We Call Her Yolanda: A Story of Recovery

When Typhoon Haiyan, otherwise known as Typhoon Yolanda, hit the Philippines in 2013, the media was quick to deem the Philippine population as “resilient,” applauding the ability of the Filipino people to persevere in the face of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

But shortly after the Typhoon settled, stories of the storm slowly disappeared from major media outlets; it seemed that the Typhoon had subsided into just another Southeast Asian storm. The Philippines, however, continued to face the havoc wreaked by Yolanda. The storm was indeed massive, and the disaster in its trail was seemingly irreconcilable. Yet the media failed to answer the question: What does recovery look like?

Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban
Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban

Anthony Bari, Jr., the director of We Call Her Yolanda, states that the documentary aims to answer just this. “The whole project is about recovery.” Bari clarifies, “This isn’t something [where] you can do a quick tuck and roll, and you’re back to living… It’s about growth.”

Of course, chronicling growth is a task that takes long-term commitment—and one that many, albeit with good intentions, fail to make. In contrast, the We Call Her Yolanda team has been back to Tacloban a total of four times and over these trips, the team became close to the people featured in the documentary—a family expecting a child, a fisherman, and several others. Anthony and his team were assisted by Alex Trinidad, a Filipino-American U.S. army veteran based in Manilla, whom Bari and Trinidad met during a relief operation in November 2013 where Trinidad helped guide and interpret for volunteers. 

Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.
Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.

Logistically speaking, setting up the interviews was difficult. Many of the people in the film had no cell phones, and so meeting up operated on “an honor system,” Bari calls it. “It was like, ‘Okay, meet me by this tent or tree at about 3 o’clock your time.’”

And earning the trust of these individuals was also no easy feat. “Foreigners come in and they take some pictures and leave. We’re trying to do the exact opposite,” Bari says. “We’re trying to be part of it. We’re not trying to take what we got and run away.” In the beginning, “A camera was not even an option. It’s the worst thing, if you ask me, if you just go and shove a camera in someone’s face who’s been through a lot of stuff and lost members of their family, their household, their livelihood, their everything.”

Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.
Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.

It is this commitment to interpersonal relationships that We Call Her Yolanda is founded on, a commitment that births an ingenuity from the subjects of the documentary. The film, Bari clarifies, is meant to serve not as a filtered nor nitpicked narrative, but instead, as a platform for these individuals’ stories, and aims to keep the integrity of these stories intact. “A lot of people think that it’s a normal, everyday thing—they never realize how big [the Typhoon was] because they’re watching it from their living room or on Facebook. It’s very disconnected the way you find out about these disasters.”

With this in mind, Bari states that the perspective is “not from the foreigner, but from the person on the ground.” The name of the film is derived from this notion as well. Bari points out that media outlets, specifically in the United States, call the storm “Typhoon Haiyan.” But in the Philippines, survivors call it “Yolanda.”

To this day—nearly three years after the Typhoon and miles away from Tacloban—Bari and the rest of the We Call Her Yolanda are still in close contact with the families and individuals they met in the Philippines.  When asked what comes after the film, Bari expresses that he wants to return back to Tacloban. He speaks of the fisherman who was interviewed for the film. “He needs a deep sea fishing boat,” Bari remembers. “If enough people pay attention to this project, we can go back there and actually buy the boat with him.”

Jaffery the fisherman and Anthony Bari, Jr., shooting on the sea.

Learn more about the film at http://www.wecallheryolanda.com/


Images and video courtesy of We Call Her Yolanda

We Love Big Phony – Coffee Break w/ Minji Chang

On this edition of Kollaboration’s Coffee Break we welcome Bobby Choy aka Big Phony! Bobby is an amazing singer-songwriter who moved to Korea a few years ago to live, play music, and find himself. You might also know him from the webseries turned feature film KTown Cowboys, which he stars in. With a new album in the works, a movie in the theater, and a documentary in the festival circuit, we caught up with him on one of his recent trips to LA to see what’s been up!

Don’t forget to check out the amazing  Green Room live music session he played for us as well as his appearance on the KollabCast.

See more from Big Phony on YouTube

Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Camera Operator: Emily Koh
Editor: Brianna Kim


Naomi Ko talks Screenwriting, Taking on Hollywood Racism, and Writing Terrible Fan Fiction

Listen to the audio version of this article:

Stationed on opposite ends of the continental USA, my interview with Naomi Ko starts off with a weird game of video tag before the dawning realization that my sunny afternoon is an ungodly hour in her California morning.

After finally connecting, she says “Sorry for the mess. It’s been a long week.”

Known for her role in Dear White People, among other things, Naomi is a headstrong, ambitious woman with experience as a writer, actor, and director. She takes advantage of the millennial “we can have it all” mentality and seems intent on doing just that.

But it isn’t easy. “I am kind of untraditional when it comes to being an Asian American woman.  I am aggressive, I swear a lot…I don’t really give a f*** anymore.”

To Ko, being an Asian American in the industry has come with its fair share of challenges. “Accessibility is one of the biggest hardships that I’ve encountered as an Asian American. I have definitely encountered issues about being Asian American but also about being a woman, especially when it came to pitching and talking to Hollywood studios and networks and producers and executives who have certain expectations of what they feel I should be and what my work should represent.” She quickly points out the time when she pitched a violent historical drama and how surprised people were that an AAPI woman wanted to tell such a violent story. “One person even said, ‘Wow, this is really violent,’ and I said, ‘Well, haven’t you seen Game of Thrones? That’s really violent.’ But I guess if three white, British dudes want to do it that’s cool.”

Indeed, in the western film industry, Asian Americans are underrepresented on and off the camera. Actors that do make it in a feature film or major TV production tend to be stuck playing the model minority. “I think for actors, when you go into auditions and they ask you to do an accent—that’s a more aggressive form of racism. But when you’re in a room meeting with different studio execs and producers, you’ve already proved yourself in the sense that ‘Okay, my writing is good enough to get me through this door.’ Then, there is how are they going to nitpick, and how are they going to say no to you, and how is that influenced by what they perceive of you?” She continues, barely stopping to take a breath. “But then also, that’s the most ideal situation. So, how do you even get your script through the f***ing door?”

Dear White People (Roadside Attractions )

For Ko, untraditional is both the problem and the solution. “I think those are the hardships for AAPI just generally in terms of how Asian Americans are dealt with in society, and how that really reflects in Hollywood. There is such a passive-ness when it comes to how people treat us and what people expect of us.”

I ask her to elaborate. She recounts her childhood in a primarily white suburb of Minnesota, promptly adding, “Minnesotans are kings and queens of passive aggressiveness.” She chuckles at her jab before saying, “I feel like I understand a little bit of these hardships when you come to Hollywood because I have over twenty years of experience dealing with white people who constantly underestimate me.”

She then recalls her early performing days. “I was a big performer throughout middle school and high school, and I never got parts. And for a while, I thought it was because I was not talented but then I realized—I’m pretty good at what I do.”

Pretty good is an understatement, if you ask me.

She continues. “I was really sick of having no control over the casting process… once you can specify what your characters are and what their experiences are, there’s a lot more power in that.”  I ask how she got herself into writing. “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I wrote terrible fan fiction.” She laughs. “You know? I was one of those.”

Despite her growing success, she is still painfully aware of her social background and responsibilities, and uses this to shape the stories she wants to tell. “In most of my scripts, I have a strong Asian American woman and I’m not gonna change that. Not anymore.”  Hollywood, Ko says, which has been long criticized for perpetuating a white-male dominated entertainment industry, “does a great job at keeping us invisible, and silencing us in that way of artistic expression.  Because they realize that a lot of power comes through that. And if you can just settle with doing our colonoscopies, then maybe you don’t want to be visible, and maybe you don’t need to be expressive.” She laughs darkly.  I laugh as well, thinking about all the colonoscopies my pre-med friends will soon perform routinely.

Another problem she has, is the lack of diversity in AAPI roles. “The problem,” according to Ko, is “representation.” Not only a tendency for Asians to get cast in “model minority” characters, but also the demand for those characters within the AAPI Community. “I think also there’s a standard in what Asian Americans want and what they want to see. And I think they didn’t want to see this curly haired, potty mouthed girl swearing all the time.” By writing the stories, Ko finds that Asian Americans can contribute to the increasing diversity in mainstream media, but also notes that there is a “lack of diversity in Asian American voices because “you know how it is in theatre its very dominated by Asian American men.”

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But for her, that’s not good enough. “It’s just funny that you can have Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson who really just don’t give a f*** anymore and then you’re getting resistance from everyone about having Asian American women do really raunchy things.”

Naomi’s issues with representation, however, extend far beyond the AAPI community.  Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics are included too, and not just within the entertainment industry. Ko’s work and the stories she chooses to produce, stem from both a strong sense of social justice and a deep-seeded desire to tell the stories she knows best. “I feel like I really have something strong to say and, if anything, that’s it.”

I ask about her future. “One of my future goals is to start working on projects with other people of color who are representatives of their communities and to start talking about interesting stories that connect us—connect us in different relationships.” She reveals one such story, prefacing with, “I don’t think I can write this, since I’m not an LA native, but someone really should [make] a really complex, in-depth, complicated, messy, heart-breaking story about the LA riots and what happened with a shop owner, and her ties with the black community.” She paused. “I don’t know, I just want to write and see very good stories. And I think diversity has to do with that.”

Will this be the next Hollywood blockbuster? Maybe in the near future. “I think different stories produce better content,” She says, “and that’s what I want to do.”

Naomi is currently working on a series of projects, including one that “I really want to f***ing talk about, but can’t.”  But for now, you can join her fan club by following her on twitter (https://twitter.com/konaomie), checking out her IMBD page (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6264075/), or her personal website (http://www.konaomi.com/)


Images via www.konaomi.com

Melissa Polinar – The Green Room

We’re very excited to share with you this special Green Room live music session with the amazing Melissa Polinar! One of the OGs of the YouTube creator revolution, Melissa stopped by the Green Room while in town for a few shows in LA and San Diego to sing a few of her originals for us. Please enjoy!

“Meant to Be”
“Feel’s Like Home”

Hear more from Melissa on her YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/mpolinar


A Not-Quite Homecoming Trip to China

Editor’s Note: About a month ago, our Associate Editor Lily Rugo left for a trip to visit China, the country of her birth. We asked her to write down a few of her thoughts as an adoptee making this trip for the first time.

I have the average “adoptee visiting the Motherland” story. I’m not meeting my birth family or filming a documentary about finding my long-lost twin on YouTube. Instead it’s more of a pilgrimage, the most daunting and personal pilgrimage for me yet: China.

I’ve always loved personal journeys because, for me, physically being at a place that holds special connections makes it more meaningful. Connecting with my heritage and identity as a Chinese adoptee has become more and more important to me in the past few years. Growing up I only had this vague idea about China. Between dim sum and human rights issues, I never knew if China (or coming from there) was a good or bad thing. It was after the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony when I started to care about “the Motherland” more. As I see more of a negative take on China in the West, I decided I don’t believe it. China’s not perfect, but I wasn’t going to take other people’s word for it anymore. I fortunately have the chance to go there through a summer program that includes intensive language classes coupled with an internship. In a few days I’m headed back to the Motherland after nearly twenty years.

However, the more I think about spending twelve weeks in China, more or less on my own, the more I realize how crazy this whole venture sounds. I get lost in Boston, how am I supposed to navigate a city with over twenty million people? And truthfully I’ve been very pragmatic in how I go about connecting to my Chinese roots. I’m learning Mandarin because it’s more widely spoken than Cantonese. I want to go to Shanghai because it’s one of the most exciting cities in the world, and slightly less polluted than Beijing. I want an internship because as the Wonders Of The Orient become more interesting for Westerners, I want a Chinese edge on my resume. China is a part of my identity, I want to visit it and learn about its history, people, and future. But this doesn’t feel like a heritage trip.

What makes a visit to the Motherland a “heritage trip”? Actually, this isn’t even my true Chinese heritage. I was born somewhere in the Cantonese-speaking southern Guangdong province. I’m about to spend twelves weeks learning Mandarin and most of my time in Shanghai. Before my program, I’ll see the great Wall of China, the terra cotta warriors, adorable pandas, take a cruise along the Yangtze River, and explore Shanghai. Then I’m spending a week in Tokyo. No visit to the orphanage where I was adopted from, or even Guangzhou, the city where I met my [adoptive] parents. I wouldn’t know who to contact to line up a personal tour on that scale. Like most other Chinese adoptees, I’m not even sure if I have the paper trail to set up something like that either. Sure I’m going to the Motherland, but does it count as “connecting with my roots” if I’m going to connect with all the wrong parts of China?

Even if it’s the wrong part of China, I can at least say I’ve been to the Motherland, been to the place where it all began. Will I ever visit Guangzhou or learn Cantonese? Maybe.But I’m not going to China to find answers- I gave up on that a long time ago. I’m going to China because I feel like I have to. I want to see this country that I’ve only heard about, yet claims so much of my identity. Hopefully, this is only one of many trips to the Motherland to explore my heritage.


Big Phony – The Green Room

Big Phony has been busy the last few years living in South Korea, but the singer-songwriter, & K-Town Cowboys star, took some time during his last trip to LA to stop by the Kollaboration Green Room to play a few tunes for us. If you haven’t heard of Big Phony before, you’re in for a treat! Please enjoy as he shares his melancholy songs about loneliness, love, and hope. (warning, some lyrics NSFW)

“Shoot the Sh*t”
“I am F***ed Without You”

Hear more from Big Phony at bigphony.bandcamp.com


Megan Lee is Stronger than Ever – Coffee Break w/ Minji Chang

Megan Lee, star of Nickelodeon’s Make it Pop and Kollaboration alum, joins Minji Chang for a Coffee Break to talk about what she’s been up to. Megan shares about her busy schedule shooting Make it Pop in Toronto, making new original music (and her new single Stronger), and her origins in Kollaboration. We love Megan and you will too after this interview!

Check out Megan’s live music performance in the Kollaboration Green Room

Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Camera Operator: Emily Koh
Editor: Brianna Kim