February’s featured films on the X1 Asian American destination include “Cliff, Superfan,” directed and produced by Diane Quon. We got the chance to speak with Diane about the inspiration behind this documentary and her journey as an Asian American filmmaker.
Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!
Diane Quon: My daughters were student-athletes at Stanford—which is how I met Cliff, the main character in my film. I would see him at every game and often hear fans in the stands ask each other, “Who is Cliff? What’s his story?” After knowing him for six years, I finally decided to take the time to find out more about the man who is known as Stanford’s “Superfan” and found a fascinating, complicated man. In 2014, I was asked to present an idea in my documentary film class. I knew Cliff’s story was the one I wanted to share.
How did you get into filmmaking?
DQ: I had worked in L.A. in marketing at NBC and Paramount for 17 years. I moved back to my hometown of Chicago to raise my four children and always had it in my head that one day when my kids were off to college, I would produce my own films. But my life changed forever when I lost my son in 2009. After many years, I finally felt inspired in honor of my son to pursue my dream. I decided to work in docs, as I thought if I was going to make films, I wanted to make films that make a difference.
What are some films that have inspired you?
DQ: Some of the films that have inspired me are: “Treeless Mountain” by So Yong Kim, “Lady Bird,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno,” “Moonlight.” I love stories that are simple and subtle, but keep you thinking for days and even years later. After making this list, I realize that films about family really inspire me.
Do you have a favorite Asian American film?
DQ: I have many favorite films directed by Asian American filmmakers: “In the Family” by Patrick Wang, “The Birth of Sake,” “The Wedding Banquet,” “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” “Cutie and the Boxer.” And I loved the documentary, which— although wasn’t directed by an Asian American director—is about an inspiring Asian Amercian family: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.”
How does your Asian heritage influence your work?
DQ: When it comes to choosing what stories to tell, I am drawn to telling stories that really move me—not so much because it is an Asian story. Cliff happened to be Asian, but being Asian wasn’t what drew me to his story. The same for the newest documentary I produced, “Minding the Gap.” I was drawn to the director’s powerful story—the director, Bing Liu, just happened to be Asian.
On the fiction side, however, my Asian heritage influences my work much more. I have purposely looked for films that will create opportunities for Asians in front of and behind the camera.
What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?
DQ: I am trying to be optimistic. During the year of #oscarssowhite, I remember watching the opening montage of films during the Oscars and feeling so discouraged not to see any Asian faces. How could Asians even hope to be nominated when we weren’t even getting roles?
I was inspired by Roosevelt’s words to get “in the arena.” I realize change has to start with each of us—we can’t wait around for others to give Asians opportunities. So I took the leap and optioned a book to make into a fiction film that will feature Asians as leads and as a director. I know it will not be easy, but at least I know I had tried.
What’s next for you?
DQ: I produced a Kartemquin documentary, “Minding the Gap,” by talented first-time filmmaker Bing Liu, which premiered this January at Sundance! I am also producing two additional Kartemquin documentaries—one is in post-production and the other in production.
Finally, I optioned a New York Times best-selling book, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” It’s in development and my first fiction film. As I mentioned, I know it won’t be easy to produce since the story features Asians as leads. My hope is to show that a film about Asian Americans can be successful and appeal to a broad audience.
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