We wrapped the 33rd edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival a few months ago, one of the biggest events we’ve had to date. We had many Festival highlights, one of which was the premiere of our 2017 Digital Histories short films. A video production and storytelling program for senior citizens created in 2003, Digital Histories showcases the unique voices and perspectives of our seniors by sharing their stories with generations to come.
Our VC Social Media Intern Melody Chen had a quick chat with Digital Histories Fellow Gerald Chow to learn more about Digital Histories and his experience with the program.
M: Tell me a little about yourself.
G: I’m a child of Chinese immigrants. I grew up in Lynwood, California, near Compton. I spent my first 2 years at Long Beach State, transferred to UCLA, and got my degree there. I moved up to the Bay Area after, went to grad school for a couple of years, and then I went to pharmacy school at UC San Francisco, so I’m a pharmacist. I just retired last year.
M: Were you filmmaking before digital histories?
G: No ma’am, I was totally science because it’s a little more viable in terms of bringing home a paycheck. But I always had an interest in literature, writing, and the arts. I’d always been looking for something that would allow me to get involved with Asian American cinema, because from the 80’s on was when we basically started to have a voice in that form.
In 2003, “Better Luck Tomorrow” came out and I thought, “That’s it! I gotta get into this somehow.” For me, it was just life changing. We’re moving in this direction where our identity, our true identity, is being portrayed.
Film was always something that I had passion for and to be given this opportunity to just dabble in it is really extraordinary. I’m truly grateful. I actually got involved with Digital Histories around 2011 through Michi Tanioka, who is another member. That was when I presented my first work at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The whole thing with the class is that we make a film or two and then we present it at the Film Festival every year. It’s a wonderful experience.
M: I heard you made two films this year?
G: Yes, I did! All my films have been on my growing up in Lynnwood and my experiences that I had with classmates. I can’t even begin to describe all the gifts that I’ve been given to be able to explore these issues that I’ve faced growing up there.
I got to actually reconnect with people that I went to school with over 40 years ago, to clarify things that I wondered about specifically in terms of my identity: going to a predominantly white school, and other issues like the Watts Riots at the time. I don’t know if the people I talked to share my views, but that’s a good thing because I got to hear what they’re thinking. It certainly brings me much more closer to the truth. It’s very complicated, everything is painted in shades of grey, you know? However I perceived things back then, it was definitely not as black and white.
M: I did want to ask you about your filmmaking process. What was your favorite part of the process?
G: I don’t know if my favorite part is doing the interview itself, or seeing it and processing the interview afterwards. It's always a process of discovery. That’s truly the magic of it; taking the interview and breaking it down and then creating a story from it. I can’t describe it as anything other than magic. I plan on telling a story one way, and then based on how the interview comes out, it always takes a really cool twist and turns me in another direction.
That’s especially true of the two movies I did this year. The interview process has shown me that each person looks at things from their own point of view, and there’s no way to generalize. There are stereotypes that the dominant culture has of us, that even we hold within ourselves. We’re all so beautifully individual, and we’re all a product of where we grew up amongst other things. A lot of it has to do with our surroundings and the political, historical environment that we grew up in at the time.
M: Do you feel the class pushed the limits of what your capabilities were?
G: Yeah, it definitely challenges me. In terms of my technical ability, I don’t have any. I’m basically an analog kind of guy in a digital world. I’m always constantly learning how to use software, frame a picture decently, from my colleagues. That’s the blessing, that’s the beauty of the class, because, gosh, some guys I have such an admiration for in terms of their abilities, their knowledge of sound and all the technical stuff. I’m grateful for that. I’ve got so much more to learn, just on that front. But in terms of the storytelling, that’s the fun part because there’s no boundaries, there’s absolutely no boundaries. To have that level of freedom to me is just, oh my gosh, I’ve never had that in my life.
M: Are you planning on continuing this program in the future?
G: Oh yeah, definitely trying to figure out what I want to do next. I’m actually going to try to enter a piece, a short one about what I like about LA. That’s my short term goal. I need the experience, I need to work on my technical stuff, like shots and all of those things. But I also want to be able to craft a story too that’s hopefully captivating. Just doing it that gets me going, it’s not so much that I can win a prize or all that other stuff. It’s doing it and hopefully I’ll be able to make something that is watchable.
I can always say that VC and Digital Histories, the whole group, has always been so supportive through the years as I’ve participated. The first year I was like, what’s going on, what’s this Digital Histories stuff all about? But they come out every year, they support you, you can ask them anything, they are always there for you. It’s sort of like that quiet support in the background, you can always count on them to be there to help you in any way that they can. They’re so good at it in ways I still am surprised to find out how deep the connections go with this particular organization. In that sense..it’s cutting edge. We’re right there, at the forefront of all the stuff that’s happening. It took me a while to appreciate that. VC is ever present, but never in your face. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s just there, and you feel a part of it. I feel a part of it.
To learn more about Digital Histories, click here.
Melody Chen is a student at UCLA majoring in Asian American Studies and minoring in Food Studies. With interests in the arts, community organizing, media, and food, Melody strives to utilize arts activism as a way to stir up dialogues within and across communities.