A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.
Powerleegirls Hosts Miko Lee & Jalena Keane-Lee speak with filmmakers who present work that is a catalyst for conversation. Larissa Lam and Baldwin Chiu about their family discoveries in Far East Deep South. We speak with Chihiro Wimbush about his film Richochet, the final film of lawyer/co-director Jeff Adachi. And Will Zang joins us to discuss his short film The Leaf.
Our Guests and the films we discussed:
Will Zang’s The Leaf screening at Caamfest
Musical interludes by Kayla Briët, showcasing her TED talk on transformational music.
RADIO! READY! OH!, directed by Hong Zipeng from Taiwan
Lilly Topples the World Director Jeremy Workman and Executive Producer Kelly Marie Tran
Marvelous & the Black Hole written and directed by Kate Tsang
24th annual United States of Asian America Festival Forging Our Futures will be coming up April 30- June showcasing a plethora of artists and organizations dedicated to reflection and healing amidst anti-Asian violence, The event will feature several Covid Safe out-door events in the SF Chinatown and South of Market Areas
Catalyst for Conversation Episode Transcript
Opening: [00:00:00] Asian Pacific expression. Unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:00:18] We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerlee girls, a mother daughter team,
Thanks for joining us tonight. As we talk about a few Asian American Pacific Islander films. In catalysts for conversation. We talk with filmmakers, Larissa, lamb, and Baldwin Chu about their family discoveries in far east deep south. We speak with Winbush as we delve into ricochet, the final film from lawyer. Co-director Jeff Adache. and Will Zang. Ang joins us to discuss his short film, the leaf. So keep it locked on apex express
Miko Lee: [00:00:57] these films are available to watch right now. And we will have links in our show notes. Our filmmakers tonight each have a personal connection to their subject matter. Whether it’s unpacking their family history, or co-creating with a trusted colleague and friend or grappling with the emotional isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. First off we talk with Larissa Lam and Baldwin Chiu.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:01:20] Thank you so much for your film far East Deep South. It’s such a personal family portrait. I’m curious. If you set out to make a film about this journey, or if not, when that kind of switched for you and when you realize no, we’re really going to make a feature film about this.
Larissa Lam: [00:01:34] We actually thought we were just taking a family vacation and we didn’t know that we were going to uncover all this incredible history first and on a family level. But definitely on a, Historic level with implications for everyone. I was the babysitter, baldwin, we’re married and we had a daughter that you see in our film. I was the babysitter. he said, get out of the way, this was a home video. We’re just trying to figure things out and keep our daughter away. And as things started happening and, we stepped into the mississippi Delta Chinese heritage museum. And and I saw the exhibits of all the different Chinese families over generations in the Mississippi Delta. I thought to myself, what in the world, how come we didn’t learn this in our history? And the wheels started turning. I just felt like I wanted more people to know about the history here. Then when all the amazing things started happening to his family, all the. Discoveries and all the connections. I just felt like I want people to experience what I’m experiencing because it’s pretty incredible.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:02:35] It definitely required a third person for that because my mindset was definitely not making a film. My mindset was like, we, didn’t know you were going to find anything significant. Let’s just find out as much as we wanted to find.
Larissa Lam: [00:02:46] We wanted to find a grave site. That’s all we were. That’s all we cared about.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:02:51] I was really struck by just so impressed with the archiving work and all of the documents that you all were able to find. I’m curious how this project has shaped your relationship with archives both personal archives and these kinds of more collective ones too.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:03:07] We definitely have, are very appreciative of archivists. When we’re speaking with museum curators and archivists, we’re like, we’re glad you guys like to hoard things because if you can not hoard things. So if they didn’t keep everything, we would not have found anything.
Larissa Lam: [00:03:24] And I think for us both our backgrounds are in the music side of things. Even though I’ve done television and hosting and Baldwin also has a background in mechanical engineering, we never really. Dived into dove into this world of archives and it was all new. I didn’t even know the national archives existed. I think I’d seen the building in DC. We had no idea of the one in San Francisco existed until somebody told us. Slight spoiler alert for people are listening. But, we start a journey and a film in San Francisco go out to Mississippi only to find ourselves. Back in San Francisco at the national archives there in discovering some of the family history.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:04:02] So I must have driven by that place, hundreds of times throughout my, my life and had no idea that in that building, whereas all these records of my family.
Larissa Lam: [00:04:12] What I didn’t realize is like one family’s trash is another. Archivists and museums treasure. We just toss out things, not thinking twice about it more. Maybe just keep those family men momentous to ourselves. But I think it’s so important for us to see the pictures, to see the documents as living, breathing history, even to this day
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:04:30] For people who watched the film, it’s full of different revelations and new things are uncovered. As we go along, I’m curious for each of you, what was the thing that most surprised you that you’re able to uncover in the journey?
Baldwin Chiu: [00:04:42] The most there are many
Larissa Lam: [00:04:44] are you going to reserve the one at the end for yourself to talk about? I think one of the things that was remarkable to me was actually cause I don’t want to spoil the first revelation that we have, but the last one slight spoiler alert, Baldwins dad’s 16 millimeter film reels that we uncover. Only because I didn’t think there was going to be anything more that we would uncover. And this was sitting in their house the whole time. And I always joke. I said we could have trans, we could have uncovered those 60 millimeter film reels, and it could’ve just been flowers blowing in the wind. And we did have a clip of
Baldwin Chiu: [00:05:20] we had an entire reel that was just flowers, gardening,
Larissa Lam: [00:05:24] and then you see a little glimpse of great-grandma in there and your grandfather but. The piece, the resistance was the fact that we actually had uncovered footage of Baldwin’s grandfather and his father from back in the day. And I think that to me, that revelation is still emotional when I think about it because yeah, of all the things that we could have found, we actually had real life footage of your grandfather.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:05:45] I would say amongst all the discoveries how strong our family’s lineage in this country really is from, at the beginning of the film, I just thought it was me. I was the first one born here. At the end of the film, we realized how deep our generations go in this country. As a parent, I have a daughter and I’m always thinking about. All the times in my life when I wasn’t, I didn’t feel like I was American enough or all the times I felt like being Chinese was a detriment to my American culture in my life or all the things that people said to me simply because I’m Chinese American. I’m always thinking about. What am I going to explain to my daughter, how is she going to react? When we discovered how deep our family history goes in this country, I think her she’s going to be able to make comments a lot more intelligently than I was able to when I was a kid.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:06:35] Oh, that’s such a beautiful point. I’m curious more about how this process and project has shaped your understanding of what it means to be Chinese American and what you teach your daughter about what that means?
Baldwin Chiu: [00:06:47] Yeah, I think the main thing is that it’s okay to be both Chinese and American, Chinese and ethnicity, American by nationality and by citizenship. My entire life, I was worried like, am I American enough? Or am I Chinese enough? Which way do I have to choose one or the other? Or do I have to choose one when I’m in one place and I have to choose the other when I’m in another place and when do I choose those things? At the end of this journey I really came to grips that it is perfectly fine and it should be okay for everyone to be both, to be proud of, where we are right now in the country, where we can continue to strive to make things better. At the same time, be proud of where we came from ethnically and where our past generations and traditions might’ve come from.
Larissa Lam: [00:07:29] As a Chinese American growing up my echo a lot of the same sentiments that, Baldwin is expressing not the feeling, not having that sense of belonging. Certainly as we learned American history or we consumer media, and we see the absence of the Asian American story, the Chinese American story, where it’s limited to like maybe railroads and gold rush. If that. For me to walk into Mississippi and uncover this history of Chinese in the South that were impacted by segregation that had contributed to this region of the country that I considered very American I, in my eyes, you couldn’t get more American the American South and we all learn about segregation. We all learn about that part of history and nowhere did we ever learn that Chinese were there. So for me, I felt a stronger ownership of American history. I felt a stronger sense of belonging and hopefully. We, what we do with the film is it was broadened the way we discuss American history in our classrooms and even in, in media and just every everyday conversations, because I think that’s important for us to be included in these conversations. So people don’t continue to perceive us as perpetual foreigners and that we also feel a stronger sense of belonging.
Miko Lee: [00:08:42] Are you including a study guide in doing this as part of a school project when you speak about education?
Larissa Lam: [00:08:48] By may we’ll have a study guide up on our website. We are, our film is with a education distributor as well New Day films. If you’re a part of the university system, a staff or students, you can actually view far East Deep South on Kanopy ahead of our PBS world channel debut. We definitely want to get the film and the content into curriculum. That is our long-term goal with the film. We are actively working with teachers and schools and anybody who’s listening, feel free to join us and go to our libraries. And you’ll go to our website fareastdeepsouth.com to reach out to us help us change the way history is taught. Education is our top priority on this film.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:09:27] That’s so great. And thank you for rewriting us into history. Through this project, I’m curious, was there was it ever a hard decision if you should shoot or not in any like personal family moments or throughout the process at all?
Baldwin Chiu: [00:09:40] We had a moment where we were hoping to shoot it, but then we had an operator error, AKA me messing up my camera and we missed the moment, but it was probably a good thing. We had that moment where we found that artifact in the museum,
Larissa Lam: [00:09:54] very special book.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:09:55] And my father, you saw him, get emotional, but there was a deeply, deeply much more emotional moment, which I thought I captured on film, but we did not. That was probably a good thing that we didn’t capture it because it was very, it was a very personal moment.
Larissa Lam: [00:10:09] There was another moment that also, again there was a camera error These things happen, but I think they happen for a purpose because I think they were so private where I was talking to Baldwin’s father Charles, and as well, it was Emerald done. You weren’t there for this Baldwin, but he kept saying why did he have to leave? Why did he have to leave, reference to your grandfather not being there for him, even though we had found all those things that Mississippi, this is shortly after we had found some of those important mementos that led us to know that your grandfather deeply cared in this, his son, your father, but that’s still that pain. It was just so real. I wasn’t able to capture that because of the camera era as well, but I think it’s okay because he needed those private moments to himself.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:10:52] But I think that does reinforce this whole concept of the Chinese exclusion act and how, families did not know. And especially in this case, our family had no idea that the severe consequences of that law that was, that had gone on for so long. We did not realize that it actually impacted our family or affected our family for generations. It was the reason why our families were separated. And when we say like the Chinese exclusion act occurred. It actually worked, the law actually worked in preventing Chinese to come over . It helped in getting Chinese Americans to leave and not come back. It helped and preventing families from coming over. As you spoke earlier about our history being erased, Chinese exclusion act also helped an excluding and getting rid of our history and our history books. In a horrible sense, the Chinese exclusion act did exactly what it was set out to do.
Miko Lee: [00:11:43] I think the film really puts a personal face to the Chinese exclusion act. So thank you for that. I’m wondering about what, at what point you let your family know that you’re making this into a bigger film beyond just a family film?
Larissa Lam: [00:12:00] We always laugh because we never really. We told your dad, your brother knew and your dad and your mom knew, but I don’t know. I think they big, the project will be because we made a short film called finding Cleveland. That was 14 minutes that they had seen. we had been very successful touring that around the country and got a great response. When we told them we were making a longer film, I don’t think he knew that it was going to be shown on television for the whole nation to see.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:12:29] Our goal really was like, we really wanted PBS. We really wanted that educational platform. We really wanted to get into schools
Larissa Lam: [00:12:37] And your dad watches world channel all the time. So we didn’t show him until we had the final cuts. I was very sneaky at some points, with the camera, of course, he sat down with me for an interview. So he, he knew. We were making something, but I don’t think he knew how big of a deal it was going to be.
Baldwin Chiu: [00:12:52] we also sold it to him that this was for our daughter and that this is what capturing these moments of your testimonials so that your granddaughter will one day understand her place in history and her place in this country. I tried to sell it to him that it was really for our family and not necessarily for the world.
Miko Lee: [00:13:13] And have you had conversations about how that parallels to what’s happening today with migrant detention?
Larissa Lam: [00:13:21] Yeah, what we hope that the film does is inform people of the past and some of the bad immigration policies that have been. Implemented and that it informs people today of maybe what you shouldn’t do. Immigration policy is certainly very complicated and what’s happening in detention and border needs to be corrected. What we hope to do is to show our film of the history, because this is not new. As we can see by the film,
Baldwin Chiu: [00:13:51] I want to normalize this conversation. We understand that sure, their immigration policies probably need to exist in some fashion, but do those policies get implemented based on just numbers and statistics, or are they based off of normalized conversations and experiences that people understand families actually go through? Do we humanize the story? Can we make policies that are reflective of our humanity as opposed to just reflective of well political aspirations and games?
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:14:26] Thank you so much for joining us Larissa and Baldwin. Far east deep south is currently playing on world channel. A link is in our show notes on kpfa.org. Next up listen to storm by Kayla Britt.
Welcome back. This is the Powerleegirls on Apex Express. And that was storm in original composition by kayla Britt, which can be seen as part of the Smithsonian’s APA care package. Next up Miko speaks with Chihiro wimbush
Miko Lee: [00:16:50] Welcome to apex express. Chihiro Wimbush and you’re going to be talking about your film ricochet.
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:16:57] thank you. I’m excited to be here with you.
Miko Lee: [00:17:00] Can you just start by telling us what inspired this film?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:17:05] Yes. This film obviously is about the tragic incident of pure 14, where an undocumented immigrant Jose, and as Garcia’s Arati accidentally shot a young woman, Kate Steinly. And because of this film, the defendant was represented by the San Francisco public defender’s office, obviously that fell under the purview of former San Francisco public defender, Jeff Adachi. As many people know, he was not just a powerful public defender, but also a filmmaker. He had been interested in documenting the criminal justice system through the point of view of the public defender’s office and through a series of films. And so he and I had actually worked on a couple of films. Before this one called the ride and defender, that was supposed to be part of a larger series. And so this film actually was going to be the third in that series. And obviously this case had a lot of notoriety. And so Jeff knew early on that this would be a case worth documenting. Especially as its profile rose and you have characters like Donald Trump and certainly the national media taking the story and twisting it. He was very interested in presenting the crown level view of both what really happens and what the real story of the case was.
Miko Lee: [00:18:28] So were you filming from the onset of the case?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:18:33] Basically the filming began just before the actual trial began. And now that the trial began two years after the actual incident. And so a lot of the footage from that time is either newsreel or archive that was done by news stations that we weave into the action that we shot, which is basically from just before the trial begins all the way through the verdict.
Miko Lee: [00:19:01] Can you speak a little bit to the title ricochet, which has so many meanings in this case?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:19:08] That’s well, obviously there’s the very literal meaning, which is that the shot that came out of the gun accidentally ricocheted off the ground, 12 feet in front of Jose. And curved off at an angle to the left when another 78 feet before striking Kate Stinely.
And why that’s significant in the context of the case is because obviously the ricochet proves that this was an accidental shooting. No matter how the prosecution, the media or the politicians tried to frame it, that was do one critical. Incident that nobody could get around. No one could deny. But certainly it became a nice metaphor as well for kind of the unexpected directions and angles that the case took and both in terms of how it was represented and also the many twists and turns that came out through the course of the case as it was revealed, for example, that. Where did the gun come from? It came from actually a government official, a park ranger who was visiting San Francisco and left the gun in a backpack in the back of his car, always an unwise thing to do. And and as you get these different facts that come out in these sort of wild twists and turns, including corrupt police officers, It’s almost like a Hollywood narrative almost the way it unfolded that term.
Ricochet was just something we kept coming back to you about something striking something and then angling off in a different direction. And beyond just being the central piece of evidence, it just felt like something we could use as storytellers to to use as the through line for the film as we were editing it.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:20:49] Could you talk a little bit about your filmmaking process and co-directing with Jeff?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:20:54] It was certainly unusual in this case, it was unlike any other film that I’ve either directed or co-directed because actually when the film started, Jeff was the sole producer and director. And our relationship through three films had been he had the role of producer and director. I was editor though in some of the earlier films, I spent time on set and I even directed a couple of days, but when he couldn’t make it, there was also another co-director involved for the first two films, Jim Choi, who also shot them. And so for this film, it began that way. And I was simply the editor on the project.
So we had the type of relationship where, because we’d worked together for a few years, by that point, there was a lot of dialogue, even from the early phases of production of kind of talking through what could the story look like? What kind of footage and coverage do we need to get to tell this story properly? It was wonderful in that it was very collaborative, really from day one. And then of course, Jeff passed away in February, 2019 in the middle of the process. Because I was the editor, I was the only person who knew all the footage and knew the history and kind of had walked through the story from the beginning.
It was the natural progression of not necessarily something I was looking for until it happened. I just was the one person who could do it for me to step in and take over that role. And so it’s strange in that way, because this, I never would have been a co-director on this project, had Jeff not passed. And so I just see it as more of a taking of the torch from him that he led. And he started. And my job was simply to try to fulfill his vision and to see that this film to the finish line, which I think we’re finally getting close to after four total years of the project. And two years of me working solo without Jeff.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:22:52] And was that a hard decision to make, to complete the film without him? Or do you just see it as part of his legacy and something that you were going to be committed to doing? No matter what?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:23:02] Certainly a long grieving period, not just for me, but obviously this involved, the public defender’s office is involved, just family on. And I had to reach out to what’s coach who and actually both those entities let’s go and the public defender’s office. To really get their blessing to do it. And I think all of us needed time after Jeff passed just to grieve, to celebrate who Jeff was and just time to think about everything. It was in the back of my mind for a while, it didn’t really feel appropriate to do anything related to the film for several months. And then. At that point in time, I knew that we had a really powerful film. I That was never in doubt. And not just me, but also Jess and the public defender’s office.
I think we all had a stake in seeing this story through both for Jeff to honor his legacy as a public defender and a filmmaker, but also because of the importance of that story, because it felt. Very timely. Certainly then with Donald Trump in office, but even now, all of these themes from the film around politics, around media, around immigration, they’re all still as relevant now, sadly in some ways as they were two and four years ago. I think those kinds of themes, as well as honoring Jeff really propelled me forward to go through what was an unusual and challenging process. When you come in for part way on a film and you’re doing things as basic as trying to track down where did Jeff keep the release forms and, having most guys wouldn’t have it to go into storage lockers and three ring, binders and box.
That’s trying to find these documents. And there’s certainly some. Very unusual steps to this process. But I think I always knew that I wasn’t gonna just drop this project. It was too important to we come too far and it was certainly very challenging to do this, but but I’m really glad that we did it. And we’re really excited to finally be at this point where we can say we’re about to share it with the world.
Miko Lee: [00:25:11] I wonder if you could speak a little bit more to the way that the story became a catalyst for Trump and anti-immigration.
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:25:21] At the time the incident happened, it was July 1st, 2015 . Trump had announced his candidacy just a couple of weeks before this incident happened with his sort of infamous speech where he was calling Mexicans rapists and just, this absolutely outlandish speech where initially. I don’t think anyone took him too terribly seriously. It was something like that he’d always been a bit of a cartoon character, but then 10 days after this incident happened on July 11th at a speech in Phoenix, Donald Trump began invoking Kate Stein Lee’s name along with others that he put in the same category and used it as his motivation as his reasoning to create this concept of the border wall. That idea obviously gained steam for him. It gained momentum. He and his advisors had clearly crafted a message that resonated with a certain population. In the Republican party and basically they kept riding that message all the way to the Republican nomination and eventually to the white.
It was done a clever concerted effort on their part too. You take one incident that again, if under the ricochet and all the other evidence that are presented in the film that were presented in the trial, something that was a complete tragic accident. God converted into a narrative about undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Of course we see this happen again and again, in the film at that, towards the end of the film Charles blow from the New York times talks about how. We see this happen when people of color, whether they’re immigrants or even people who residents in the United States who are citizens who are people of colored where one incident happens, it could be Willie Horton, the names go on and on. That person becomes a stand-in for a group of people that then can be. Demonized and do use either in political campaigns or to write racist flaws. This is just another ugly chapter in a narrative that’s been going for a long time.
Miko Lee: [00:27:31] One of the things I thought was interesting is in this case, the name was not the Willie Horton name, but it was Kate Steinly, who is the woman who was killed by the ricochet bullet. Her name became this kind of rallying cry and her family actually became held up by the Republican party. In fact, didn’t the dad speak at the Republican convention?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:27:51] I’m not sure if he spoke at the Republican convention, but I do know that he it was a tricky thing and portraying this family because there’s some complexities to their points of view initially early on, they certainly we’re involved in, Fox news and bringing it to Capitol Hill and trying to craft this law called case law that was, punished people, turning to the country after being deported with mandatory minimum sentences. And while it’s, I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes and to lose a daughter or a sister. At one level I want to try and understand them as human beings, dealing with a tremendous level of grief, which an anger, which can potentially clouds one one’s judgment, certainly the repercussions of what they did and who they chose to ally themselves with early, or to put it mildly unfortunate choices at the same time.
As things progressed. They did also distance themselves from Trump and took issue with the fact that his campaign was essentially exploiting her image. And that in the film where the brother addresses that, where he says, their campaign never reached out to us. They’re using her name to put forth ideas. We don’t necessarily believe. And there it’s definitely complex. Like I wanted to try to find a balance that was nuanced in the film where making clear sort of some of the choices they made that. Actually we’re quite harmful at the same time showing that it wasn’t quite as simple as saying that they were also just allied with Trump as well, and that they, there was some separation.
And I think over time they actually grew to understand a little bit more some of the complexities. I don’t think all, I think they’re obviously I think when it comes down to, to understanding like what it means to be a felon. Because the felony can simply be for trying to cross the border for the second time. And that’s very different than say, talking about someone, say, who kills someone and those things tended to be acquainted. And I think that’s where the problem and losing the nuance of that conversation came about with them.
Miko Lee: [00:30:02] Did you reach out to that family to include in the film?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:30:06] I know Jeff did. Jeff reached out to the family and I also believe he reached out to then district attorney, George CALS, Cohen’s office to try to get. More of the alternative perspective, obviously. And and both sides turn that down. I wasn’t privy to those conversations, so I don’t know if that exact reason, so I can guess why, if there was a film coming out of the public defender’s perspective that both those people might feel been uncomfortable with that. And I think that’s actually an opportunity lost because I think it would have been great to have their voices. And I did do my best actually to make sure that the styling family did have some kind of voice in the film using archival and a newsreel footage. I did my best to try to. Portray them as completely as I could not having had the chance to interview them and to try to show the different facets to where they were coming from.
Miko Lee: [00:31:02] Yeah. I think it’s interesting. Their story is so heartbreaking, but the fact that it was used as an anti-immigrant stance, as opposed to an anti-gun stance is shows to me the power structures that are alive.
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:31:17] Yeah. So the gun narrative actually was completely buried. Not just by the figures you’d expect like Fox news and all that, but it was the mainstream media as well, that kind of ran with the stories that this is a sanctuary city trial. And really got the messaging wrong, which we also explore in the film. I made it about immigration and sanctuary cities. And there really wasn’t a focus on the fact that we have, 300 million guns in America or is it go discuss in the film, just the number of accidental shootings that happened? I think it was three, every two days with the statistics. This is just something that actually is quite common and certainly when you unpack the circumstances of. How Garcia’s or latte found the gun wrapped in a t-shirt under a chair and how it accidentally went off. How a sanctuary cities and these other arguments could have even entered into the discussion boggles the mind.
Miko Lee: [00:32:14] That’s why I love the ricochet title, because it just has so many different meanings about the impact something can have. I’m wondering how you encouraged or maybe Jeff encouraged the one jury member to participate in the film.
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:32:29] I believe through Matt and Francisco they reached out . I felt like he gave a really important sort of perspective from the point of view of the folks who had to make a decision on this and who later are vilified. For making the decision they did. And it was really important to hear at least one of those voices walk us through where do they see some truth to what the prosecution was saying? How did they get convinced by the defense’s argument? I think him along with the the voice of Dave Eggers who’s obviously the famous novelists, but also happened to sit in on this trial and observe and write about it. Having these two people just as witnesses to the action, particularly since there were no cameras or audio allowed by the judge, which, as a filmmaker, you probably understand it’s a tremendous limitation in the filmmaking process of trying to portray what happened.
And so I think having voices of people who are in the room along with courtroom sketches and other. Tools that we could use at least gave, allowed the audience to come into the jury box, come into the courtroom and have some sense of just how things played out day by day.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:33:40] Is there anything that surprised you about the making of this film?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:33:42] Certainly obviously beyond the obvious big surprise of just Jeff’s passing, which was a total shock to all of us in terms of the making of the production. I think the thing that surprised me was actually. When I started sharing early cuts with people or just talking to people about that, I w I was working on this project, people, I know some of it friends, some of it filmmakers, some people who I know that kind of work in nonprofits in these spaces. Everybody I knew about this trial, it had that kind of national impact. Everybody remembered the story, remembered the basics of the incident. But what was fascinating to me was though they were very familiar with some of the narratives that came out about around immigration and Donald Trump and all this stuff.
There were so many folks that I talked to that actually could not remember what the verdict was. And that’s so interesting to me because it shows how actually these narratives became so dominant that actually the basic facts of the trial and the result of it. Was completely obscured by that. So it just shows the power of this kind of mass media messaging, political messaging that Sarah saturated, everything and took over the story. Part of what we’re trying to do with the film is actually clear off that fog layer and show what really happened. I think most people probably don’t know all the evidence and all the details of the case and once we take away those messages and just bring it down to the facts of the case and the work that was done on the case, and obviously the end result I was surprised to just see, how, what a revelation that, that was for so many people are just like, I can’t even remember what happened at the end or I vaguely remember. I think he was not guilty, but, and I think some of this was just trying to push back against the story that everyone was told through the media and and try to present something that’s more nuanced and more accurate to what really happened.
Miko Lee: [00:35:53] Yeah, it really does seem to be a tribute to media manipulation and to unpack that I’m a pretty avid news consumer. And I did not remember how that case played out. Our last question for you is really around what do you want the walkaway message to be from people seeing your film?
Chihiro Wimbush: [00:36:14] I think it’s in a way you’re just encapsulated a strong element of that because I look at the environment that we’re in now, where despite the fact that Trump is no longer in office. So many of these same things continue, right? Around messaging around how politicians and the media manipulate, manipulate the messages that, that we’re told about things. I think that’s really a huge part of this. Beyond just wanting to establish. The unquestionable innocence of this man who was demonized and vilified and held up as an example for this horrible movement and who is still in custody, by the way, thanks to the federal government.
It’s so that we can step forward now and And really look at what’s going on, not just now, but looking ahead, there’s elections coming up next year, certainly another presidential cycle in 2024 in the threat of Donald Trump running again. So it’s saying, Hey, let’s take a look at what happened because cause we weren’t paying attention. This kind of narrative was allowed to run and get this person in the white house. It’s really important at that sort of macro level to question the messaging that we’re getting and to look deeper beneath the surface and on a smaller level, part of what I wanted to do. I know Jeff did as well is really highlight the sort of unheralded work of public defenders, at least the ones who were really committed to their work, which I think the San Francisco office really exemplifies how critical it is to have people step up for those who don’t have any voice, especially in the criminal justice system and to fight for them in the end to say, What all comes together when you have the facts when you have right on your side and when you have people who are willing to fight for that justice can prevail and the right decision can be made. I should qualify that and say, that’s at least on the state level. And of course Trump and Jeff sessions and the federal government vindictively chose to step in and then re prosecute Garcia Zarate . And so he’s still. In custody today and in federal custody.
Miko Lee: [00:38:26] Chihiro Wimbush. Thank you so much for joining us. People can catch your film Ricochet as part of cam Fest .
We’ll have the link to watch ricochet in our show notes. And next up we hear Kayla Brit Odyssey.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:40:38] Welcome back. You’re tuned into apex express on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPFB in Berkeley and [email protected] You just heard Kayla Brit Odyssey. Kayla is one of the featured artists and after earth which is a short film that’s part of the smithsonian care package now Miko speaks with filmmaker will.
Miko Lee: [00:41:01] Will Zhang, thank you so much for joining me on apex express.
Will Zhang: [00:41:05] Thanks for having me. It’s my great pleasure.
Miko Lee: [00:41:08] So when last we saw each other, it was in the lobby of a real movie theater in person. .
Will Zhang: [00:41:14] Yeah. It’s a long time ago.
Miko Lee: [00:41:16] We were talking about your budding filmmaking career. And now you have this film out that’s being featured at CAAMFest.
Will Zhang: [00:41:24] Yeah, I just feel so lucky. It’s a great honor to be part of the CAAMFest this year. It’s always part of my dream. I can show my films to the audience in the Bay area, so I’m very glad my new film, The Leaf will have its world premiere at CAAMFest.
Miko Lee: [00:41:40] I was very enchanted by your storytelling style. Can you tell me about what inspired this film?
Will Zhang: [00:41:48] We all know, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down almost everything and the film industry got hit a lot. Movie theaters were closed and basically all the film production has got paused. So even became worse for independent film makings. So for nearly seven to eight months, I was totally jobless in America. So I surely felt hopeless and at the same time, like my parents and my friends, they saw what was going on, America, in terms of COVID-19 pandemic.
I kept getting a lot of voice messages through we chat, which is a social networking app that almost every Chinese people is using, because we worry about , my health and my safety. So for one side , so these voice messages truly touched me a lot because it is always. Good to know that somebody is caring about you, especially the other people I know my parents, my family, and my friends in my home country.
But for the other side, it also made me confused is that I was not a hundred percent sure whether I should keep staying the U S. I don’t know whether that will still be a good option for me, because we have seen the pandemic and we had a president at a time , made a lot of Anti-Asian statements.
So the idea it’s more like a personal diary. I wanted to use the sound and footage. which is what I’m good at and from in-service to document a difficult time that I was experiencing
Miko Lee: [00:43:25] I love how it has a very poetic and lyrical quality and I’m wondering how you came up with that style.
Will Zhang: [00:43:31] I had those voice messages and when I was listening to those messages, I was walking outside, maybe around the place where I lived at those places I have been to with a lot of memories, but it’s just listening to those voice messages. But what presented to me was because the streets are empty and just kinda like a people wore all masks on. They have to kept, social distancing, just different. I would just simply want to create that kind of contrast using those two different tones, no matter through the voice messages or images to create a kind of feeling of a loneliness.
Miko Lee: [00:44:12] I think you captured that really well. I’m wondering if your family in China has had a chance to view the film?
Will Zhang: [00:44:19] Unfortunately not. So to be very honest I this part of the film talk about like being a gay person as a gay man in America. I came here. I felt more freedom. I could be who I am, but that is part of the struggle. Even the film is I haven’t come out to my family. Yeah. They. They still have no idea what kind of person I am. And they still have that common expectations. I will become a normal, I will become, have a car, like a normal life getting married, having kids. So that is like a struggle I had. I don’t know how should I start that conversation with them? So unfortunately I do it. It is so sad. I still have no, that kinda like a courage to show the film to them.
Miko Lee: [00:45:11] Do you think they’ll have a chance to see it though, since it is going online. And are you not going to tell them about the online viewing?
Will Zhang: [00:45:20] I currently have no plan to tell them because it is still, I would say having that person to come out to the family. It needs, it takes time and patience. So the film is online right now, but it’s only faced to the American audience. I kind of want to have this film to show to other people who might have the same struggle or deep or same struggle with me. So they should think about like how to communicate with their friends and family.
Miko Lee: [00:45:54] And please don’t feel that you have to answer this Will, if you don’t feel comfortable, I’m wondering about the kind of underground gay community in China. And if there is a kind of bounding together and sharing of stories in this way.
Will Zhang: [00:46:07] I would say this There some common gay live of gay scene in China. It is more like underground. So usually we own know what bar and what kind of like a scenario does this for gay people , for networking, for social, but as a whole society, the bigger picture of the Chinese culture, almost everybody’s still they prefer you. To have a normal life means you will get married. You have family, you have a, like you have kids to call it. So that’s what everybody expect you, that kind of life you have. So I just feel at this point, maybe this is my personal struggle. I don’t know how to communicate with them in this way to talk about like how I’m how am I gonna tell them that. Maybe I will not become that kind of person they expect me to be. Does it make sense?
Miko Lee: [00:47:07] Yeah, totally. Huge parts of who you are being gay and being a filmmaker. And you’re able to talk to them about being a filmmaker, but not about a big part of your identity. That’s hard. I’m sorry that you’re struggling with that. What other gay filmmakers in China, how do they deal with it?
Will Zhang: [00:47:27] So basically gay cinema in China does not truly exist. So we have seen some filmmakers, they have made some films, it all got censored. So they, so the only chance they will be able to show is she is attending film festivals overseas, or through some other territories, like Hong Kong. They might be able to show those kind of films. Literally there’s no day cinema in China, but I is this glad to see some activists are trying to Do some film festival or at least a film showcase to educate people that these people are just around us. This is different from other people, these just people that gay people like it could be your friends, your family, or your coworkers. So I’m really glad to see there more and more activities are going on in China now.
Miko Lee: [00:48:22] Tell me about what you’re working on now.
Will Zhang: [00:48:25] I’m currently doing some film publicity for some independent films and documentaries. Because I’m also a filmmaker, so I always feel it’s necessary as social responsibility to help other filmmakers to get publicized or figure out a way their films can be known by audience. I’m also really interested in exploring like LGBT community and the Asian communities. So how the Asian community develop and being alive in America and around the world, that is a topic I’d like to explore a little bit. So maybe in the near future, there will be another film you will see made by me about Asian and the LGBT communities.
Miko Lee: [00:49:10] Love that and a whole underground gay Asian cinema film festival that can be somehow streamed in China and places where we haven’t seen that yet. Thank you so much for joining me here today. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your film, the leaf?
Will Zhang: [00:49:28] Yeah. I just want to Sue my film. I just want to tell people like who had the same experience with me that it was totally normal to feel loneliness and depressed. So you are not alone during this pandemic. So no matter what happened, just think about the love from parents and friends. We all should believe hope is out there. And I hope everybody who watched the film could have a chance after watching it could have a chance to pick up the phone and talk to them, talk to their parents and friends to tell them us thinking of them and how important they are.
Miko Lee: [00:50:03] Will Zhang, thank you so much for joining us. The leaf is part of the Out Here shorts series, which is a series of different short films about LGBTQ experience. It is playing at CAAM Fest and Will, we are so excited to see your film and happy for the community to be able to share and enjoy the leaf. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Will Zhang: [00:50:25] Thank you so much, Miko.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:50:27] Tonight we had the opportunity to hear from just a few of the incredible APA artists that are putting their workout and have films in the festival circuit. Right now, there are many, many more at campus and online, and there’s so many other events going on right now that are really exciting.
One of my favorite films that we watched through campus was Radio Ready oh, was really quirky film from Taiwan about this group of characters that work at a radio station, which obviously we have a soft spot for, and there’s a kind of cult situation going on that wants to get involved in a kind of herbal life element. I thought it was really fun. It made me laugh. So I want to see more stuff from that director to, yeah.
Miko Lee: [00:51:08] And then another film I saw recently that I really enjoyed is Lily topples the world, which is a documentary about the best domino artist in the world. I didn’t know that was a thing. And she lines dominoes up and then topples them. She has millions of people in our YouTube channel and it’s all about her kind of growth. Is this. You know, quirky Asian adoptee who really comes into her own with what she loves. So that was fun. And Kelly, Marie Tran is the executive producer on that movie.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:51:38] Another really great documentary that I saw recently. I think I saw it at Sundance, but it has been at a bunch of different festivals since then was writing with fire. So good. So good. So empowering about women reporters and also just women uplifting other women in India. And just the newsroom dynamics and what they caught about, you know, the, just the conversations of like, what does it mean to have an angle on a story? Like, how do you protect your sources? What is it like the whole transition to digital with the phones and that whole opening?
Miko Lee: [00:52:09] It just, it was so compelling and the, those women showed such a level of strength and bravery for doing their work in sometimes really scary situations.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:52:21] Yeah, that’s so true. And the title is really good to writing with fire. That was a great doc, highly recommend it is heavy and topical, but also uplifting.
Miko Lee: [00:52:31] Absolutely. And then a couple of great fun kind of young people, films that we saw is marvelous and the black hole. Which is written and directed by Kate Tsang and we saw that at Sundance. It’s about a young Chinese girl who’s like angsty and misunderstood and has some like anger issues.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:52:54] And then she finds magic through Rita Perlman. And. Binds this whole other side of herself and it has really cute animation to it. Also. It’s fun. I liked that a lot. It was nice. I don’t know. It’s just so beautiful. Seeing all these different pieces of media that are coming out and all these young actors and just the whole community that each of these projects is uplifting.
Similarly, , with marvelous and the black hole of course, would be Minari as well. And we’re so excited about their nomination for the academy award and all the love that they’ve been getting and just how incredible that film was, how moving it was. I cried so much in such a real American movie, too.
Miko Lee: [00:53:37] It’s really about the American kind of struggle to fit in and. I have a sense of connectedness with land and family and history. Oh, it was really beautiful.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:53:48] Yeah. I was listening to an interview with Lee, Isaac Chung, who wrote and directed me knotty. And he was talking about how, so much of Asian American experience in this country has been farming and how oftentimes we don’t see that represented. We see more of the city Asians and, , that kind of stuff with the little representation that we do have. So he wanted to represent his family and that whole experience of just like you’re saying that connection to the land and being a Asian-American farmer.
Miko Lee: [00:54:16] And since our topic today is catalyst for conversation, we can look at every single one of these films is what is the, what’s the kind of walk away that we’re going with from each of these films that we’ve seen. Far east deep south is really about. What we’ve been talking about in our other series, hidden histories, right? That there’s so much of this Southern. Chinese American in that case history that we just don’t know anything about. So I think they were showcasing that along with, the chinese. Exclusion act.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:54:45] For me, it was also about the importance of personal history and how personal history and collective history are one in the same, in many ways. And how it’s so worth it to put the effort in, to archive your own family’s history and just know. Where you came from in that way and what a privilege it is honestly, to have access to those kinds of documents and to have someone, , collecting all that stuff.
Miko Lee: [00:55:08] But I also think in a way Will’s story is a personal story about what he went through during the pandemic and how he’s kind of grappling with the isolation and the time of. Being really far away from his family and China.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:55:25] Also he has an identity both as someone queer and as someone who wants to be a filmmaker.
Miko Lee: [00:55:30] Yeah. And grappling with both of those aspects of identity, which I think can spark a lot of different conversation. And Chihiro’s film that is so such an interesting process to learn about. How one incident can spark something totally unexpected. In other words, this bullet that can ricochet by mistake from this undocumented person can ha actually end up propelling Trump into office and being utilized as this anti-immigrant stance. It’s kind of amazing that that one case was twisted in a way. So that even it turned away from what that family. That experienced that tragedy, what they even wanted to happen.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:12] Well, and I think that just shows what our justice system is all about. Our lack of justice. You know, it’s like the opposite of transformative justice, where the person that was harmed has no say in what the punishment should be or what the process is at all.
Miko Lee: [00:56:27] And how twisted and how media can take something and turn it into something that it’s not at all.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:34] And I think we’ve seen that a lot over the past, like year plus in the pandemic, especially with everyone being online and not able to be in shared space. Like certain things can just hit in a certain way at a certain time. And all of a sudden it’s something else.
Miko Lee: [00:56:46] And in a way there’s lots of parallels with that documentary writing with fire because they were taking stories in India. And then they were just taking their phones out and documenting what’s really happening as opposed to the government story, which is so powerful.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:57:01] I think in general, it was great to talk about these different films and explore how film is such a great medium to spark conversation and to have a bunch of different conversations with your family and with your community.
Miko Lee: [00:57:12] Thank you so much for joining us. Please check out our website, kpfa.org to find out more about the guests we spoke to and how you can take direct action. We thank all of you listeners out there.
Keep resisting, keep organizing. Keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preti Mangala-Shekar, Tracy Nguyen, Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Jessica Antonio. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts, Miko Lee, and Jalena Keane-Lee thanks to KPFA staff for their support and have a great night.