A focus on Asian and Asian-American stories that build community


When they were younger, Quyên Nguyen-Le noticed that they didn’t see people who looked like them – or the communities they grew up in – in the movies. They wanted to change that and started making films. Over the years that goal has changed a bit and they have found that cinema is a nurturing source of power that allows them to be creative while building themselves within their community.

“In other words, it’s not just a way for us to tell stories about ourselves to others, but also to ourselves,” Nguyen-Le said.

That kind of storytelling can be found in Nguyen-Le’s 11-minute short at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival, “Hoài (Ongoing / Memory),” which is screened Friday at 5 p.m. at the Digital Gym. North Park Cinema. . The festival, now in its 19th year, highlights Asian American and international films in various locations in San Diego through November 17. In Nguyen-Le’s film, the main character returns home to live with his father after breaking up with his girlfriend, and in the midst of anti-immigrant protests.

Nguyen-Le is a 26-year-old freelance filmmaker who lives in Normal Heights. They took the time to talk about their work, how their crossed identities inform that work and about life around great Vietnamese restaurants.

Quyên Nguyen-Le is a queer, non-binary, Vietnamese-American filmmaker who uses the them / them pronouns.

Question: What attracts you to cinema as an art form?

A: I think cinema has a great power to get people to take action. For me, as the child of two refugees, there was a language barrier and war trauma between me and my parents. While this gap has narrowed with age, I think visual images are an effective way to bridge this gap. After my father saw the film “The Island” by Tuan Andrew Nguyen (which will be screened with my film at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival), he was moved for the first time to tell me. and to my brothers and sisters, his experience in the camp on Bidong Island, where “The Island” takes place. This moment was so rare and precious to me, and I had no idea that an experimental sci-fi movie could be the trigger!

Question: Why did you choose to participate in the San Diego Asian Film Festival this year?

A: This is one of my favorite film festivals! A lot of our film crew, myself included, live in San Diego, and some of it was filmed here, so it’s kind of like a homecoming for us to finally be able to share our movie in our hometown. .

Question: Tell us about your film, “Hoài (In progress / Memory)”.

A: With all my films, I try to start from a Vietnamese word that has a double meaning. It’s important for me to have both English and Vietnamese in the title, as well as in the film, to highlight the bilingual way many of us from immigrant communities live our lives. . For this particular movie, “hoài” means both in progress and in memory, and we thought the title was appropriate to talk about how the ongoing memory of the Vietnam War affects us today.

The experimental short follows a small slice of the life of a second-generation queer, Vietnamese-American woman Hoài, whose title also takes her name, and her return to her father’s house after a breakup. From that point on, past and present events collapse and she continually wakes up from what seems like a never-ending dream to find her way home.

What I like about Normal Heights …

I am close to all the good Vietnamese food in the Little Saigon district!

Question: Where did the idea for “Hoài” come from?

A: My dad has this karaoke song that he always sings at parties, and a few years ago I noticed how sad the lyrics were. So, the seed of the film: How does this karaoke song about Eternal Loneliness connect to the feelings of the Vietnamese diaspora regarding the loss and departure of a homeland? And how does it relate now, to the present, to the new places where we have planted our roots?

Question: What did you want to explore in this film?

A: This film was difficult for me to make because I was, at the time, struggling with divergent feelings around what I would call multiple levels of grief: I wanted to figure out how to express how great it really is. sad when a romantic partner breaks your heart, when your family breaks your heart, and when the country you live in breaks your heart, all at the same time. You might feel like these events have nothing to do with each other, but they all weigh on you because they all happen to you.

Question: Hoài also returns home “in the midst of anti-immigrant demonstrations”; why was this particular backdrop important to Hoài’s story and his return home?

A: Co-writer Ly Thuy Nguyen and I thought it was important to talk about it because it was happening. We started from things that seemed unrelated on the surface. The first was the political climate: the recent increase in anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, especially anti-Muslim sentiment, reminded us of the same xenophobic rhetoric that led to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II.

Then there was the increased militarization of the US-Mexico border and attacks on various communities, including those in Southeast Asia, through aggressive deportation policies.

Then there was the reluctance of our Vietnamese-American community to take a stand against xenophobia, despite many of us coming from refugee families ourselves. For me, being Vietnamese-American doesn’t mean that we were such a group of refugees so “assimilated” into the mainstream that we no longer identify with the struggles of people facing forced migration due to militarization and war. In addition, there is often a separate conversation about the place of non-Indigenous people of color, especially immigrants, in the homeland. And we wanted to take advantage of this little moment between father and daughter in our film to converge the conversations.

Question: Have you noticed any recurring themes in your work?

A: People tend to ask me, “Do you feel responsible for making films about Vietnamese-American homosexuals?” »” Hoài “will be my fourth one centered on Vietnamese-American queer characters. But to be honest, that doesn’t limit me to making films around this same band because it’s my own experience and it’s just a starting point, not a way to end. We have so many stories to tell.

Question: And since these are movies, do you have a favorite movie?

A: My favorite recent movie is “Sorry to Bother You” by Boots Riley.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: The best advice I’ve ever received about being an artist is that you have to imagine that you’ll be doing more than one thing, and I think that’s so hard to imagine, especially for filmmakers of color. We operate under the myth of scarcity: that there can only be one of us to be successful and that we will only have one chance to achieve it. It was important for me to recognize that no job will cover everything about me, my skills and what I’m trying to say. And knowing makes me freer in my creative process.

Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I speak better Spanish than Vietnamese!

Question: Describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.

A: Go to the San Diego Asian Film Festival and meet friendly staff who give me a bag full of snacks!

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lisadeaderick

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