to home, and each screening was usually followed by a Q&A with either the director, an actor, writer, or producer.
I really enjoyed the films I saw. For the full 2015 line up, visit BAAFF.org. For a quick look into what I enjoyed most, here’s my recap:
Shorts: Redefining Home— East of Hollywood; D. Asian; My Hot Mom Gandhi; My Sister Swallowed the Zoo; Next Like; Distance Between
Overall, these shorts were fun and established the festival’s theme of home well. One film continued the video trend of categorizing people with clever analogies, in this case likening girls to social media sites like “the Twitter girl” versus “the Facebook girl.” One was a bit too artistic for me to fully appreciate, showing a series of photos and videos flashing by while a daughter talked to her mother over the phone. I thought “Distance Between” was the most heartfelt in this series, a new take on a dad passing on words of wisdom to his son.
The highlight was “East of Hollywood,” a 30-minute short film satirizing the struggles Asian American actors face in the entertainment industry. Based on lead actor and co-writer/director Michael Tow’s true experiences, the film exaggerates the stereotypes and tropes Asians face, or in this case, must lean in to as they try to break the bamboo ceiling in Hollywood . “East of Hollywood” is a local project that had its premiere at BAAFF and will hopefully be continued on in a longer film.
Shorts: Queer at Home— Dol (First Birthday); Paper Wrap Fire; Ordinary Family; FU377; Coming Home; Draft Day; Brokeback That Ass Up
I found these more enlightening and in-depth than the Redefining Home series. I appreciated the stop motion of “FU377” and comedic drama in “Ordinary Family.” Most of them ended without a neat little bow, as I expect was the point, and loved the honesty of each short. My favorite was “Draft Day” about the Thai military draft required of all males when they turn 21. The short follows two transgender girls throughout their drafting process and explores how Thailand has adapted to the transgender community.
Crush the Skull
Dear Chris Dinh: You lied to me. I asked if your movie would be gory and here we are. I had seen both the online shorts, “Crush the Skull” and “Crush the Skull II,” and I was excited to see the film they made—even though I spent most of the movie hiding behind my jacket. Crush the Skull, the feature length film, has a different plot than the online shorts, but it’s keeps to the same genre of dark comedy and campy violence. The story follows a group of burglars as they break into a secluded house thinking it will be easy and their last job. Little do they expect for it actually be their last as it turns out the owner is home—and a deranged serial killer. I enjoyed the references to the original shorts and the usage of the same actors, jokes, and situations– not to mention the classic line “crush the skull” that has to end up somewhere. I’m not a big horror movie person—I even screamed at one point during the movie—but I would suggest Crush the Skull for a fun night with friends.
Shorts: Home in America— Closeness; Leadway; Giap’s Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory; Finding Cleveland; Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides; El Chino
Home in America was the heaviest of the Shorts series. I even cried a bit. All of the shorts related back to home and connection to roots and family. Each of them made me think either about my own family or contemplate the situations the subjects of the shorts were going through.
One of my favorites, Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides, told three amazing stories about women who married American soldiers at the end of World War II. The director’s plan on developing the documentary into a longer piece, and more information on how to support the project can be found on their website. But the biggest takeaway for me was how recent the Vietnam War was in my lifetime. Learning about it in history class makes it seem so long ago, but these shorts made me realize that past events still hold a strong impact on today’s families. If you have the time, I recommend all of these shorts.
Off the Menu
Probably one of my favorites in the festival, it was like a good meal: filling, nothing too fancy, and heartwarming. The director, Grace Lee, started with joking about why Asians take so many photos of food then developed the idea into a documentary. For the most part Off the Menu doesn’t focus on food as product, but the ways it brings people together and represents larger aspects in life like community and heritage. Lee explores the rise of sushi as a trend, how a chef at a new restaurant in New York City incorporates its family, Hawaiian traditions, and the community langar meal served at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It’s a simple movie, but I loved it and thought Lee did a great job finding different aspects of food in people’s lives across America.
Miss India America
Another favorite of mine, I thought the director and writer did a really good job with this film. Miss India America follows recent high school graduate and winner of everything Lily Prasad as she sets her mind to win Miss India National. Of course the journey is one big learning experience for Lily, but it doesn’t rely on too many tropes of the coming-of-age story. My favorite part about Miss India America is that I wasn’t rooting for the main character to win (she does enough of that herself), but that I’m rooting for her to change.
Also, New Girl actress Hannah Simone has a supporting role when she could have easily been the lead—and I’m glad she wasn’t. The lead actress Tiya Sicar did very well, and looked like the average girl who enters a beauty pageant, not a pageant queen playing the average girl. I highly recommend Miss India America. Follow this link for the movie’s website. If you try Googling it, you might just find yourself on Miss India’s real website.
Congratulations to the staff at the Boston Asian American Film Festival on another successful year. I really enjoyed all the films I got to see and learned a lot from the following Q&A sessions. Best of luck next year!
San Jose, home to the third largest Asian American population in the United States, recently played host to the annual CAAMFest San Jose film festival. From September 17-20, screenings, Q&As, and even an artist presentation marked the film festival’s 13th year in the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Friday’s opening night at the Camera 3 Cinema, usually reserved for showcasing films, features an unprecedented screening of a TV show, Fresh off the Boat. The family sitcom made history as not only the second show to star an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, but also the first to be renewed for a second season. Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), highlighted the show’s significance to the community, stating how Fresh off the Boat is both a phenomenon that is funny but with truth to it.
A large audience attended this first screening, notably a number of kids with their parents. The attendees were treated to the final episode of Season 1, as well as an early screening of the Season 2 premiere. Needless to say, laughs filled the room at all the right moments.
Melvin Mar, executive producer of Fresh off the Boat, was the night’s special guest, and after the screening, he joined CAAM Festival Director Masashi Niwano onstage for a discussion and a Q&A. Mar went in-depth on how he went from being fresh out of Cal Poly Pomona, not knowing what direction to take, to interning for Fox and DreamWorks, before eventually finding himself in a position where he was able to pitch an idea for a sitcom surrounding an Asian American family. As far as what to expect from the second season, he specifically highlighted how we’ll see the character of Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong) expanded more, as well as an upcoming Chinese New Year episode later this winter.
The Opening Night Gala followed afterwards at the San Jose Museum of Art. Richie Menchavez of the Asian American online radio station, Traktivist, served as the DJ for the evening with a playlist largely made up of 90’s music. Deviled eggs, mini cupcakes, beer and wine were consumed as attendees mingled with one another, having a good time, as well as even hitting the dance floor at one point. The night ended on a good note.
Saturday continued on with CAAMFest’s programming beginning with In Football We Trust. The documentary follows four NFL hopefuls, all of Polynesian descent, in Salt Lake City, Utah as they navigate their way to the ultimate glory, while with dealing with intergenerational gang violence, poverty, and their families’ expectations.
Co-director Tony Vainuku was in attendance and discussed with Niwano afterwards for the moderately sized audience how he conceptualized the idea for the documentary from his uncle’s experience, who was also once an NFL hopeful. He explained how filming for the documentary went about, in particular when it came to gaining the trust from both the subjects and their families. In addition, he also explained how actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was completely moved by the film, is coming onboard as a producer for the film’s wider release next year.
Barney Cheng’s directorial debut, Baby Steps, followed afterwards, as the good-sized number of attendees were treated to a comedy-drama that follows Danny (Cheng) as he and his American partner are on a mission to find a surrogate mother, all the while he deals with his own mother/excited grandmother-to-be.
Felicia Lowe’s Chinese Couplets and Ham Tran’s Hollow– both of which were screened at CAAMFest last March- were the final two films for the day and the Centerpiece party was held that evening at the Nomikai Bar.
Sunday marked the last day of CAAMFest San Jose, beginning with a free screening of the web series Lucky Chow at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and closed out with a screening of Vikas Bahl’s critically acclaimed Queen at Camera 3.
Sunday afternoon was when the centerpiece presentation took place with a focus on comic book writer/filmmaker Greg Pak, moderated by graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Accompanied by a slideshow, Pak first discussed his film career with works like Robot Stories, before going onward to his works he has done for companies like Marvel and DC Comics. He showed the step-by-step process of his illustrator’s work for his upcoming Kingsway West, pictures of his character Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk, and previews from his children’s books, ABC Disgusting and The Princess Who Saved Herself.
In discussion with Yang, Pak went even further into his background, explaining how while he grew up enjoying comics, he never thought of writing comic books as a career. Looking into the future, he is now considering a wide assortment of projects; some of them, he said, would actually work better as films than comic books.
The presentation wrapped up with musician Goh Nakamura performing a song from the soundtrack for Kingsway West called “Sonia,” as well as a cover of the Beatles’ “Red Balloons.”
It was another successful CAAMFest San Jose for the staff and volunteers! Now, they continue onwards with preparations for CAAMFest 2016.
Directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick Snowpiercerbreaks away from the traditional Hollywood distribution route and becomes available for online downloading and Video on Demand – just two weeks after its first U.S. theatrical release.
After crowd-funding over $300,000 and 3 months of intense pre-production planning, Wong Fu has finally announced the start of their principal photography and revealed the principal cast for their first feature film.
Kearney Street Workshop is now looking for artist submissions from the San Francisco Bay Area for its 13th annual multidisciplinary arts festival, APAture. The festival—slated to run from September 26 to October 5 in the San Francisco-Oakland region—is designed to “produce, present, and promote art that empowers” the Asian-Pacific American (APA) community.
Kearney Street Workshop prides itself as being “the oldest Asian Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization in the country.” Since its founding in 1972, it has offered classes and workshops while also producing exhibitions, readings, screenings, and performances in the hopes of creating a “more just society that fully incorporates [APA] historical roots, cultural values, and contemporary issues.”
The committee is looking for submissions to its book (comics, illustrations), literary (poems, spoken word), musical, performing, visual, and film arts categories until July 7. For more information, visit APAture ’14 or kearnystreet.org.
Named a must-read by the New York Times, theWall Street Journaland theGuardian, Kevin Kwan’s 2013 debut novel about a group of Singaporean elite, Crazy Rich Asians, is set to be adapted onto the big screen.