New American Filmmakers
2008 Hawaii International Film Festival
Chief Sielu Avea, Actor
Born on the island of Savaii, Samoa, Sielu Avea has been has been an entertainer and cultural ambassador for more than 20 years. A world-champion fire knife dancer, he used his unique talent to introduce the world to fa'asamoa (the Samoan way). While the NAF selection film Chief is his first acting role, viewers may recognize him from appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Tonight Show, MTV, and BBC television.
Chief (Short Film)
Semu Fatutoa is a highly ranked Samoan chief who passes his days behind the wheel of a taxi in Honolulu, transporting tourists and businesspeople to and from the airport. His legs, which he keeps hidden from view, tell the story of why he fled his ancestral village. On them are the ceremonial tattoos that mark him for life as a leader among his people. To him, however, they are the symbols of personal tragedy. For as he lay recovering from the painful ritual, too weak to move, his 9-year-old daughter drowned in the ocean. Blaming the tattoos for his inability to save her, Semu has spent the last two years driving, essentially in circles.
Those circles begin to close in on him via a series of events. A mysterious Samoan has been staking out his apartment in Waikiki, calling him on the phone, and following him home from the beach. More frightening is the earthquake that has struck the Big Island, and which threatens to unleash a tsunami on Honolulu. Everyone is leaving the city, but not Semu. He has become transfixed by a young Hawaiian girl, around his daughter's age, who he has seen wandering the city in her bathing suit. Twice in the same day she has crossed his path; twice he has watched her go by. But try as he might, he cannot ignore the sense that her appearance is a message to him — one he must answer, even as a wall of water looms over the city. Together, these circumstances conspire to force Semu to reclaim his responsibilities as chief.
Christine Choy, Director
Filmmaker Christine Choy has received more than 60 international awards for her work in film, including an Oscar nomination in 1989 for Best Documentary for Who Killed Vincent Chin? and Best Cinematography award at the 1997 Sundance International Film Festival for My America…Or Honk if You Love Buddha. Shanghai-born Choy trained as an architect before shifting gears entirely and moving to L.A., where she earned her directing certificate from the American Film Institute. To date, she has more than 70 works in various formats to her credit, which have appeared on HBO, PBS, the Sundance Channel, Lifetime, NHK, and other networks. Her films have been shown worldwide, at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, Hong Kong, and New York, among many others. The NAF selection film, Long Story Short, is her most recent film.
Long Story Short
Long Story Short tells the story of Larry and Trudie Long, a popular husband-and-wife nightclub act of the 1940s and '50s. Narrated by their daughter, actress Jodi Long, the film traces the couple's rise from the Chinatown nightclub circuit to a coveted appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." When Jodi is cast in the Broadway revival of "Flower Drum Song," a show that had cast her father in the original version 40 years earlier, her parents find themselves revisiting a past they had buried long ago. Combining a family story with show business history and the ravages of racism, it is a story of pain, passion, and perseverance. –Hawaii International Film Festival
Stephane Gauger, Director
Born in Saigon and raised in Orange County, California, Stephane Gauger received a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and French literature. His love of cinema then moved him away from the stage and onto film sets, where he trained in film lighting under Matthew Libatique, ASC. Gauger subsequently worked in the camera and lighting departments on independent films in the U.S. and Southeast Asia (including Sundance winner Three Seasons), all while honing his writing and directing craft.
His first feature film, Owl and the Sparrow, was an NAF selection in 2007 and won nine awards, including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and Best Narrative Feature at the San Francisco, San Diego, and Dallas Asian film festivals. Gauger has also received nominations for Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards in New York and the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. The NAF selection film Vietnam Overtures is his first documentary.
Vietnam Overtures is a documentary about a rescue; but unlike most rescue stories about Vietnam, this one is about the recovery of a centuries-old classical music tradition, another casualty of the long war there. Through a program called Transposition, initiated in Norway in 2005 and launched in 2007, and in association with four Vietnamese institutions — the Ha Noi Conservatory of Music, the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, the HCM City's Conservatory of Music, and the HCM City Opera and Symphony Orchestra — the classical music scene in Vietnam is getting a much-needed helping hand. Director Stephane Gauger chronicles the musical dialogue between these Vietnamese and Norwegian conservatories, as they work together to prove again that music is, indeed, a universal language.
Sherwood Hu, Director
Sherwood Hu is a writer and director of theatrical and cinematic productions. Following an apprenticeship at The Public Theater in New York under its founder Joseph Papp, Hu began his professional career directing plays, including Rashomon, Consant Prince, and The Chairman's Wife. Hu’s interest in film led him to adapt his original stage production, The Legend of Prince Lanling, into his first feature film, Warrior Lanling. Hu’s second film, Lani Loa: The Passage, was one of the first U.S.–China co-productions and was executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola. The NAF selection film Prince of the Himalayas is Hu’s most recent film and has also been adapted into a play; it had a successful run on the stage in Shanghai and was selected for the ninth Shanghai International Arts Festival.
Prince of the Himalayas
An adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of the Himalayas takes the majesty and mystery of the Tibetan landscape as its dramatic backdrop. It is here, in Kingdom Jiabo, where Prince Lhamoklodan returns after hearing of his father's sudden and unexplained death. What’s more disturbing to him is that his mother, Queen Nanm, has already been remarried — to his uncle Kulo-ngam — who has usurped the throne. The young prince, and rightful heir, becomes determined to learn the truth of his father's death and take revenge. As his obsession begins to menace his spirit, it also casts a shadow over his love for Odsaluyang. Finally, as he threatens his uncle, the new king, at sword-point, his anguished mother tells Prince Lhamoklodan what he must know in order to face his destiny and reclaim his title.
Kai-Duc Luong, Director
Director, screenwriter, and editor Kai-Duc Luong's journey to creative fulfillment was a long one. Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at the beginning of the Khmer Rouge tyranny, he survived the killing fields and, as an infant, was taken to Paris shortly after his father's death. In France, he studied for the Grandes Ecoles before coming to the United States in 1997 as an exchange engineering graduate student. However, his version of the American dream did not feature engineering; since childhood, Luong knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. For the past 11 years, he has lived that dream, making artistic and commercial video projects in Chicago. In addition to the NAF selection film Someplace Else, Luong's directing credits also include Vacant, The Texture of Time, and Sami and Binx.
A moving self-portrait of its director, Kai-Duc Luong, Someplace Else isrecorded in film-journal form as Luong 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 a creatively fulfilling career in filmmaking. Co-directed by Avisheh Mohsenin, Someplace Else is also a tenderhearted journey through the blues. The director's melancholy is symbolized by the music of acclaimed Chicago soul-blues singer and guitarist Vance "Candylicking" Kelly. Luong's thoughtful ruminations on where he has been and where he is going are interspersed with evocative images of the Windy City and footage of Kelly and his Backstreet Blues Band. Someplace Else is something else in filmmaking — blending documentary and personal reflection.
Sarab Neelam, Director
Sarab Neelahm grew up in India before moving to Canada at age 10, and eventually to America to practice medicine as an adult. A gastroenterologist living in Troy, Michigan, Neelam may have seemed an unlikely candidate to direct a film, yet he was always interested in filmmaking. A chance encounter with Oscar-winning screenwriter Kurt Luedtke propelled him to follow his dream. Under Luedtke’s mentorship, Neelam learned the art of filmmaking independently for 10 years, while working as a doctor. His first feature, the semi-autobiographical Ocean of Pearls, was inspired by his experiences living as Sikh man in post-9/11 America.
Ocean of Pearls
Amrit Singh is of two worlds, but he belongs to neither. A turban-wearing Sikh, he has lived his life in North America out of sorts and out of place, cast adrift at an uneasy crossroads between East and West. But when he is offered a prestigious position as a transplant surgeon in a Detroit hospital, the young doctor sees it as an opportunity to start fresh. He struggles to be the man he believes he is, and, at the same time, the person he wants to be. His ambitious pursuit of success, however, eventually leads to tragedy, and it is only by defining his singular identity that he will be able to find peace. –Ocean of Pearls
New American Filmmaker Interviews
The 2015 NAF selections included films from various genres and regions of the world, including a documentary filmed in North Korea, a 1980s-style teen comedy, and an action thriller set in the jungles of Colombia.
Watch video interviews as the NAF delegates discuss feminism, activism, and the 80s!
Zoë Bell >