At Vincent Chin Commemoration, Asian American Filmmakers Gather in Detroit to Support the Midwest
Asian American documentarians had their first official Midwestern gathering in Detroit this weekend, bringing artists and creatives together for potential collaboration and building cinematic momentum in the region.
The rally was part of 40 years of commemoration and rededication of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American killed by two white men in Detroit, days before his wedding. His murder and case are often credited with starting the modern Asian American civil rights movement.
Local and national organizations contributed to the four-day commemoration, such as the Center for Asian America Media and the Detroit Institute of Art & Detroit Film Theater. Events include an interfaith reflection on Chin’s legacy and performances by the Electronic Music Ensemble of Wayne State.
For the filmmakers, it was a two-day event filled with resources, film screenings and, at times, shared anxiety about funding their vision. The panels were moderated by directors like Grace Lee, who is also co-founder of the Asian American Documentary Network.
Speakers and attendees were especially thrilled with the event’s focus on the Midwest and its diverse voices since the west and east coasts tend to be at the center of conversations about filmmaking and the Asian experience American in the region may be different from the coasts.
Zosette Guir of Detroit Public Television said on day two that there was a desire to stay in the Midwest and tell its stories.
“So many times – even with the Vincent Chin story – people have wanted to come in and tell that story. It’s a Detroit story. And it should be told from the Detroiters’ perspective and expand outward. outside. And I think — we have the right to be kind of protective about that,” she said.
Guir said Michigan has struggled to let go of its automotive heritage and is often known to others as a one-industry town.
“And we’re struggling to reinvent Michigan as a place that includes supporting infrastructure for the arts,” she said. “There’s this question about the Midwest and do good movies happen here? We know they do. How do we challenge that perception that exists?”
Among the films shown are bad axthe story of a Cambodian-Mexican family struggling to keep their restaurant alive in rural Michigan while dealing with the trauma of the Cambodian killing fields.
Eden Saboboro screened her short film, Ne Notoca Kiauitzin (my name is little rain), about Aztec artist Kia I’x Arriaga who lives in Detroit.
“We really agreed on what it means to be a mother, to be a creator, to be someone in some kind of foreign country that you live in now, it’s kind of your place now,” he said. she declared. from Arriaga.
Saboboro left the Philippines in 2014 and says his “Asian-American experience is still relatively fresh”. But it was “chance” to land in Detroit, a city that helped her find her voice and the stories she wanted to tell.
“I remember not knowing anyone. And not having anyone to connect with,” she said. “In Detroit, the ecosystem is very supportive of each other. It’s a big city, but the people doing things all know each other.”
Shiraz Ahmed, who grew up in Texas, presented parts of his upcoming documentary Living in Detroit, a public health tale following a patient, a pastor and a doctor. It’s a story inspired by both Detroit’s vibrant history and her mother’s emergency heart surgery without health care.
“Faced with debt or death, she chose the former. And then it was all over,” reads her Kickstarter. “When the bill came due, the hospital forgave her, leaving her healthy, whole and free. It was the event that made me turn my camera to free health services and the community care.”
“(L)like many in Detroit and beyond, she had to rely on the goodwill of others. And while we were grateful, the disparity between what my mother deserved and what she received was too great to be fully celebrated.”
Other Midwesterners were also represented on the panel, including Chicago’s Jason Rhee. Rhee showed parts of his documentary about a famous Louisiana basketball player once called the “Korean Magic Johnson of NCAA women’s basketball” by Sports Illustrated and how she had been sidelined throughout her coaching career. Jenny Shi talked about her film Find Yingying, about a young Chinese student who disappeared in Illinois.
Panels delved into industry advice, while providing a space for creatives to speak candidly about the difficulties of the field and institutional barriers – which is why many said it was important to build a new fabric based in the Midwest and provide funding to the Region.
Minnesota artist Naomi Ko told the audience that she doesn’t like the idea of relying on East and West Coast institutions because finances can change.
“(W)e can’t necessarily count on those things,” she said. “But what we can count on is if we come from this area, if we understand and remember… what it’s like to be undervalued, ignored, overlooked. You know, people say, ‘hover states.’ And we remember our roots here in the Midwest.”
“Midwestern filmmakers (who) have some success or have access to those resources, being able to be willing to help other Midwesterners as well – I think that’s really important.”
Organization representatives included the Center for Asian American Media, Asian American Documentary Network, Detroit Narrative Agency, Final Girls in Detroit, the Freep Film Festival, Kartemquin Media in Chicago, and Color of Congress grant winners.
A remastered version of the 1987 Oscar-nominated film, Who Killed Vincent Chin?, will also air Monday and Tuesday on PBS at 10 p.m.