06.18.03 - This Friday, Eric Byler's award-winning film "Charlotte Sometimes" opens on five screens in Los Angeles. As the highest profile Asian American feature to hit screens in the wake of Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow," "Charlotte" has garnered high praise and generated constant controversy. And actress Jacqueline Kim, nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her work in the film, has stood by "Charlotte" every step of the way, traveling to festivals around the country, speaking at events and Q&A sessions, and helping promote its theatrical runs in San Francisco and Chicago.
AsianAmericanFilm.com caught up with Jacqueline in the calm before the storm of the Los Angeles premiere.
AAF You're working so hard - what motivates you to keep traveling around the country doing these interviews and working these events?
JK The whole other side of making something is seeing who really sees it and what it is they're seeing. At Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, Jeff Lipsky recently said filmmaking is about three mountains. The first is getting it made, the second is getting it distributed, and the third is finding an audience. I don't know that we've found our audience yet. I'd like to know who voluntarily comes out to the film and probably more importantly whom it resonates with.
I know that in all the press about "Charlotte Sometimes," it's a David and Goliath story about how this tiny micro-budgeted movie got where it got. And it got there on the shoulders of a few individuals, festival programmers and critics, but I'm still interested in knowing what segments of the audience out there it might awaken or speak to.
AAF Who do you think that audience is?
JK I don't ever want to be presumptuous about who that is, but I have a deep feeling it's people who have had some kind of marginalization which has occurred to them - which includes many many many people - but who are still trying to make their way in society despite all the misconceptions about them.
AAF Do you think that essentially comes down to race?
JK I think race is included. I think sex is included. But I'm also thinking about self-described loners, self-described outsiders. I think there are many of them in the Asian American population and many in the artistic community as well. I came up with a definition of art recently which made me laugh which is "creative sadness." (Jacqueline laughs.) That probably says something about me.
AAF So what can an audience expect to get from the movie?
JK I just think Eric wants to put the camera on the internal moments right before you say something, right after you've said something. I think he's very aware that how we represent ourselves is not how we are. That may be an Asian American thing but it applies to other people as well. And I don't want to brand Asian people either.
Almost every [non-Asian] American person I meet asks me where I come from. And at almost every Asian gathering I go to - family gatherings or places where Asian nationals are - I'm singled out immediately as being non-Asian. Monica Truong recently wrote about this in her book that ever since she was little she knew she didn't fit in. And I knew that as well, particularly as my family progressed in terms of class. And ever since then I've been playing with what's a disguise, what to use as a disguise, ways to fit in. But always knowing inside that in some way these are adaptations of who I am.
Before I even speak I'm going to use the right cues, the right symbols so that you know you can relate to me even if you don't relate to my face. All the while realizing that I have to be mindful of those cues at the same time. Eric thinks that that's what it takes to be a good artist. That adaptation, that very necessity I've felt as an Asian American, is what he feels is essential to a great artist, knowing how to translate, how to communicate with many different kinds of people.
AAF "Charlotte Sometimes" is essentially a movie about sex and love and the complicated way people deal with the two. But you've said that mainstream press often only wants to talk about the racial aspects of the film. Care to comment?
JK Our new goal is to talk to people about the film and not feel like... I'll put it this way: We only want to talk about stereotypes so we can explain to people that we don't want to talk about stereotypes anymore.
Any time you put a camera on a different race, it's already a political act. But what comes after that is completely up to the artist. And in this day and age one has to be incredibly articulate about it and take a stand. But so much of art is irrational. It's such hard work. You have to just care about it in your gut, in your membrane, in a place you can't really articulate.
AAF But at the same time, audiences seem hungry to debate the racial politics of the film.
JK Eric has had to defend the fact that he's half Asian in order to legitimize the fact that he wanted to put his camera on Asian American people... But I think what he's being challenged on the most is the fact that as a young filmmaker he's doing something that's not very typical. He's choosing to shed light on the weaknesses of people, of Asian Americans, in possibly volatile romantic situations.
AAF And people don't know how to respond to that?
JK No, I think a lot of people respond to it. People talk to me about how incredibly smart the film is. But there's something about it... There's something about Eric, when you get to know him, there's something about him that cannot deny the truth.
The beautiful thing about Eric is that whatever's happening in the room, he'll just say it. He'll just whisper it to me. And that's kind of what his camera's doing.
AAF How did that sensibility translate into the experience of making the film?
JK He said to me the other day, "Here you have all this machinery and all these people who hardly know each other and nothing about this experience is truly organic. Except for the fact that the two actors who are interacting are really interacting..." He mines that interaction and tries to make it as truthful as possible.
AAF Has working with that kind of director spoiled you?
JK Maybe it has, but I think more than anything it's opened my eyes to the work I care about. I'm about to become a filmmaker (knock on a big chunk of wood), and it's opened my eyes to what's possible if you're sincere. And on the the other hand it's opened my eyes to how bloody hard it is.
But just like when I was little and we used to make shit up in the basement, choreographing "South Pacific"... (Jacqueline laughs.) It requires that same imagination and boldness and lack of self consciousness and access to what really grooved you. And that's what was true in "Charlotte," along with the guerilla crew and guerilla hours. None of that spoiled me. It opened my eyes to the fact that it's possible. If you're willing to earn less or only what you need.
AAF In terms of money?
JK In terms of money; in terms of everything. Isn't everything in movie a favor? Just ask for that little bit you need. And then survive.
AAF You're about to become a filmmaker? Tell us a bit about your new project.
JK I've written a feature, finished the working draft about a month ago, and am just now trying to find a creative partner. It's my first piece [as a writer] for film. I initially wrote it to act in it, but somewhere along the line in the last two and a half years I realized that in order to realize everything I'd written, I needed to direct it. Because isn't a screeenplay just a base, just a blueprint? In order to get it up there I would have to... not only would I have to but I would love to direct it.
AAF And what's it about?
JK It's one night in a girl's life as she's trying to figure out whether she wants to stick around or not.