Roundtable Interview with LGBTQ Shorts Filmmakers
by Jackie Lam
This year, AAIFF is spotlighting the Asian LGBTQ community, an extremely marginalized and underrepresented group with incredibly important and powerful stories. CineVue chatted with each filmmaker in the LGBTQ Shorts program about their inspiration, goals, personal growth, and more.
CineVue: What was the inspiration for your film?
Vicky Du, GAYSIANS: My film was inspired by my mom. It’s my attempt to understand some of the cultural, political and historical forces that have shaped our relationship. The project evolved from having no formal conceit to existing as a sharply formed and intentionally structured short documentary. I filmed 13 conversations just because, and had many more over email, phone and in-person without a camera. I knew I was moved by the footage but I had no idea how to shape it, how to present it. My heart loves film so I felt committed to a one screen, audio/visual presentation. The idea finally came to string five stories together, not in any conscious way. I love film because it’s where I have the most courage. That’s probably why I used the medium to explore these questions.
Jazmin Jamias, I HATE THE COLOR RED: The film is a love letter to video stores and is about the influences that technology brings into our daily lives. My older sister, who was a manager at a local video store, would bring home screeners of movies before they would be released. Quite a few were really obscure films and were foreign. It opened up this world of stories that were very different from the world and culture I was living in. My education on films really came from video stores.
Asians, especially Asians in the LGBTQ community, strive for more humanistic, complex media representation and the only way we can achieve this is by sharing our own narratives. One of the major challenges is being able to represent ourselves truthfully and honestly with acceptance.
Hai Chin Hsu, BALLOT: Being queers, there are always pressures of being “not right” against society norms and the traditional family structure. This film attempts to portray this frustration of trying to match the [image of the perfect child] for their parents, but knowing that is just a [coping] strategy. The true self has been hidden in silence.
BALLOT was done three months before US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide, a victory to the decades-long gay rights movement.
It seems the situation that I depicted in “Ballot” has already become history, however, the same struggles still happen every day and everywhere with LGBT children facing their parents and families. Ironically, I feel [the film] reflects [its] Chinese title even more, which translates to THE UNFINISHED MATTER. Society changes slowly, there is still a long way to go.
Tao Jia, HEART STATION: As a graduate student in film school, I wanted to tell an emotionally close story, in a self-reflective way…Moreover, from conversations that I had with my gay friends before, I realized that every one of us has experienced that unrequited love for straight men.
I don’t do that unrequited love sh*t anymore, I finally got into this community and now I am healthier, emotionally…I think it’s fabulous to be a gay man…Because deep inside, you are a little bit different from most people in terms of sexuality, dating culture and identity.
Also, I wanted to show more Asian gay males’ presence on the silver screen…This kind of story is culturally specific, political, but also beautiful and poetic! I believe it is attractive!
Larry Tung, COMING FULL CIRCLE: THE JOURNEY OF A TRANSGENDERED KOREAN ADOPTEE: I hope this film can help raise the awareness of the struggles and challenges experienced by many sexual and racial minorities. It’s my way of participating in social activism. I have always admired activists. They are selfless and are not afraid to fight for what is right. Our world would have been a much worse place without activists.
I am not one who likes to be in the spotlight nor do I have money to donate to charity. But I could contribute to the LGBT movement through my films. By telling stories of inspirational figures like Pauline Park, I am participating in activism in some small way by raising awareness of important issues. I hope my films help people understand the diversity in LGBT communities and inspire them to be part of the change.
Oates Wu, LIKE HOPE: As an autobiographical filmmaker, I constantly revisit my life or memories to find inspirations for my new work. Sometime it can be very difficult and painful to be objective, and to keep analysing the hope, desire, love, and even shame, and frustration I have. As [someone] coming from a conservative cultural background, my films gave me the voice I never had, the voice suppressed by the mainstream media. My films witness how I grow up. They help me to understand myself.
CV: Have the people in your life who served as inspiration for your work seen your film? If so, what were their reactions?
Vicky Du: [My mom’s] watched the film twice but couldn’t fully understand the stories, since they’re in English and are very specific ideas that we’ve never discussed. Our connection isn’t really art or heavy ideas like trauma and assimilation…it’s food. But my family’s relationship with each other has started to change with the work of family therapy. We’re starting to see each other as full complex beings with so many shared experiences, thoughts and feelings. Just because we haven’t supported each other in the past doesn’t mean we can’t [now].
Oates Wu: I never show my films to any of my real life inspirations. I worry about their reactions, because usually my works talk about very intimate and personal issues like love, desire, fantasy, obsession, sexual frustration and shame. So maybe one day I will be able to do so.
CV: How has making your film changed you, both as a person and as a filmmaker?
Vicky Du: I was surprised by how much I changed after each conversation I filmed. Sometimes my heart felt full and the world felt bright. Other times I would carry it for days after, like a weight. I realized how powerful sharing our deeply emotional and personal experiences can be. And how generous these people were to open up to me. At the same time, I know they had something to say. Participation was a conscious decision.
Hai Chin Hsu: It was a journey of self-discovery and healing for me making this film. Through the process of developing the characters of mother and daughter in this film, I was able to see the situation from both sides, which had a great impact on me. And by telling the story, I have become stronger in facing my own weaknesses.
Tao Jia: HEART STATION is a very important and special film to me…[In the process of making it,] I felt like I was peeling an onion, opening my wounds again and looking for answers. My writing approach is to put myself into the situation, like I have experienced all the goodies and baddies at the same time with the character. Because the film was too emotionally close to me in terms of the infatuation and the experience of HIV test window period predicament, it was painful.
I still enjoyed the whole process of making this film, both artistically and technically. Artistically, I encountered some problems in post-production–the story didn’t work at all. My lecturer pushed me to forget about my original script and try to find something new in my edits. I did and it got better. I finally understood what editing is.
This film couldn’t be made without heaps of people’s support, both financially and emotionally. I thank them so much. After this film, I said ‘bye’ to my past and now I am more confident as a young and healthy gay man, and also as a filmmaker.
Larry Tung: Filmmaking is a craft and a learning experience. It is also an empowering process because you get to tell a story that might influence the way people think. The more often you do it, the better filmmaker you become. Making COMING FULL CIRCLE was no exception. The shooting didn’t take very long because of budget and time constraints but we made the most of it. Making this film gave me an opportunity to hone my skills as a storyteller, videographer, producer and editor. Like all my other films, there were a lot of challenges in making this film. But in the end, it made me a better filmmaker.
Oates Wu: My films gave me the voice I never had, and it means everything to me. I slowly realized I have been carrying a lot of mental burdens. Making my films gives me the ability to understand myself. For the purpose of writing my script, I need to revisit certain part of my memories or feelings over and over again for months, and constantly analyze myself psychologically. Even though the process was painful, eventually I felt more mature and free. Also, the responsibility I feel as a content creator makes me more and more aware of the issues of the society, who I am as an artist and what I need to do as a filmmaker.
CV: Are there any depictions of Asian Americans in media that you feel are adequately complex?
Jazmin Jamias: Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling…They really are the driving forces behind their own shows and who use their own voice and experiences to question social norms and life in general. I also would like to add Margaret Cho, who although not fictional, has been outspoken about her experiences.
Hai Chin Hsu: I got introduced to writer Maxine Hong Kingston when researching for a film that I have been developing. Her book Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book illustrates well a multi-layered Asian American character, Wittman Ah Sing, living in the 1960s. [As the novel follows his journey to] become an artist, Kingston draws me into the character’s daydreams and battles.
Oates Wu: Unfortunately I can’t think of any. [A lack of diversity] is a huge problem in American media, especially in mainstream media. Asian Americans are extremely underrepresented, stereotyped and whitewashed. As an Asian filmmaker, I Googled “Asian American Films” before I answered this question just to make sure I didn’t forget some. This move is quite sad because I can’t recall many representations of people like me, not even mention anything remotely “complex.” The power of creative content is immeasurable. If the love, beauty, fantasy and “complex characters” we see, are mainly associated with one certain race, there’s a huge problem in this society. It has a huge mental impact on minorities. We are focused on only the mainstream representations out there, and forced to identify with those concepts. In the end we are fetishized or anti-fetishized, we are objectified and castrated, consciously or unconsciously. It is extremely important for us young filmmakers to think about diversity in our projects, no matter how big or small.
CV: What’s next for you?
Vicky Du: I’m starting production on a feature-length documentary that continues to explore how history shapes our personal relationships. This film will have more of a transnational (China and US) perspective and will focus on women.
Jazmin Jamias: I’m right now writing my next project that deals with aging parents. But my hope is to make a feature film in the future…That is my ultimate goal.
Hai Chin Hsu: I have been working on my thesis film and recently it has been in transition into the post-production phrase. It is a story of an antique armchair that reflects the life journey of a traditional Chinese woman as she travels the past from Asia to America.
Tao Jia: I don’t know. I never know what I am going to do next. Life is full of surprises, challenges and doubt, and it can be very beautiful. Maybe I will do some art installation films as I am bored of making traditional narratives, or maybe I will jump into the fashion industry as I so much love clothes and “superficial” beauty. [laughs] Being creative means you are constantly living in uncertainty and you have to be willing to take risks, which is very important for your growth. One thing I am sure of is I will never stop making films as this is how I communicate with people.
Larry Tung: I am working on a couple of projects. One is about black journalists in South Africa and their contribution to the end of Apartheid. We finished shooting and are editing it this summer. Hopefully it will be done in the fall. The other project is a profile of a New York-based gay Malaysian-Chinese pastor/author who had his own share of struggles between being gay and being a good Christian. I will be doing some traveling with him in August. He is going to China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to speak about homosexuality, Christianity, HIV and coming out.
Oates Wu: I’m in post-production for my new short film, BEHIND THE BEAR’S EYES, which is about a 26-year-old Chinese woman who loses her American visa in the visa lottery despite living in America for eight years. The film talks about what she does for her last two days in the place she calls home. I want to use this film to talk about identity, lost of identity and fear. Then I will focus on writing my first feature. It will also deal with race and identity lost.
The LGBTQ Shorts program premiered at AAIFF ’16 on July 24, 2016. Catch the rest of the festival before August 6–buy tickets here!