American Immigrant Filmmakers on Profile
November 12 to November 18, 2008
In 2007, The Vilcek Foundation, in partnership with the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF), initiated the program American Immigrant Filmmakers on Profile (AIFP), to present the work of foreign-born filmmakers to a wider audience. In November 2008, following their showings at HIFF, the Foundation was proud to premiere these six films for a New York audience, and introduce a number of the artists involved in them.
Ocean of Pearls
Sarab Neelam, Director
Omid Abtahi, Actor
In Ocean of Pearls, the conflict between Eastern philosophy and Western lifestyle is played out in the character of Amrit Singh, a Sikh doctor (played by Omid Abtahi) who desires personal acceptance almost as much as professional success. As he takes on a prestigious new job as chief of surgery at a state-of-the-art transplant center in Detroit, his conflict is only heightened, and he begins to make compromises that threaten not only his integrity but also the health of his patients. Ocean of Pearls was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature Film at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Ocean of Pearls, director Sarab Neelam’s first film, is highly autobiographical. At age 10, a move from his native India to Canada provoked deep-seated feelings of “otherness.” Seeking to fit in, he went to medical school and spent years building a medical practice, all the while harboring a childhood desire to make movies. Eventually, he started taking film classes, with the overriding goal to portray Sikhs fairly and fully on-screen. In the aftermath of 9/11, this goal became, for him, a moral imperative.
An American actor of Iranian descent, Omid Abtahi performed both on television and the stage before moving onto the big screen. In addition to his role in Ocean of Pearls, Abtahi had roles in Running with Scissors (2006), Space Chimps (2008), and Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (2009). View Film Synopsis >
Sielu Avea, Actor
Chief follows Semu Fatutoa, a highly ranked Samoan leader turned taxi driver as he transports tourists and businesspeople to and from the Honolulu airport. On his legs, hidden from view, is written the story of why he fled his ancestral village, and sets the stage for his coming to terms with all he left behind. Chief won Best Dramatic Short Award at the 2008 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival.
Real-life Chief Sielu Avea, stars in this short film, his first acting role. Born in the jungles of Savai’i in Independent Samoa, Chief Avea lived for years with his family in complete isolation, before leaving to visit New Zealand and, later, to study at BYU Hawaii. At 25, village elders called him back to Samoa to endure the traditional, and excruciating, seven-day tattoo ceremony that would transform him into a chief. View Film Synopsis >
Stephane Gauger, Director
Vietnam Overtures documents a rescue, of a centuries-old classical music tradition, which until this film was an unacknowledged casualty of the long war in this embattled country. Through a program called Transposition, the film chronicles the musical dialogue between four Vietnamese and Norwegian conservatories, as they work together to prove again that music is, indeed, the universal language.
Born in Saigon and raised in Orange County, California, Stephane Gauger began his life as a filmmaker working in camera and lighting departments in the United States and Southeast Asia, at the same time honing his writing and directing skills on short narrative and documentary films. Owl and the Sparrow, his first feature, won nine awards in 2007, including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival; Best Narrative Feature at the San Francisco, San Diego, and Dallas Asian Film Festivals; and the NetPac Award at HIFF 2007. View Film Synopsis >
Kai-Duc Luong, Director
Someplace Else is a moving self-portrait of director Kai-Duc Luong, recorded in film-journal form as he transitions from his corporate job, which he quits after realizing its benefits have lost much of their value to him, to what he hopes will be creative fulfillment and a sense of purpose.
Born in Phnom-Penh, Cambodia, Luong, his mother, and two brothers arrived in Paris in June 1976 shortly after his father’s death. Luong came to America in 1997 and has been perfecting his artistic and filmmaking skills ever since. He has produced festival-winning shorts, gallery-specific video installations, and modern music videos such as The Frogs (2007), for French electro-pop label Recordmakers; and in 2009, he premiered Circumplex, an audiovisual installation, at The Vilcek Foundation. View Film Synopsis >
Long Story Short
Christine Choy, Director
Long Story Short recounts the professional lives of Larry and Trudie Long, a pioneering Asian American vaudevillian couple of the forties and fifties, who eventually reach the pinnacle of recognition in show business ¾ a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. The film, written and narrated by the couple’s daughter, actress Jodi Long, who wrote and narrates the documentary, also chronicles the behind-the-scenes struggle of the pair to forgive the injustices suffered by Asian Americans during World War II. Long Story Short won the Audience Award for Documentary Feature at the 2008 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Filmmaker Christine Choy has received worldwide recognition for her vanguard films, which have been featured in numerous international festivals. In 1988, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, for Who Killed Vincent Chin?; and in 1997, she won a Best Cinematography Award, for My America...or Honk If You Love Buddha at Sundance. In addition to her work in film, Choy is in great demand as an educator; she has taught at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Yale University, Cornell University, and SUNY-Buffalo. View Film Synopsis >
Prince of the Himalayas
Sherwood Hu, Director and Co-writer
An adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of the Himalayas takes as its dramatic backdrop the majesty and mystery of the Tibetan landscape. It is to Kingdom Jiabo that Prince Lhamoklodan returns after hearing of his father’s sudden and unexplained death, and of his mother’s hasty remarriage to his uncle, who has usurped the throne. Determined to learn the truth of his father’s death, and take revenge, the young prince’s obsession begins to menace his spirit. Finally, his anguished mother tells her son what he must know in order to reclaim his title.
Shanghai-born Sherwood Hu directed and co-wrote Prince of the Himalayas, his third feature film, which was also adapted as a play. His first feature film, Warrior Lanling, an epic ritual film about ancient China, took the opposite route, evolving from a stage production, The Legend of Prince Lanling. And Hu’s second film, Lani Loa: The Passage, was one of the first U.S./China co-productions, executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Wayne Wang. Hu also directs for television and live theater, and even performs on occasion, notably in the lead role of Song Liling in several productions of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly. View Film Synopsis >