By Nien-chen Lin
On a bright and sunny afternoon in late July I had the chance to talk to one of LACFF’s co-founders, Claire Danju Yu, in West Hollywood-a Los Angeles neighborhood filled with dreamers and artists. I came to know Claire soon after I moved to LA this June. One of my filmmaker friends told me there was a couple young Chinese intellectuals organizing a film festival this November and they were looking for a few more film enthusiasts. Captured by a few keywords like young Chinese filmmakers, independent film, and film festival, I decided to join one of their weekly meetings and met her in person.
You can tell from the ways she talks and fixates on the agenda that Claire is bright and highly organized. She is the master of multi-tasking and able to pick up every unfinished and interrupted conversation with anyone. But what separates her from the others is her academic background: a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies who concentrates on romantic drama in Cold War Taiwan who uses her strength in film analysis towards the formation of 2017 Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival.
Excited by the opportunity to get to know her better and to trace back to the very origin of this film festival, we sat down to have this conversation. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
Nien-chen Lin: Hi Claire, can you introduce yourself and describe your duty at the festival in one or two sentences?
Danju Claire Yu: My name is Claire Yu and I am the co-founder of LACFF. My job is to oversee Marketing/PR and the Production team to ensure the film festival runs smoothly with great turnout.
NL: What is LACFF?
CY: LACFF stands for the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival. LACFF is a fun, vibrant film festival that showcases alternative, diverse and challenging perspectives. It is also a platform for young and new-generation filmmakers to find their spotlight in Hollywood, the center of film industry.
NL: What does your position entail?
CY: My job is to ensure the film festival takes off smoothly. For the moment, we have four departments: Programming, Operation, PR/Marketing, and Production. Right now I oversee two departments: PR/Marketing and the Production team. My job is to lead communication within the teams so I am always in close contact with the directors of PR/Marketing and Production teams respectively to make sure all ourmembers are up to speed and know what’s going on.
In the near future I will also help to raise funds, recruit members, and find venues for the film festival and the organization, etc.
NL: How do you keep track of the progresses of each team?
CY: We do a lot of meetings via phone, Wechat or in person. We are also considering using some apps to facilitate this process in the future. Right now we have weekly meetings with the teams and daily meetings with the directors of each team and the founder. I also attend all the meetings in Marketing and Production teams.
NL: What are the main challenges that you and your team leaders are facing right now?
CY: At this point, the biggest challenge is recruiting people from different backgrounds. We have a lot of directors, producers and designers joining our team, which is fabulous, but to run an organization smoothly we need people with business backgrounds as well. We are still looking for talents from PR, marketing, finance, etc. If you are interested… contact us!
NL: What brought you to found the 2017 LACFF?
CY: We started LACFF in July, 2017, but Lewis (Claire’s co-founder) and I had been talking about about film festival since we first met last year. I met Lewis when I was volunteering for the Asia Society a while back and we worked closely for a couple of days. As we started to talk to each other and figure out what we want to do in our future we realized we had mutual interests in film—not just film making but also curating and leading conversations among filmmakers. That’s when we started to think about the possibility of organizing a film festival together. Since then I have become friends with him and his girlfriend, Liz. We often talk about what we like about films and what we see in the film festival scenes in LA. Despite the amount of film activities in LA, we both agree that most of them are really profit-oriented and highly commercialized, which makes it really difficult for young and new-generation foreign filmmakers to showcase their films in LA and for Hollywood film studios to find overseas talent. But this idea was little bit daunting because film festivals costs a lot of money. It is also a huge task to collaborate with so many people. It just seemed daunting when we talked about it last year.
This year in June I was finishing up with my other internship and then Lewis and I started to talk about what we could do and he said we had to start this festival. It’s now or never!
So we started to talk about all the details on June 1, and a month later we had about 10 to 15 people joining us. Then in three weeks, around July 20th, we had over 200 submissions already. Everything happened so fast! From June 1 to where we are now, it’s only been a month and a half. It’s fabulous.
This is why we started LACFF. We want this to be a film festival that showcases a variety of Chinese-language films from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. We also hope this film festival becomes a platform to help Hollywood studios find their talents.
NL: How do you incorporate your experience in academia into a film festival?
CY: My background is as a PhD candidate of cultural studies. My experience in academia really influence the way Lewis and I think and talk about films. When I first arrived in LA, I met a lot of directors and producers but it really got me thinking what about the people in academia? What are our roles in film festivals?
I am passionate about films, not so much about making film but talking and learning about film. Because of my passion, I know a lot of people in academia who are also interested in writing, talking and evaluating films and it was my relationships with these people that helped me craft a new idea of Chinese Film Festival.
NL: How does the training of cultural studies influence your role as a festival director?
CY: As a film festival curator, we are thinking about ways to incorporate different people'sopinions and perspectives about what Chinese Cinema could be. Instead of just focusing on a China-centered festival, we are trying to incorporate different perspectives about the nature of Chinese ethnicity, Chinese dialect and Chinese language. What are other ways we could think about these things?
When we founded the film festival, we want to make a difference. And this difference begins with this idea that we not only want to showcase films, we also want to curate a series of films that revolutionize the definition of Chinese Cinema. We hope to create a platform to give voices to different kinds of Chinese-language films: we want to showcase films concerning LGBT and political issues; we want to curate Chinese-language films from different areas such as Singapore, Malaysia and even Australia; we want to screen films that might be hard to see in mainland China and we want to discover new and young talents and give them the spotlight.
NL: In this era, how should we think about the definition of Chinese Cinema?
CY: The term Chinese Cinema comes out a lot in East-Asian studies in the states. There are a lot of different definitions of Chinese Cinema, some focus on national identity, Hua ethnicity and Chinese language cinema. There’s also Sinophone Cinema, which takes a step further and thinks about the power dynamic within such influence. . So there are a lot of different ways to think about what Chinese Cinema is. For me, I do not want to provide a definitive answer to this, instead, I want our films to try to challenge the held idea of what it means to be Chinese, and try to see other possibilities of what a Chinese film festival could be.
NL: Isn’t it interesting and important to you to have Chinese American filmmakers incorporate this definition? How do their films contribute to this definition, right?
CY: Definitely, we are hoping to get films from Chinese Americans so we can see what their definition of Chinese-language films is. How does their overseas experience influence the ways they look at this cultural background?
NL: Do you have any suggestions for those who are also interested in organizing film festivals?
CY: I am totally new in this so I don’t know if I can offer a good advice, but like any other organization, the key word is collaboration. You need respect and the heart to work with other people to make a film festival successful. We move forward together as a group and everyone in the team is like part of a family. If we take care of each other, we together, can make this film festival the best one ever!
Proofreading editor: Alex Shifman