Giving Voice to Asian American Seniors Through Film

I couldn't imagine retirement offering much more to my life, but a digital histories film class has proven to be a challenging, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally rewarding experience for me.

As a retired Asian American woman in the midst of COVID-19, I was trying to find interesting things to occupy my now cleared out schedule. So, I was so excited when an old high school friend told me about Visual Communication’s Digital Histories (DH) class. Because it is funded by grants from the George & Sakaye Aratani Foundation, AARP California, Keiro, and Sony Productions, there was no cost for the course. It was a wonderful group of creative souls, all looking to put their stories into film. None of us were at all techy, but we all had a story to share. Each week, we would learn one aspect of film making and toss around ideas that we thought would make a great story for a short video. No one had expensive equipment or sophisticated cameras, and many used their smart phones or tablets to record their movies. Despite the fact that many of us had ever met in person, after months of meeting up on Zoom, we became a cohesive group of hopeful, future filmmakers in our twilight years.

In the first class session I attended, I learned about people’s different experiences with the class, and that a few of them had already made one movie in the past year. I listened to each of their ideas about what storyline they wanted to pursue, and grew more interested in the class. I silently wondered, “could I actually make a movie on my own? And what would I do it on?” So, I joined the class after that first session and learned a new vocabulary of film terms each week. Having had absolutely no background in the media, I was a newbie in every aspect of the class.

When I began pondering what I would do for my project, I immediately thought about putting my lifelong search for my father on film. After my parents divorced when I was five years old, we only saw my father on rare weekend visits in Chicago. When my elder sister turned 12 years old, my mother didn't want her to experience appearing before a judge to decide which parent she would live with until she turned 18 years old. This was the law in Illinois at the time in the early 1960s. So, my mother, sister, younger brother, and I relocated to Gardena, California. This began the 30-year gap of time that I did not see my father. I did not hear a word from him during all that time. No phone call, no letter, no alimony to my mother or child support payments to us three kids. But when I turned 40 years old, I asked my “uncle” (good family friend, like an uncle to me) for my dad’s address. I decided to write to my father and find out where he was, what he was doing, and what happened in that time gap over all those lost years. We were eventually reconnected through our correspondence.

This story is the basis for the movie I made in the Digital Histories class, which I titled Do You Love Me? It's a 7-minute movie depicting the search for my father. If you are interested in seeing this film or any of the other DH movies, they will be shown at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival 2021 in Los Angeles from September 23 to October 2, 2021. You can learn more here: https://festival.vcmedia.org/2021/

The Digital Histories (DH) was started in 2003 to give a voice to Asian American seniors and digitally record an aspect of their history, which has often been undocumented. It is funded by a series of grants, so there is no class fee. The class meets via Zoom, Saturdays 11:00 am - 12:30 pm for 10 weeks in the fall and again for 10 weeks in the spring. The purpose is for retired Asian Americans to learn how to make a short 5-10 minute film on their history as an Asian American. All the short films are then shown at the annual LA Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), taking place online from September 23 - October 2, 2021. You do not have to be “techy” to take the class. Joel, the class facilitator, patiently walks each student through the process of making a film. You can use your iPhone or iPad to make the video and don't have to know how to use a camera, or you can use still photos to tell your story. If you are interested in the class, please contact Joel Quizon of Visual Communications at joel@vcmedia.org or visit https://vcmedia.org/digital-histories for more information.

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September 2021

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