Minneapolis event: Film and discussion of adoption, migration, identity

I’m on my first panel in Minnesota and looking forward to it!

Panelists at the Nokomis Library screening of the documentary "You Follow"
Panelists at the Nokomis Library screening of the documentary “You Follow”

It’s a screening of a documentary called “You Follow,” a documentary about adoption and identity. It will be followed by a panel discussion of the film as well as migration and culture. I’m looking forward to getting to know this very dynamic group of people. Come join the event at Nokomis Library on August 22. More information here.

Fred Korematsu Day, Two Ways

Yesterday was Fred Korematsu Day in California.

Korematsu, a Japanese-American who resisted placement in a World War II-era internment camp, and later fought in courts to have a Supreme Court conviction of “defiance” overturned, was remembered on January 30 in the state of California. In September, California declared this day, Korematsu’s birthday, to be the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.

I wrote about the day and what it means for Asian American civil rights advocates for Mother Jones online and about bloggers’ initial reactions for GlobalVoices.

Not a reader? Here’s the trailer for 2007 documentary Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story.

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights – trailer from Asian Law Caucus on Vimeo.

The best reporting on the Sichuan Earthquake you’ll never see

When I was at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea, I went to a hotel on the beach to meet a documentary filmmaker from Beijing. I was very impressed by his film, Who Killed Our Children.

Pan Jianlin was frank with his opinions and generous with his time. He chain smokes and makes self-depricating jokes. He offered me a beer at 9:30 in the morning. When I met him he was wearing a Slipknot t-shirt. I asked him if he liked Slipknot; he replied, “Who’s Slipknot?”

I wanted to write about him and his film. Two versions of the story ran, one in US-China Today and the other on The China Beat.

I wrote the headline, also the title of this post. I hope I’m totally wrong on that count.

those crazy artists (or, why I went to Riverside)

It’s a lot like the Oregon Trail, driving out to Riverside. The road gets emptier as you go further along 60 East. There are warning signs: GUSTY WINDS AHEAD. You hope your passenger doesn’t die of cholera. At one point, the trail divides. You can choose the 15 to Barstow, and if you keep going you’d get to Las Vegas.


But we stayed the course. All for the sake of a documentary about David Choe, a Southern California graffiti-artist-turned-hispter-phenomenon. If you’re from Los Angeles you might recognize his work even if you don’t know who he is. On the street, he’s famous for spray painting huge whales saying funny things on freeway retaining walls. His gallery showings include paintings made with soy sauce and urine from his three-month stint in a Japanese prison, an ice cream shop gallery of his portraits, and a $2.5 million sell-out show in London.

The film, Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe, is a cut of 7 years of footage of Choe doing crazy things (traveling around the Congo with a child’s drumset on his back), breaking the law (grand theft for stealing groceries from a frat house), and talking about his life (a bevy psychological problems and addictions, the desire to make his girlfriend happy and God).

But the fundamental question I walked away with (from the film and the arduous journey into the armpit of Southern California): does great art or leadership or work require a streak of crazy? Is it necessary to travel down that road, where personal relationships and mental health sometimes suffer, to have singular experiences?

Choe himself wrestles with this problem in the film. When he tries to take prescribed drugs for his obsessive compulsive disorder and clinical depression (among other diagnoses), his art suffers. His inhibition — that manic feeling that makes his imaginative and often disturbing art so interesting to look at — was reigned in. He stopped taking the medication.

For those of us who keep or inhibitions in tact, like a security blanket that keeps us safe, Choe’s art and life can give us a taste of what goes on in a mind that does anything it wants. And it can inspire us to do the same, to some degree at least.

queuing for movies

They all said the Pusan International Film Festival is the premiere festival in Asia. I’m no Asia film scholar, but it certainly is a big deal here. I’ve never seen teenagers wake up so early to get movie tickets before.

On the third day of the festival, we also woke up early to get tickets to some shows we wanted to watch. My friend Brian Hu is fully accredited and can get tickets one day ahead of time. I, as an Asia Pacific Arts photographer, am not.

Last night I attempted to reserve tickets for shows today. The interesting thing about this festival is that it really is designed for Koreans here to see Korean films and international films with Korean subtitles that they would ordinarily never have access to. If you are a Korean resident you can buy tickets online, at ATM machines and in banks. It’s wonderful to see all the excitement – the festival is visible in one way or another all over the city.

sell_out_thumbail147x200.gifA foreigner, however, needs to queue up. They sell tickets in person only on the day the movie is showing, and the tickets sell out fast. I got in line just after 9 a.m. and by the time I reached the counter at 10:45, more than half the films showing today were sold out. I did manage to get a ticket to the Malaysian film Sell Out! by Yeo Joon Han, which I am really looking forward to. Considering I was tasked with teaching students in Singapore to be creative (no joke), it will be interesting to see Yeo’s lampooning of how corporate interests wreak havoc on creative industries.

I also picked up a ticket to 63 Years On, a documentary by Kim Dong-won about Korean comfort women (sex slaves in World War II) and how their lives are now. I’ve crossed paths with this topic so many times before that the film caught my eye and I thought I’d take a look.

In the coming days, I’m hoping to catch a few more documentaries, and some films from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Tan Chee Wee, head of the Signapore Film Commission, gave brief opening statements at the beginning of an event adjacent to the festival, Asia Policy Plus, a two-day conference about film policies in the region. He speaks again tomorrow, so I’ll learn more about how films in Singapore are funded. Today, Tan talked about a bit about a funding scheme for new directors to make their first feature-length films. It seems that the Commission will take a large role in “nurturing” these films — and I hope to clarify exactly what that means. Brian is focusing on Taiwan and Hong Kong films and we’ll both be writing some short reviews for Asia Pacific Arts.