Archive for December 7, 2012

Film Festival Reflection

It’s safe to say that I can, at times, be a little bit of a control freak. I like order, and do everything within my power to maintain that order. So when I learned about the film festival assignment, I was a bit terrified apprehensive. Looking at all the logistical elements that needed to be taken care of simultaneously in order for the festival to be a success made me hyperventilate.

Luckily, my experience with programming this film festival calmed me down. Not completely, but enough to make a significant difference.

The biggest thing I took away from this experience was the importance of flexibility and improvisation. Of course, that’s not to say that planning isn’t important. It’s crucial to be as prepared as possible, especially when there are a large number of people coordinating various fragments in an attempt to create a cohesive whole. That way, theoretically, if everyone is prepared, then nothing can go wrong. But this festival did not only exist in theory. In practice, something inevitably happened, and tested my ability to accommodate unexpected changes.

As a sidenote, this experience highlighted the importance of communication. It’s quite difficult to be organized when members of a group are uniformed or unresponsive.

But back to flexibility. Despite our extensive planning, there was no possible way for us to account for everything. There were certain variables over which I had no control, so I had to accept that fact. All I could do was communicate with the other members of my group and I found myself exchanging emails with the filmmaker of our program until her arrival. At a certain point, I had to let go and let whatever happened happen.

I did learn about the intensive nature of programming, and was touched to see the solidarity displayed by filmmakers within our community. But the lesson I learned about having a more easygoing attitude is something that I will apply in my daily life.

By Kayla Dalsfoist

December 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

Film Festival Reflection

Organizing the film festival was such an eye-opening experience. I loved coming to understand and appreciate the logistics of programming, from organizing the shorts, to marketing the festival, to helping with the reception. I especially loved how warm the filmmakers were. We didn’t have the biggest turn out, but they were so gracious about it. And though I was a bit nervous to talk to them, they seemed like really amazing people. I love that they unanimously decided to sit on the stage during the Q&A session when we realized there weren’t enough chairs for all of them to sit at the table. They brought a warmth and vivacity and that was infectious. And when they talked about their conception of home, and what they’d learned about their own identities through the process of making this film, I was surprised they were so open. I think I learned a lot from their candor.

 

I wish there had been a bigger turnout. Looking back, I think more marketing strategies needed to be employed. There is an interest in the issues we were looking at, I think we just weren’t able to adequately reach out to the students who would have been interested in it. I think it might actually be worth trying to spread out the program over a couple of weeks, just to address the issue of it being a bad weekend for someone. That is—if someone who was interested couldn’t make it on that weekend, there would be more opportunities for them. But aside from that one issue, I thought working on the film festival was really enjoyable, and I learned a lot. I wish more of my classes would culminate in a big event like this, because it really makes our progress in our understanding of Asian Americans in the media more tangible.

– Aliza Lalji

December 7, 2012 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

Reflections on “Ekleipsis”

Tran T. Kim-Trang’s Ekleipsis, which highlights the story of a community of hysterically blind Cambodian women in Long Beach, California, also plays with the use of blankness and blackness in the primarily image-based medium of video.  Like History and Memory, Ekleipsis displays a montage of different visual texts that constitute our understanding of the history of the Khmer Rouge’s reign.  However, in addition to found photographs of Cambodian women and (pseudo)scientific graphs of the female body and the eye’s function of sight, Ekleipsis also presents an eclectic cycle of fifty-two different images—shots of the hysterically blind Cambodian women lying down or getting their eyes checked by doctors, symbolic objects (‘glasses’ referencing the Khmer Rouge’s murder of all those wearing spectacles, because they signified inclusion in the elite intellectual class; ‘jewelry’ citing the phenomenon of Cambodian women hiding valuables in their vagina for safekeeping), newsreel images of Cambodians working in the fields and soldiers riding through towns on tanks, and clips from Hollywood films such as The Killing Fields (dir. Roland Joffé, 1985)—that are punctuated by ever decreasing periods of blackness.  These shots of blankness reflect the hysterical blindness of the Cambodian women, who were so traumatized by the images they saw during the reign of the Khmer Rouge that they lost their vision: “How do you make sense of a senseless experience?  We were so afraid of the Khmer Rouge and their senseless brutality that we just could not see anymore.”[1]  Milan Kundera asserts that “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”[2]  However, Ekleipsis troubles this schema, arguing instead that “forgetting” can perhaps be used as a tool of resistance.[3]  A willed amnesia may perhaps be a way to weaken the potency of the Khmer Rouge’s official historical narrative.  Formally, this weakening and challenging of the official History is reflected in shots of a chronology of the history of Cambodia printed on a piece of paper.  Rather than privileging the text and its information, the camera travels closely across the paper, causing the text to sometimes shift out of focus and instead emphasizing the textuality—indeed, the manufactured flimsiness—of the paper itself.  Thus, Ekleipsis suggests that the absence of memory can perhaps act as a productive counter-memory in and of itself.  Interestingly, even if the Cambodian women were willing to talk about their traumatic experiences, they were not available to be interviewed.  By the time Tran heard about this community from a 1998 newspaper article and decided to make this film, these transient women had disappeared, blending back into the population in an effort to be forgotten—because forgetting historically symbolized a means for safety.  Perhaps this forgetting is an example of what Carole McGranaham has coined “arrested histories”—histories that are “not so much erased or forgotten as they are postponed and archived for future use,” when it may be more strategically safe and productive to utilize them.[4]

Given its emphasis on the anti-visual, Ekleipsis highlights four different voices that embody the different relationships of power, History, and Memory.  One voice, rendered at a low, almost indecipherable pitch, speaks in the first person, embodying the positionality of a Cambodian interviewee.  A second voice, rendered at a high pitch and given a pompous tone, speaks in the third person, citing psychoanalytic theory such as the writings of Sigmund Freud.  A third voice, rendered at a “normal” pitch, also speaks in the third person, narrating the biography and struggles of a particular Cambodian woman in a journalistic manner.  These three voices are all articulated by Tran herself, attesting to the mediation and manipulation of all claims to historical and scientific Truth.  A fourth voice, played by Tran’s younger sister, speaks in the first person and pretends to be a Cambodian refugee as well.  The two voices that speak in first person express personal memories that challenge and nuance the official and purportedly “objective” discourse proclaimed by both the psychoanalytic and journalistic voices, as well as the dry chronology of the history of Cambodia as represented in the extreme close-up shots of the printed timeline.  Notably however, the first person voices do not purport to be any more “real” or “unmediated.”  Although they are based on historical research and do embody a kernel of Truth, they are in the end “fictional:” because Tran did not have access to the Cambodian women, she could not interview them, and thus the script is actually written by herself.[5]  In this way Ekleipsis self-reflexively embodies Lisa Yoneyama’s caution to not reify personal memories in a new regime of totality or universal truthfulness, but rather to have them “remain self-critically unsettling.”[6]

Ekleipsis does not victimize the hysterically blind Cambodian women, nor does it conceptualize hysterically blindness solely as a disease, as illustrated with the film’s last line, which is quoted from Seanglim Bit’s The Warrior Heritage: A Psychological Perspective of Cambodian Trauma: “Ascendant personalities provide ample evidence that there’s the equal potential for using the experience to reflect on our lives in more positive way.”[7]  Furthermore, the video ends on a relatively optimistic note, as the periods of blackness between each image in the cycle shrink until the sequence finally plays uninterrupted, hinting at the possibility of fully regaining sight.  Thus Ekleipsis asserts that the process of interweaving personal memories into official historical discourses not only changes conceptualizations of the past, but can also enable visions of a more hopeful future.[8]

-Evyn Le Espiritu


[1] Tran T. Kim-Trang, Video, Ekleipsis, 1998.

[2] Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (New York: Knopf, 1981), 3.

[3] “Forgetting can also be an attempt to keep the past from damaging the present.” -Hue-Tam Ho Tai, “Faces of Remembrance and Forgetting,” in The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam, ed. Hue-Tam Ho Tai (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 190.

[4] Carole McGranahan, “Truth, Fear, and Lies: Exile Politics and Arrested Histories of the Tibetan Resistance,” in Cultural Anthropology 20, no. 4 (2005): 571.

[5] Indeed, even if Tran had interviewed the actual Khmer Rouge survivors, their interviews could still be considered “fictional,” given that people’s constructions of memory are always narratives whose “facts” are colored by the passage of time, affect, and considerations of self-representation.

[6] Lisa Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 5.

[7] Seanglim Bit, The Warrior Heritage: A Psychological Perspective of Cambodian Trauma (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991), 10.

[8] For more on this affect of hope, see Jose Esteban Munoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: NYU Press, 2009).

December 7, 2012 at 7:58 am Leave a comment

Reflections on Film Festival

As someone who is personally interested in media studies, ethnic studies, and critical theory, I really enjoyed organizing, hosting, and attending the Third Annual Asian American film festival.  It was quite an invaluable experience and I am very grateful that I had this opportunity.

ORGANIZING: Although I admit I initially felt a bit daunted at the prospect of having to preview so many films, I ended really enjoying the process.  I felt lucky to be exposed to so many stellar examples of contemporary Asian American media.  I fell in love with the documentary “Seeking Asian Female” and raved about it to all my friends.  I also really appreciated all the low-budget but highly sophisticated Armed with a Camera shorts.  I also liked programming and drawing connections between the different shorts, seeing how the different films qualified, nuanced, and spoke to each other.  After sitting with these films for a week or so, two broad themes came to me: “Family” and “History.”  I really liked working with Kanna and Bill on the series of shorts about the diversity of relationships on Asian American families.  I especially enjoyed our conversation about how to order the films together.  I’m also really glad our class decided to screen “Two Shadows,” because I think it is important to support films about strong Cambodian American women.

HOSTING: I was actually pleasantly surprised at the turnout for our screening; I thought 4:00pm on Friday was somewhat of an awkward time, so I’m glad people showed up, despite the rain.  I was a bit concerned when we delayed because of technical difficulties, but became excited when we started the program and presented our introduction.  It was then almost magical to see our program projected in a darkened theater, and to witness the connections between the different shorts unfold.  For example, I though it was very poignant that the second to last line of the program was “I love you,” thus coming full circle and reflecting the title of our program: “This is How I Say I Love You: Exploring the Diversity of Relationships in Asian American Families.”  I also really enjoyed meeting the filmmakers.  I thought the Q&A was very informative, and I liked the thoughtful and honest way the filmmakers answered the questions.  I admit that the question/challenge by the white man regarding the theme of our program and what constitutes “Asian American” was unexpected and difficult, and I got a bit emotional answering it, but in the end I’m glad I spoke up.  I have heard similar questions before, and haven’t always had the courage to answer publicly, so I felt empowered that I did so in this space, and validated by the supportive comments by the filmmakers and friends after the program.  I also really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the filmmakers in depth at the reception, and to hear what they are doing now.  As an aspiring filmmaker, it is always inspirational to meet other critical Asian American filmmakers and artists who are “making it.”

ATTENDING: I’m glad I made the time to attend all the other programs; it was definitely worth it.  I enjoyed listening to all the invited guests and thought the Q&A sessions were all quite good.  Overall I’m proud of my classmates and am happy we could organize this film festival together.

-Evyn Le Espiritu

December 7, 2012 at 7:54 am Leave a comment


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