Thank you and welcome to guest blogger Kai-Duc Luong.
Kai has lived in the US for the last 11 years, 10 of them working in corporate America. He left the corporate side to fully pursue his dream of being a filmmaker a year or so ago, to devote his attention to finishing the feature-length documentary he co-directed with Avishe Mohsenin. Their website describes the film, which debuted at the Asian American Showcase at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago last April, as:
Part musical documentary, part personal meditation, Someplace Else is the engaging portrait of a soul-blues-funk musician (Vance Kelly and his Backstreet Blues Band) from the South Side of Chicago through the director’s personal film journal.
Weaving the narrative, photographic and lyrical content of the music in an unconventional and rhythmic way, this feature debut transforms the visual experience of a documentary into a fresh captivating journey of many facets.
Kai’s mom managed to escape from Cambodia’s Killing Fields to France with Kai, then 1, and his siblings, then 3 and 4. Kai’s father escaped his torturers twice, thanks to his mom taking Kai with her to see the torturers and asking them to spare his life. He died after crossing the Cambodese-Vietnamese border from exhaustion and disease that ensued from the long journey out of Cambodia. (Many of his uncles, aunts, and cousins weren’t that fortunate and died quickly after the invasion in April 1975.) “Someday I will tell the story of my mom when I can afford a full fledged production because I feel her story like many others is part of our human heritage.”
Here are Kai’s thoughts on interculturalism and cultural identity:
Intercultural themes are definitely part of what I’m interested in, as you may have noticed “Someplace Else” includes a wide array of ethnicities, from the filmmakers being Asians (I was born in Cambodia of Chinese descent, lived in France before emigrating to the US. My co-director is Iranian born in France, lived in Iran before coming to the US around the same time as myself) to the lead and his band being African-American, the club owners quite a few of Italian descent, and all the fans/interviewees spanning the wide interracial spectrum of various genders and ages.
As an Asian, I’ve faced many difficulties often overlooked, as the media often portray things as white vs. black and tend to trivialize it that way… things are changing with the word brown coming in the spotlight in recent years… and also Muslims and yellow also taking some kind of acknowledgement these days in political speeches for instance, those of our dear Illinois junior senator.
One of the things that I’m interested in these days is that there are more and more people of multi-ethnic or multiple-country backgrounds that transcend this white vs. black vs. brown vs. yellow classification or just the simple notion of Diaspora and immigration from one country and the sense of being just say American, or just French for instance. What also is interesting is that there are also many hurdles for these populations to overcome as a result of this… a search for identity and roots that isn’t as easily defined as in the past.
And even in Europe, I was dating this wonderful person who was of multiple country-backgrounds within Europe being Czech-French-Swiss born in Austria, and she told me it was hard for her to define really where she came from and say for instance that she was from this country or another, or had this culture more than the other. Ditto for me, I can’t really say I’m Chinese since I never lived there, nor did I fully embrace its traditions having lived in France ever since I was 1-year old and absorbed the model of integration most known over there for its desire to remove any cultural heritage other than that of being French as in being white French, nor can I say I’m Cambodese because my only attachment to Cambodia was that it’s the country I was born in and had to escape because of Pol Pot. People in Paris then would call me Americanized, whilst here in America, people would have a hard time understanding that I’m French… They would say “But you’re Chinese!”… Deep down inside, I don’t know… I know I value some traits of my Chinese heritage (not all), some from my French upbringing, and some from my American adulthood experiences… not a single one is better than the other in globality, or inherently. Some say I should fully embrace my Chinese look, but I don’t always value the cultural standards in traditional Chinese families, and I’m more westernized for that matter.
The next screening of the Someplace Else is at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, August 5-10, 2008.