Filmmaker Spotlight: Jim Choi

 Jim Choi is the director of “Changing Season.” The film will be featured on the X1 Asian American destination in May for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We had the pleasure of asking Jim what inspired his filmmaking journey and how his Korean American heritage influences his work.

Photo: Jim Choi

 

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!

Jim Choi:Changing Season” is about what it means to pass a family legacy on to the next generation. The Masumotos are a family that embodies the idea of people of color in sites of struggle. They are three generations of peach farmers in California’s central valley, who have been interrupted by the forced disenfranchisement and incarceration of legal residents of Japanese descent by the signing of Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 at the start of WWII. We witness Nikiko, a queer, mixed-race woman, come to terms with returning to the farm and negotiating her place in the familial ascension.

How did you get into filmmaking?

JC: I come from the studio art discipline. Being a painting major, it felt more facile to be able to tell a story in millions of frames rather than the one frame of a canvas. What I lacked in art school were ethnic studies. Discovering the Center for Asian American Media allowed me to build my own Asian American studies curriculum. Documentary as a medium is a way to strip away the necessity for creating artifice. There isn’t the requirement to create a convincing suspension of disbelief and audiences can connect with a character with a sense of authenticity.

What are some films and/or filmmakers that have inspired you?

JC: Chris Marker’s “San Soleil,” has been a great influence on how I think about a film, but I must admit that I have not really emulated his style of filmmaking. John Else has been a constant hero for a lot of documentary makers—not only for his filmmaking but also for an example of what it looks like to make a living as a filmmaker. Inspiration really comes from our subjects, those who have the courage to reveal their vulnerable selves to the world.

Photo: Jim Choi

 

Do you have a favorite Asian American film?

JC: Living on Tokyo Time by Stephen Okazaki is my all time favorite Asian American narrative. That film invented and showcased hipsterism before it was hip. My favorite Asian American documentary is “Who Killed Vincent Chin” by Renee Tajima-Peña and Christine Choy. A film that really holds up even now in the midst of current social movements and really defined a whole generation of Asian American activists. One must mention Curtis Choy’s “Dupont Guy: The Schiz of Grant Avenue,” a film that—like”San Soleil” or Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers”—is a genre-blender of epic note.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

JC: Being an immigrant Korean American, my heritage speaks directly to my work in all my decisions. My choice of subjects, crew above and below the line, is measured by my ethnic heritage and how that implicates in a wider political context. We can only be the cipher of our own experiences and mine have definitely been that of an immigrant person of color in a country that was not always welcoming.

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

JC: Asian American cinema is a kind of amorphous thing. We don’t have a Spike Lee analog to give our field articulation. Clearly, our diversity is our best trait—Asian America itself is an amalgam of many different ethnicities with diverse perspectives. Mainstream acceptance of Asians in media is wider than ever before, but the field needs maturation beyond mainstreaming. It requires now an intersectional identity that uplifts our LGBT, Hapa and Women makers to have more agency. Ultimately the field will always reflect the community for better or worse.

What’s next for you?

JC: I am currently in post-production for a personal film I directed back in 2011. Its inception was a fascination with the idea of making a film about what I would perceive as the other, in my case a middle-aged white man. WC Moore was a former top 40 radio DJ turned pirate radio producer whose belief system includes the moon landing as a hoax and other deep conspiracies. It’s sort of a cross-country tour of significant conspiracy theory sites in the U.S. culminating in the yearly Conspiracy Convention in Santa Clara. As filmmakers, the advice is often given to always complete what one started because much can be learned through the process.

Photo: Jim Choi

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Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions,  Jim Choi! Watch “Changing Season” on the X1 Asian American destination or with Xfinity Stream this May for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

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For more Filmmaker Spotlights or Asian American news and entertainment visit Xfinity Asian American.