AAIFF Panel—Women in Film: on the screen and behind the camera

The Asian American International Film Festival is running between July 25th – August 4th and one of the first events was a panel talking about women in film. Gathered together were four female Asian directors who discussed their experiences in creating their films, as well as their views on how women are navigating in the male-dominated film industry. The event was moderated by Casper Wong and the panelists included two emerging and two more experienced filmmakers: Justin Suh, SJ Son, Alexandra Cuerdo, and Zorinah Juan.

In recent USC graduate Justin Suh’s documentary “Rise & Shine: A Story About Breakfast Makers”, she quietly sits as a fly on the wall whilst capturing the conflicts and cultures in four diverse families through how they make breakfast each morning.

SJ Son brings her improvisation comedy, and sketch comedy writing experiences to “Soojung Dreams of Fiji”—a documentary satire about a nail salon owner who perfects her craft to an art form.

Alexandra Cuerdo digs into Filipino cuisine for her documentary feature “Ulam: Main Dish” to share her findings about the Filipino food movement that is happening across American dining tables.

Zorinah Juan directs “When We Grow Up”—a narrative feature, developed by an entirely female crew, about an interracial family that is brought closer together due to an unexpected event.

One of the main issues that was brought up, was the importance of having strong support from each other. Asian culture is such that many families bring up their children to believe that they must only rely on themselves, keep their heads down, and focus on their own work. However, film is a collaborative art form by nature, so how do you make a film relying solely on yourself? It is next to impossible.

Ideally, women should help build each other up through encouraging more collaborations that include women. Young men at Sundance are meeting with Studio Executives, but women are not fairing as well. Getting the foot in the door as a woman and as an Asian woman in particular is difficult. However, the panelists discussed that there have been multiple instances where women who are in higher positions of authority have rejected them. This is because that woman would feel like she is ‘sticking her neck out’ and risking her team’s trust in her because she would be speaking up for a ‘female project’. Once again, this speaks for how separation makes us weaker and inhibits the potential growth we could all have if only we helped one another more. One of many relevant Chinese sayings is: “一根筷子容易折,一把筷子难折断”, which uses chopsticks as a metaphor to explain that the strength of one is limited, but against a pack unstoppable.

When asked whether the women felt changes in the film industry in recent years, the audience expected the women to say ‘yes, absolutely’. Instead, the filmmakers looked hesitant and paused for a long while, looking at each other with uncomfortable expressions. Eventually, they agreed that there have been ‘some’ differences. Now, women are believed and not brushed aside for being ‘too sensitive’. They have been called ‘dear’ and ‘darling’ less, and been called by their names more. Juan mentioned that in two previous projects she worked on, there were mandatory sexual harassment workshops. Most importantly, the coalitions between women are becoming stronger.

In this male-dominated industry, the panelists voiced that it is important for women to stop asking for permission and acting as though they don’t belong. Women must say yes to themselves first.

© Katusha Jin (7/29/18) FF2 Media

From left to right: Justin Suh, SJ Son, Zorinah Juan, Alexandra Cuerdo, Casper Wong
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Katusha Jin joined FF2 Media’s team in 2017 whilst she was still a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2019 she was the recipient of SCMP’s journalism scholarship and studied under the mentorship of an Oscar award-winning documentary director in Hong Kong. She went on to receive her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong where she graduated with distinction. Katusha has previously worked in the advertising industry, and when she is not writing for FF2 Media, she can be found working on films as a director, producer, and writer. As a trilingual filmmaker, her experiences have cultivated an interest in the intersection between cultural diversity and creativity, and she brings that to her work both as a creative and as a critic. She is also a voice-over hobbyist, a fitness enthusiast, a student of comedy, and is always on the lookout for musical and theatrical collaborations.
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