So you want to make a movie?

Looh Foon Fong, The Star (Malaysia)

September 12, 1996

An enthusiastic young film-maker blows into town, spreading the message that young people can make their own movies if they want to- well, they can at least try their hands at it without too much trouble. LOOH FOON FONG has the story.

You’re sitting in your Physics class, deaf to your teacher’s questions as you indulge in your secret fantasy—in your head, you’re directing an award-winning movie.

Ah but it’s just a fantasy, right? You’ll never have the chance to even try making a movie… Don’t be too sure. Look what happened to Kip Fulbeck. The Southern-California based Asian-American video artist recently made a movie for a mere US$500 (RM1,250) Called L.A. Christmas, he shot the entire film on a Fisher-Price toy camera!

L.A. Christmas is a brief, plotless but nostalgic look at Kip’s own relationship with his mother over Christmas last year. The short film was his attempt to show that a film can be produced on a limited budget and without fancy equipment.

L.A Christmas was screened at the Second Asian American Film Festival at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur recently sponsored by Akademi TV3, Kodak and Istana Hotel, the festival revealed a rarely seen side of film-making-many of the movies screened were shot on videotape on a shoe string budget. And they were produced by young independent Asian American artists.

These little movies can do a lot. Kip wants young people everywhere to know that, with a “little” camera, you have the power to change the world. He cited the works of an 18 year-old Cambodian student who taped his brother being arrested by the police. “It was shaky and but it told a good story. It was a scene of poverty in the urban area, a kid who had been in it and he was telling his perspective which you can’t do from the outside.

“Film’s becoming more democratized—more and more people are getting a voice now,” claims the boyish-looking Kip who can easily be mistaken for a wet-behind the ears undergraduate. (Though he’s far from that; this guy is 31 years old and an assistant professor of Art Studio and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. By the way, Kip says he had initially planned to become a doctor—talk about a career switch!)

The festival showcased exuberant films from a new generation of young Asian American s claiming their own voice and telling their own ways playing, experimenting, exploring and breaking rules as they see fit, says Kip, the festival’s curator.

“Yes, video quality still doesn’t match film (which is more expensive) but it is getting better and advancing so much faster than film. With videotape becoming more affordable and acessible, it is going to change things,” he says. “Hollywood does what Hollywood does. They have the best facilities with the best effects. There’s no doubt about that.

“But that does not mean you, as a young person, cannot make good films,” says this enthusiastic young man. Spike Lee of Jungle Fever, fame and Quentin Tarantino, director of the critically-acclaimed Pulp Fiction, for instance, started with video.

“You just have to find your own style,” says Kip. The history of Asian-American film-making in the Untied States began in the 60s with the civil right’ movement there. Using an offbeat approach that did away with the traditional “you are there” documentary. Kip’s own career has seen 10 movies and briefs produced to date.

And what of subject matter? What can young people use? Why, your own experiences, of coarse, says Kip. For instance, his production, Just Stand Still (1988) which he did as his final-year assignment at Uni, depicts his Chinese grandmother who had a stroke, became insane and was later put into a nursing home.

“Before she went away, she’d go round the house at night, screaming and trying to grab us. Each time it happened, my father would freeze and say, ‘just stand still.’  The idea of the project was to use humor in a controversial way. The overall piece is painful.  It might even seem disrespectful. But if you go through a life situation like that, you might understand.

“Sometimes humor is all you have,” says Kip, hastening to add that he loves his grandmother deeply.

Phew sounds taxing, doesn’t it? But, “No, it’s therapeutic actually, because in that two weeks, my grandma was put away, my best friend died and my swimming career (he was an Olympic hopeful), well, I couldn’t make it to the trials. It helped to get it out.”

That film led to 9 Fish, another film about his grandmother. Other works include Banana Split, Asian Studs Nightmare, Game of Death, Vicki 3:30, A Day at the Fair and Rice Cakes.

Of Chinese, English, Irish and Welsh extraction, Kip explores his own growing-up experiences through his award-winning, humorous, and ironic—not to mention cheaply-made —autobiographical stories.

Kip’s works have been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial Festival, the Singapore International Film Festival, the Sydney Film Festival and the World Wide Video Festival at The Hague.

They have also been aired on the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS), an independent educational TV network in the Untied States.

Among the awards he’s won are: Best narrative Short (1995, Los Angeles Asian-Pacific American Film Festival), Best of the Fest “Movies On A ShoeString”Award (1994 Rochester International Independent Film Festival), Best Local Filmmaker (1993 Santa Barbara International Film Festival), and 1st Place, Video (1991 Red River International Film and Video Festival).

Some list—how’s that for inspiration? But before you barrow dad’s video camera and begin your masterpiece, Kip has some words of advice: it is not going to be easy. He has learnt that such independent and outspoken explorations on film often end up under close scrutiny, not to mention heavy censorship.

But as the young man says, “It won’t happen unless things are changed.” Over to you, people.

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