Asian-Americans Find an Audience for Their Talents
By WENDY KAN
Asian pride porn, a punchy three-minute spoof on infomercials by Greg Pak, has cracked the Top 10 list of the most watched movie shorts on AtomFilms' website (www. atomfilms.com). Pak, for one, isn't surprised. It's a short comedy with a lot of verbal jokes, says the 31-year-old Korean-American filmmaker. It's perfect for the Web. Pak is a veteran of the Asian-American independent film scene and a fervent believer in the Net as a powerful tool for promoting this growing community of moviemakers. The film festivals are great, but the Net helps build a bigger audience, he says. Our films will reach people who normally wouldn't go to festivals or seek out this type of material. The Net goes way beyond that.
Asian-American filmmakers are starting to break out. There are now at least 12 festivals in the U.S. and Canada geared toward this cultural subset. And Asian-Americans have nabbed four Academy Awards. Keiko Ibi, Pak's wife, won a 1998 Oscar for best documentary short subject (The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years), and Jessica Yu grabbed a 1996 prize for best documentary short subject (Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien). The problem is, no one is viewing the films. They're winning awards, but not eyeballs, says Jeff Yang, chief executive officer of aMedia, a U.S. producer and distributor of media about all things Asian. Our media, almost by definition, have not been mass media.
The Internet is helping to change that. AtomFilms is already showing at least four shorts by Asian-Americans, while New York-based cultural site AsianAvenue.com started streaming its first film three weeks ago. Given the minimal cost of shooting on digital video, the site will soon be funding movies as well. Not to be left out, aMedia is launching its own online studio later this year, featuring newscasts, streaming-video interviews, documentaries, live-action shorts, animation and music videos--all commissioned exclusively for the site. This is good news for filmmakers who, in addition to having a guaranteed audience on cultural sites, will also have a more wide-reaching showcase for their work on the Net. The creative power of our community is just beginning to be tapped, says Yang. Technology is the great equalizer. I think in a few years, Asian-America--and just about every other overlooked minority in the U.S.--will be looking back and saying, 'Who the heck needs Hollywood anyway?'
Both the cultural community and general film aficionados stand to benefit as well. Asian-Americans are dispersed everywhere, not just in the U.S., says Edmund Lee, site manager for AsianAvenue.com. The Web brings them together. It's not just Asian-American issues that filmmakers today are addressing, either. Many have themes that appeal to anyone, just like any good film should.
Some filmmakers are hesitant. While the Net can help deliver eyeballs, the technology doesn't suit every director. Pak himself will only put his short films on the Net; his longer, more serious pieces are reserved for movie or television screens, where he believes emotional subtleties are better conveyed. Ayana Osada, a 30-year-old Japanese-American, declined several websites' offers for her 20-minute film Love Story. You have to give up all your rights to distribute on the Web, she says. Moreover, she would never consider watching a movie online. That said, she did post the film on her own website--just for kicks. Who knows? All it takes is the right person to be surfing the web, and Osada might find herself with an offer she can't refuse