Four of director Tina Takemoto’s shorts are featuring in BFI Flare Film Festival. They focus on various aspects of queer Asian American identity. Here, she talks to us about the processes of creating her experimental pieces and the importance of supporting all women in film, particularly queer women of colour.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO DIRECTING?
TINA: I arrived at directing through my training as a painter and performance artist. Initially, I used video primarily as a mode of documentation or as an element of performance or installation. Over the past eight years, I have been creating works that were conceived as experimental films. The four films I am presenting for BFI Flare were all completed last year, after I became immersed in the amazing world of handmade and hand-processed 16mm filmmaking. These films explore a range of direct cinema techniques including painting, scratching, rubbing, and manipulating 16mm film leader as well as transferring imagery from found and archival sources using scotch tape, razor blades, and nail polish.
WHERE DID THE CONCEPTS OF THE STORIES COME FROM?
TINA: Broadly speaking, my work explores queer Asian American history and identity. It is often inspired by tiny historical traces of queerness or same-sex intimacy in the archive. For instance, On the Line was inspired by a butch gender nonconforming Japanese American immigrant who challenged men to sword fights and served meals to Japanese American women cannery workers in the 1930s. Other works, such as Wayward Emulsions and Sworded Love, involve working with found footage and “queering” a conventional romantic or kung fu storyline.
DID YOU COME ACROSS ANY OBSTACLES DURING THE MAKING OF THE FILMS? IF YES, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
TINA: In order the make Wayward Emulsions and Sworded Love, I spent ten hours a day for three months scraping nearly 4000 pieces of emulsion off of discarded reels of 35mm films and gluing them onto 8mm, Super8, and 16mm leader with nail polish. I had no idea what the footage would look like until I got my hands on some thrift store projectors. The next challenge was to find a place that could help me digitize the imagery so I could edit it. The Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles came to my rescue.
WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE EXPERIENCE OF MAKING THESE FILMS?
TINA: I love the labor intensive aspects of direct filmmaking. It allows me to spend hours and hours inventing new ways to manipulate and interact with the materiality of the imagery. My favorite part of the process is seeing the film run through the projector for the first time.
WHAT DO YOU THINK A SHORT, EXPERIMENTAL FORMAT OFFERS TO THE THEMES AND STORIES IN YOUR FILMS?
TINA: Experimental approaches to filmmaking allow me to explore the tactile and sensory dimensions of image making that can heighten the emotional quality of the material. Working with handmade processes also enables me to work with color in new ways and to incorporate a painterly quality that taps into my earlier artistic training.
WHAT DO YOU WANT THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR FILMS?
TINA: I hope that viewers can immerse themselves in the visual and sensory landscape of the films and can experience the queer, surprising, sometimes somber, and sometimes humorous dimensions of the work.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
TINA: I am currently completing an experimental film called May 35 commemorating the uprisings that occurred in China thirty years ago. I will also continue my work speculating about queer Japanese American wartime history.
ONLY 4% OF THE HIGHEST GROSSING FILMS IN THE PAST DECADE WERE DIRECTED BY WOMEN, BEING A FEMALE DIRECTOR CAN BE DISHEARTENING IN THIS ENVIRONMENT. WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE FOR ASPIRING FEMALE DIRECTORS OUT THERE?
TINA: These statistics are dismal. And, the stats for queer women directors of color are worse, but we do exist! I say, Be bold. Watch and support films by women, queers, and trans directors of color. Build community with women, queers, and trans directors of color. Support and hire women, queers, and trans people of color to work in front of and behind the camera during all aspects of production and post-production. Do so, and your journey as a director will certainly be more feminist, fabulous, and fulfilling.
Interview by Sophie Duncan & Caris Rianne
Lift Little Tokyo, On the Line, Wayward Emulsions and Sworded Love are all showing in the IN THE PLACE OF THE REAL shorts collection on Wed 27 March. For tickets and information please visit here. You can view a sample clip of Wayward Emulsions below along with links to the film makers Vimeo and other sample clips.