INTERVIEW With Connie Oh
CONNIE OH: Hi Fran, it’s great to meet up with you and talk to you. Let’s start off with a brief introduction. We want to get to know you.
FRAN ITO: I’m Fran Ito, and I came to California in 1950. I was raised in Hawaii. I was born in Honolulu, Oahu and schooled there until high school. When I came here, I actually went to East L.A. At that point in those days, women became secretaries. So I became an office manager.
I came to VC as a filmmaker because Steve Wong was teaching the Digital Histories program. Leslie Ito was the director of VC at the time, and they got their heads together and developed Digital Histories. I had no time for this class for a long time, and when I finally joined, I had never opened or used a camera before. Didn’t know how to turn it off, turn it on. It was a learning process. I think that this class has many aspects to the program. It develops friendship, social contacts, technical skills, media exposure. It’s a wonderful program. It really is. I think this is VC’s best program actually. It’s because the seniors are not developing a story — they are telling their story. So it’s a whole different thing. And then, to learn how to put it together and make it into a 5-minute program is really a skill. What it is, is that you have to focus on your storyboard to know how to make your story. That’s the process of learning in this class.
What is your favorite film? Who is your favorite filmmaker?
You know, I’m not even a movie person [laughs]. I don’t go to the movies. Except during the Film Festival. Then I attend twelve movies throughout the festival, as many as I could. It’s not that I’m not interested, I just don’t have the time.
What was your favorite film from past Film Festivals so far?
Well, because I’m from Hawaii, I liked [Keo Woolford's] THE HAUMANA, the one with teacher who teaches hula. He’s very Hawaiian, but the film was so beautiful. It had a real story about teaching hula. The men that he chose in his film all did not know how to do hula. So they were learning as they became professional hula dancers. I like that film.
What is your film for the 2016 Digital Histories program about?
The overview on that one is that after I went to Antarctica, I told myself that I had the chance to go to the Arctic. If I saw the bottom of the Earth, might as well go see the top of the Earth! [laughs] That’s logic! And I went with friends. I never travel alone. It was during the summer. If you see the film, there’s so much to show in the Arctic. But I just wanted to show how beautiful it looked in the summer. There’s only two months in the summer — the rest of the time the weather is very harsh, unlivable, you can’t even work, can’t drive, everything stands still.
I showed the flowers in the garden, because the gardener there at the park said that the flowers have only two months to bloom and grow, and that’s why the colors are so vibrant. That was really important to show that it was summer. I ran into this Sami aborigine with his reindeer. It piqued my interest so I did some research and found out that they were like the original nomadic people. It’s just like in Hawaii they have the Hawaiians. This was an important part to put in my film. Initially, I didn’t know anything about that either, but I did some research.
Where’s next your on to-visit list? What’s the next film you’re filming?
I always have something in my camera. Right now I have the [Ukulele] Expo from last year and this year. I’ve already interviewed around 13 people. So that might be my next film!
You have one of the most diverse range of locations among the 2016 Digital Histories fellows. Was it ever a challenge trying to film all those locations in the midst of your travels?
No, because I film what I see. And I put together what I have. I never try to contrive or stage anything. It’s not like making a movie, and trying to stage a story. The story is already there and it unfolds in front of me. All of my filming is that way.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
I didn’t want to become a filmmaker! [laugh] Jeannie Wong — Steve Wong’s mother — is my friend. For about three years she was trying to fill the class. And so, I said “I don’t have time. I’m still working.” And so, finally when I retired, I finally came to his basic class — how to use a computer and a mouse. With that, Steve actually taught me how to draw on the computer. I have graphics. That’s how I started six years ago. And this year will be my twelfth film.
What made you decide to stay with filmmaking?
Well, what it is, is that I’m 84. So that means that you don’t stay in one place forever. I have an interest in many things. I’m not trying to find something to be interested in. I just do it. I do a lot of cruises. I travel a lot. The two films where I travel — it’s just a little window into what I do.
Where is your favorite place to visit in your journey so far?
The place I’m visiting at the moment is my favorite place to visit. [laugh] Because every visit is different, even if you’ve been there before. Because it’s the people you’re with that makes it different. When I’m on a ship and there’s a lot of dancing, I dance all night. If I’m with someone that doesn’t dance, that I may not dance all night. If the ship offers art classes, I do that. You just do what you do when you’re doing it.
Living life in the moment.
My daughter once said, why don’t you find yourself someone to be your companion? I said, they don’t make them like me anymore! [laughs]
You gotta do you! As a filmmaker, what are your favorite parts of making a film? What are the challenges?
The challenge for the whole group is the last two weeks of putting it together. It’s such a crush. As students, we need more time to put it together. It’s challenging. There’s not enough help.
The editing is my favorite part. Then the story emerges to what you want to tell. Once I make the film, it’s cut, I never go back. I never save it. It’s done. It’s like a painting, I never go back to repaint.
This was your sixth year at the Film Festival. With so many festivals under your belt, do you feel like a veteran filmmaker when you’re at the Film Festival now? Not nervous anymore on the red carpet?
I never got nervous, I just got anxious.
What is it like to see your film on the big screen? Is it a new experience every time it happens?
To me, I don’t have that, but I do have this awe that all these people that I’m with can produce something so creative and be recognized at that level. At the Director’s Guild, to be invited to breakfast or brunch. They invite you to join their club! It’s really wonderful to be recognized.
As a senior filmmaker, what do you personally think is the value of a program like Digital Histories?
If you’re a senior, and you’re newly retired, and you’re looking for something to do, this is a wonderful program. It gets you off your feet. It makes you go out. Interact with people. Makes you think. Really keeps your mind active. It’s a social thing, because we meet once a week. It has many aspects to it. You develop a camaraderie. All these people in the class, they’re highly educated and they all come to have one interest — to make a film.
What are your words of advice for both youth and seniors who are looking to try something new, whether it’s film making or a trip to somewhere in the Arctic!
Hm, I don’t know. [laughs]
I don’t go look for it. It comes to me. What happens in life when opportunity comes and offers to you — travel, a husband that wants to be a husband, a boyfriend, adopting a dog, all those are choices. [laughs]
Lastly — this is my favorite question — if time and budget was not a constraint, what would be your dream film to make?
I don’t have one. Let’s see. I’m gonna do one on Bill Shishima. I’m working on it right now. He’s a docent at the Japanese American National Museum. He wrote the program for the Little Tokyo Walk for JANM. He was president of the Monterey Park Senior Group. He was interned at Heart Mountain. He was in the Boy Scouts and helped raise the flag as a little boy. I went to Heart Mountain a few years ago. And as an adult, he’s probably in his eighties — has white hair, white beard — and he raised the flag again. I’m working on it right now. That may or may not be a film for the Festival, but I’m gonna donate it to JANM. I’m collecting the B-rolls, the stories — I already know what I’m putting in it.
For additional information about Digital Histories, please click here.