“Lil Tokyo Reporter,” directed, written and produced by Jeffrey Gee Chin, is featured on the X1 Asian American destination this March in the Nisei Stories collection. We had the chance to ask Jeffrey what inspired his filmmaking journey and how his Chinese American heritage influences his work.
Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month.
Jeffrey Gee Chin: “Lil Tokyo Reporter” was a passion project that was born out of the research by Little Tokyo Historical Society. Our film traces the narrative of unsung civil rights leader Sei Fujii and his fight against corruption in 1935 Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
How did you get into filmmaking?
JGC: I began in high school; my close friends were fooling around with miniDV cameras making knock-off films of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Matrix.” I thought to myself: although these fan projects are great, there is an opportunity to make projects that will last for generations. So, I started to focus on producing stories on early Asian American pioneers with a mission to ground our representation within the landscape of Hollywood cinema.
What are some films that have inspired you?
JGC: Spielberg has one of my greatest influences. When I saw “Jurassic Park” in theaters, I was brought into a world with creatures that lived over 65 million years ago. My mindset shifted, and I realized that in cinema, anything is possible. That thought process traversed thoughts of recreating the world that my grandparents experienced as early immigrants to sci-fi worlds in “galaxies far far away” … I am also a major fan of Wong Kar-Wai’s “Happy Together,” Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” and Kim Ki-Duk’s “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.”
Do you have a favorite Asian American film?
JGC: Growing up it was definitely “Better Luck Tomorrow.” The film showed a world where my friends and I felt represented on screen—that was vitally important. As artists and a community, however, I feel we have only seen just the tip of the iceberg. Asian American cinema is coming.
How does your Asian heritage influence your work?
JGC: My heritage is who I am. I know for many, it has taken a great deal of time to accept that there is such a thing as Asian American culture and that it is OK to celebrate it. I am three-generations Chinese American, which means my grandparents and great-grandparents have taken a part in molding my American experience. Their stories are part of me, and I take pride in that.
What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?
JGC: We’re going to make it work.
What’s next for you?
JGC: I have several feature projects in development stages along with television series. I am currently meeting with potential partners to ensure their success. Additionally, I am blessed to be mentored by filmmaker John Singleton. He has taught me a great deal about his journey within our ever-changing industry.
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