Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Trinity Square Video: ICON

This Thursday, TSV is screening their commissioned program, ICON. Participants have chosen such icons as Werner Hertzog, Astroboy, the fictional Quebecois singer Marie-Minou Miaou Miaou and actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Here's the info. Come on out !

TSV Themed Commissioned Program: ICON
THURSDAY JUNE 5th, 8:00pm
The Theatre Centre
100-1087 Queen Street West (at Dovercourt St.)
Toronto ON
Admission: members $6 / non-members $8

Here is a conversation between TSV filmmakers Jeff Tran and Aram Siu Wai Collier about their films.

Face Off! Jeffrey Tran and Aram Siu Wai Collier

AC: Your video deals largely with the work of Tezuka Osamu, can you speak about the trajectory of his animation and career that intrigued you so much for this project.

JT: I think what really fascinated me about him is how he is considered the 'godfather of manga' . He created Astro Boy at a time when Japan was still recovering after World War II and he experienced hands on what it was like living in a world occupied by strange foreigners. People were looking to try to stay optimistic and look forward to the future, and Astro Boy represented this. In particular he was also the one who popularized the 'doll eyed' style that is in Japanese manga and anime, which was a direct influence from American cartoons. Tezuka Osamu from what I've read about him while primarily a manga artist, he was obsessed with animation and dreamed of venturing into the art, which he did through Astro Boy. With Walt Disney's early films he would apparently watch them countless times over. He actually reproduced Bambi, shot by shot into illustrated form (and reproduced and sold! a la doujinshi), as a way of copying to learn. His place as the creator of many standards in manga and the anime industry today, as well as his being a sort of bridge between Japan and America through style and art makes him so interesting to me.

AC: Your video is kind of an animated animation, please talk about the processes you employed in making this video.

JT: I use a lot of photographs of people and footage of post World War II Japan. I wanted to experiment with the footage and cut it out, stylize and animate some elements from it. For my last animation I worked on 'Dundas n' Bathurst' a lot of footage was taken and reconstructed the street and daily life but in a sort of exaggerated reality. I've incorporated some of those stylistic elements into this one. I would use After Effects to animate some of the simple movements, and when I wanted something more, they would be brought into 3d software and rigged so that I could animate them and move through 3d space. For one sequence I remodeled Astro Boy in 3d since I wanted Gene Kelly and Astro Boy to dance together.

AC: I believe the animation programs you were using take quite a bit of rendering, what is your favorite thing to do while rendering?

JT: Actually if a shot is busy rendering, I try to work on something else, like working in Photoshop for another asset for my film. But that's sometimes is not good 'cause I crash my computer if I try to do too much fancy stuff. Well other than that, I'm most likely on the net. Aren't we all now a days? Then, when all else fails, I doodle away.

AC: There seems to be quite a few Asian Canadian animators (Lillian Chan, Howie Shia, Jonathan Ng, Ann Marie Fleming) what's up with that? Is there some Asian animation chromosome?

JT: Yeah those artists are people I greatly admire and respect for working in the field of animation when most times there's the stereotype of Asian parents wanting kids to do something that is 'secure', and respectable. I think this generation of Asian Canadian artists is having a fortunate position of exploring a rich influence of traditional Asian and Canadian culture. Growing up on wacky Saturday morning cartoons, but also making sure to be respectful, humble and quiet. I think we're repressed! Maybe it's a form of rebellion against tradition and what's deemed accepted as an Asian. I'm not always thinking about my Asian background while pursuing artistic endeavors but I think it definitely is part of my identity as an Asian Canadian artist and I embrace it. Or maybe it's a thought in us thinking, hey how come there isn't any more Asian work out there? I wish there was something that I can identify with more! How can I make it true? I know! I'll make some myself!

AC: what kind of animation did you grow up on? Did/do you identify or even simply respond differently to animation from Asia than the Disney dominance of North America?

JT: I'm part of the generation who watched Transformers, Popples, Care Bears, Smurfs, anything that was a toy first before a toon! I think the turning point for me was watching 'the fist of the north star' for the first time... you know what I mean, it's like you're traumatized for life... but in a good way. LOL. It was a toon.. but then there's blood.. they're bleeding! Death! I think that summed it up for me one of the differences between American animation and anime. Or even manga and western comics. They're pretty much parallel each other. I think both industries have a lot of genres that you can enjoy. It's just that in Japan specifically all of them are more widely accepted. While I was growing up in grade school I loved superheroes, and I got sick of the Disney musicals, and deemed them childish, that's when my friend showed me some Dragonball Z manga, and discovered they had a cartoon of it. The way they showed all the crazy speed lines, and super powers I found out to be crazy exciting and full of action. And the visuals were something I had never seen in American animation, the designs and style was that much more diverse at the time. But I notice things are changing slowly, as seen in the success of the Incredibles but it's not quite there yet. I feel as this generation grows up we're going to be able to make more sophisticated animation and the audience will mature to provide a plausible market for it. That's exactly how anime and manga is so accepted in Japan right now, as older generations maintain that love for the art, but the stories are more sophisticated. Hopefully it will keep moving in that direction from now on.

JT: How did the idea of using Lou Diamond Phillips as your subject for Icon come about?

AC: This video has been a long time coming for me. It started when my mom rented La Bamba for us since she grew up when Ritchie Valens, who was the first Mexican American “crossover” pop star in the 1950’s. That was the first time I saw Lou Diamond Phillips and it was a breakout role for him. Then there was Stand and Deliver where he also played a Mexican American, which was followed by the Young Guns movies. My sisters and I were like, “wow he plays all these different roles!” and then we found out that he was part Asian and we became real fans, even though he never played Asian people. As I got older I began to think about what it meant for him to be a mixed race person playing all these different ethnicities, especially because as he notes in the Young Guns commentary that “I’m not Latino in the least”. That his breakout roles were ones where he played Mexican Americans and he wasn’t of that heritage raised questions of authenticity and ethnicity and how we see and imagine people who look like they could be anything. I mean, as a mixed race person with no Mexican heritage, does he have a right to play Ritchie Valens? When they were casting for Selena the producers got flak from some for casting Jennifer Lopez because she’s Puerto Rican and not Chicano. On the flipside, what options does an ambiguous actor have? Does it mean that he could only play someone who is mixed or relegated to “color-blind” roles, which to me always seem incongruous. These were all questions I had on my mind while working on this and that I hope my video helps raise, though it’s maybe not explicit in the work.

JT: One scene you brilliantly have LDP in a very tense moment holding a gun...at himself. Could you explain the process and the choices in creating these scenes and as well in the video's overall narrative?

AC: The process started by researching all of LDP’s films and noting which ethnicities he played in each. From there I limited the films to a period between the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s because this was when he was getting leading roles as ethnic characters. There were some films I had never seen that provided great material. In particular were two films shot in Canada; Shadow of the Wolf was a Canadian film where LDP plays an Inuit man (and Jennifer Tilly is his love interest and Toshiro Mifune plays his dad!) and the second surprise was Boulevard where he plays a pimp named “Hassan”… This was the first found footage film I’ve done so the video’s narrative was something I struggled with quite a bit. I knew I could construct scenes that kind of worked in themselves—matching action and movements of scenes across different films; I found this easiest with action scenes. But in the end I only had individual scenes. So I took a step back and looked at the plot devices that kept arising in the films I was using and there was a recurring theme of dreams and nightmares nearly across every film. I think this is because “ethnic people” are often portrayed to be more spiritual—like some kind of “spidey sense”. So that’s a theme I went with; it’s a story of an internal struggle, about self-hate and learning to love oneself.

JT: Initially editing for film was done by hand, scissors and tape. Now that technology has advanced, are you extremely happy editing with computers? Any secret thoughts of making an 'homage' of the traditional process?

AC: I’ve made exactly one film and even that I cut on Final Cut pro. Its usually been a cost consideration– and fear! It would be a lot of fun and would like to do it someday, more for the experience of working with the medium than anything else. I do enjoy working on computers quite a bit, except that I can’t help but get distracted sometimes.

JT: Do you feel working 'behind the camera' in any form is the only way for Asians to present Asians in more diverse genres to wider audiences?

AC: I would generally agree with that. I was reminded of this when watching La Bamba over and over again while working on my video. La Bamba was written and directed by Luis Valdez, a Chicano director who grew up in the same era as Ritchie Valens, and that film really hit on issues of being a person of color in America in the 1950’s. It’s quite nuanced with its portrayals and I’m not sure it would have been as much if it were directed by someone not from that community and that experience. Same thing goes for Asians in media. However, I don’t think it means everybody should go out and make a movie. It’s more important to be an active and conscientious viewer of what we see, what stories are told and not to settle for the same old stereotypes and most importantly is to

JT: Like LDP, you are also of a mixed heritage of Asian and European living raised in America, and now you reside in Canada. What is the most unique guess people give you of your nationality?

AC: Its strange, it really changes wherever you are. I noticed since I got here that people generally don’t ask or guess as much as they do in the states. I noticed that on a recent trip to Chicago where it seemed like I was getting asked what I was everywhere -- even at a urinal at a Karaoke club! But I think that’s just because Americans are a little more forthright. A lot of the time people’s guesses are contextual; I volunteered for Imaginenative festival and I was one of the people to greet festival guests at the airport and at least half of the people coming in thought I was Native. The most outrageous was when I was in university and looking to rent a place off campus and the woman who was renting the place asked me if my dad was part of the military and if he was based in the middle east! But again it’s contextual since my first name is Armenian. But I’ve gotten a lot of different guesses from all kinds of people and then you realize most people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Jeffrey Tran is an artist and filmmaker from Toronto, Canada. He received a Fine Arts degree at the University of Waterloo in traditional art and computer studies. Upon graduating from Computer Animation at Sheridan, he completed the short Dundas n' Bathurst (07) where it won top honors at the Toronto Urban Film Festival. Passionate in exploring the combinations of computer technology, the arts, and film, he enjoys taking a 'tongue in cheek' view on the many social and cultural issues present in today’s society many of his works. He is now currently working as an animator at C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures in Toronto.

Aram Siu Wai Collier is Chinese & English/Dutch, born and raised in San Francisco where he studied film, was a community organizer and worked in independent documentary production. He is now a Toronto based filmmaker, editor, and film festival freelancer. In Fall 2008, he will begin pursuing an MFA in film production at York University in Toronto.