Wednesday, May 22

UCLA alumni’s award-nominated documentaries to screen at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Courtesy of Christopher Woon
A still from UCLA alumnus Chistopher Woon's documentary "Among B-Boys," which follows a group of Hmong youth that turn to break dancing in Fresno.

Courtesy of Christopher Woon
A still from UCLA alumnus Chistopher Woon's documentary "Among B-Boys," which follows a group of Hmong youth that turn to break dancing in Fresno.

Courtesy of Christopher Woon

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest:
Through May 7
See for venues and ticket prices

Courtesy of Christopher Woon

Courtesy of Christopher Woon
In a still from Christopher Woon’s documentary “Among B-Boys,” Hmong youth living in Fresno take their break dancing moves to the stage.

First stop, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Next stop, Sundance.

Those are the high hopes of alumnus Christopher Woon, whose documentary titled “Among B-Boys” will debut as an award nominee at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, which starts today.

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, created by Visual Communications, the Asian Pacific American media arts center, will feature 180 documentaries and films, including an opening night screening of “Fast Five,” the latest movie in the “Fast and Furious” series, directed by Justin Lin. The film celebration will also feature special events such as a short film screening by YouTube’s well-known filmmaking group Wong Fu Productions.

Woon, who is currently a student in UCLA’s Asian American studies master’s program, said his internship with Visual Communications’ Armed With a Camera fellowship jump-started his dreams of filmmaking.

“I have a pretty deep connection with Visual Communications; they were my second family at UCLA. It became a spark, and I wanted to premiere (a film) at this festival,” Woon said.

His 58-minute documentary, “Among B-Boys,” tells the story of the Hmong youth community in Fresno and how they become involved with break dancing. Woon said he became inspired by this topic during his time as an undergraduate at UCLA because one of his roommates was a B-Boy, a break dancer who battled other B-Boys, and he was immersed in hip-hop culture.

“I was kind of thirsting for stories about Asian Americans doing hip-hop,” Woon said. “There weren’t a lot of Asian Americans involved in hip-hop on a visible level, so I wanted to bring visibility to what they were involved with.”

Woon also said that although the film is about break dancing in the Hmong community, he finds that learning more about the break dancers’ motivations is more inspiring.

“Even though the film is about B-Boying, it’s more about their stories and motivations. There’s always a story. We shoot and shoot, but you have to figure out what resonates with other people,” Woon said.

Alumna Mina T. Son, who also interned with the Armed With a Camera fellowship in 2007, said the festival gave her a good start in documentary filmmaking. Her documentary, “Top Spin,” also an award nominee, follows a week in the life of 14-year-old pingpong champion Ariel Hsing.

Son, who graduated from UCLA in 2002 and is currently a master’s candidate in documentary film and video at Stanford University, said she didn’t grow up thinking she was going to be a film director. It wasn’t until her experience as a full-time caregiver to her mother, resulting in her documentary “In My Home,” which prompted her to continue making films.

“Interestingly enough, coming back home and living with my parents, I didn’t have to worry about money and other concerns,” Son said. “I had free time on my hands, and naturally I felt more inclined to be more creative. … (I) borrowed a friend’s video camera and made my first short documentary … which led me to where I am today.”

Son also said one of the challenges of documentaries is that you never know what’s going to happen because it’s not scripted.

“We’ll learn about our characters and learn about their stories, … sometimes things don’t go as planned, but sometimes those situations are what make your film turn into these really wonderful themes,” Son said.

Sara Newens, Son’s co-director for “Top Spin,” said working with Son was not difficult because of their similar approach to making films.

“Fortunately, Mina and I just fit together so well from the get go. We are much more interested in letting things unfold naturally instead of directing people heavily,” Newens said. “We like to be a little more incognito, but also we bring out each other’s strengths. It felt like a match made in heaven.”

Woon said he found that even though his film didn’t match the high-quality technology other films in the festival used, he is still proud of his film and excited for his documentary’s world premiere.

“I didn’t have a whole crew. I didn’t have a high-definition camera,” Woon said. “I do feel nervous, but I’m excited. This has been something that has been really close to me. It wasn’t life or death, but it’s something so closely associated with my identity. It feels great to say I’m done.”

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