Summer Centered: DocuLab 2022 Makes an Impact Through Film
In partnership with the Asian American Documentary Network, five students worked to spread the stories of Asian Americans through film as part of VCAM’s annual collaborative program.
Each year, students interested in film production have an opportunity to work with industry experts and experienced faculty as part of Haverford’s Summer DocuLab Program. This year, the program, sponsored by VCAM and the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, took a unique approach by partnering with an outside filmmaking organization: the Asian American Documentary Network, or A-Doc. A-Doc is a national network of filmmakers that works to increase the representation of Asian Americans in filmmaking on both sides of the camera.
“The Lab features the work of three Asian American directors, and I'm super excited about supporting these two other projects that are incredibly powerful in terms of offering stories about our communities that don't often get told in mainstream media,” said Emily Hong, this year’s Doculab faculty director and one of three directors whose films are being featured this year.
The partnership with A-Doc isn’t the only thing that makes this year’s DocuLab unique, however.
“It's also the first DocuLab to focus not on the production of a film, but on the parts of filmmaking that usually don't get taught in courses—how to actually get your film into the world through building partnerships and aligning distribution and impact,” Hong explained.
This year’s program has five participants: Erica Kaunang ‘22, Jalen Martin ‘23, Naren Roy ‘23, Sophia Wan ‘23, and Yuriko Zhang ‘25. They were divided among three films, and they’re all working to promote the distribution and visibility of their projects.
Liquor Store Dreams - Director: So Yun Um, Student Fellows: Erica Kaunang ‘22 and Yuriko Zhang ‘25
“We were sorted into these teams, based on our personal interests and professional goals for the summer,” said Kaunang, who is working with Zhang. Both are on the impact team for the film Liquor Store Dreams, and are working closely with the film's director, So Yun Um, and their impact mentor, Jin Yoo-Kim.
“The film explores the experiences of two Korean Americans whose parents are liquor store owners in L.A., while also highlighting histories of the ‘92 L.A. Uprisings and the current Black Lives Matter movement,” Kaunang said. It examines generational trauma and divides between the identities of the parents and their children. Though the film has already been completed, Kaunang and Zhang’s work focuses on getting the word out about the film to the wider world.
“My work is around impact producing, which entails creating and managing strategic social action campaigns based on our film,” Zhang explained. “Right now, we are building a database of organizations, educational resources, and businesses we envision ourselves collaborating with.”
Kaunang and Zhang emphasized the positive effect their mentors have had on the process. Um has encouraged them to incorporate their backgrounds in organizing. Meanwhile, Yoo-Kim has guided the impact campaign by asking questions and helping them organize the logistics and budgets of their efforts.
“Overall, it's really exciting and grounding to hear about the different experiences and realities of being an Asian American in film,” Kaunang said. She was drawn to the program after taking classes such as “Visualizing Border/lands,” “Feminist Filmmaking Studio,” and “Visions of Justice: Asian Cinema.”
“Through these classes,” she said, “I was driven to try filmmaking and was able to co-direct a film about the experiences of women of color at Haverford, and then another about friendship and body image.”
Zhang shares that interest; she has worked with the Minkwon Center for Community Action and the Woori Center, both nonprofit organizations that help provide immigration access to Koreans looking to travel to the U.S.. She hopes her DocuLab experience will help her continue to facilitate communities for Asian Americans, including on campus at the Pan Asian Resource Center.
Though Kaunang and Zhang are working with Um and Yoo-Kim remotely, the team has met in-person at the Impact Summit and the Tribeca Film Festival in June, where Liquor Store Dreams premiered. They hope to further the involvement of AAPI community members in the filmmaking industry through their impact campaign and promotion of the film.
Mai American - Director: Kevin Truong, Student Fellows: Jalen Martin ‘23 & Naren Roy ‘23
Rising seniors Martin and Roy are working on the impact campaign for Mai American, a film that explores director Kevin Truong’s own experiences as a queer Vietnamese American in a migrant refugee family of the Pacific Northwest following the war in Vietnam.
“This personal film parallels the experiences of many others coming out of the war in Vietnam and can speak to how narratives about the war are told and preserved, and who does the telling,” Roy said. “Moreover, it is a powerful catalyst for simply allowing other AAPI immigrant kids in the U.S. to process the challenges they may experience, including queer identity or intergenerationally-shared trauma.”
By connecting with nonprofits and community partners, particularly in Philadelphia and in Portland, OR, where Truong is based, Martin and Roy are promoting Mai American. Both students are also involved in researching funding, distribution, and screening opportunities, looking to expand the network of Truong’s film.
“We focus on making connections with relevant organizations, planning screening events, and finding ways to build communities in online and in-person spaces through the film and its themes of family, immigration, queerness, and history,” Martin said.
Martin was drawn to the DocuLab program by a desire to learn more about what happens beyond the camera in filmmaking. Having worked for Haverford’s Office of Communications and taken classes related to film production, he was interested to see how his storytelling skills could help amplify underrepresented voices.
“This year’s rendition of DocuLab called for those with skills outside of solely filmmaking, so I was excited to see how website design, writing, community organizing, social media marketing, activism, communications, and other skills could contribute to a successful film and impact campaign,” he said. “So far I’ve learned there’s a lot of space for creative collaboration even outside of the filmmaking process.”
As a social anthropology major, Roy has found working on the impact team for Mai American has provided him with an opportunity to study power systems, migration, and human rights, while contributing to a larger work.
Though their internship and communication with Truong is primarily remote, the pair attended an in-person Impact Summit, where they had the opportunity to meet with their impact mentor, Bhawin Suchak, a filmmaker focused on empowering underrepresented groups and youth in media.
“He has a lot of experience in filmmaking and producing, and he has offered a lot of insight and wisdom in ways we should approach the campaign,” Martin said. He and Roy additionally met with representatives from various nonprofit organizations whose work is closely related to the film, such as the Vietnamese Boat People Project, who seek to raise awareness surrounding the Vietnam War refugees.
Both students additionally praised the wisdom and experience of both Truong and Ariel Goodman, the lead impact producer, as both have provided a wealth of mentorship regarding storytelling and communicating.
“Kevin is an incredible mentor as someone who has ample experience with storytelling and working with people,” Roy said. “He is also always intellectually curious about what shapes and informs people's experiences and perspectives. His impact producer, Ariel Goodman, is always a pleasure to dream big with.”
Above and Below the Ground - Director: Emily Hong, Student Fellow: Sophia Wan ‘23
Hong's own film chronicles how indigenous Kachin women activists and punk rock pastors in Myanmar work together to protest a Chinese-built mega-dam that is built on a sacred river.
“From Aung San Suu Kyi's broken election promises to a military coup threatening their homeland, activists and musicians fight back the best way they know how–through protest, prayer, and Karaoke music videos,” said the assistant professor of anthropology and visual studies of her film.
Wan has been assisting with Above and Below the Ground as it moves through its final stages of editing. As a member of the film’s impact team, she has also been working to expand its range by researching potential collaborations with international and Asian organizations focusing on women, environmental issues, and indigenous land rights. She also looks at educational activities suited for screenings, funding opportunities, and festivals to promote the film.
Wan began exploring her interest in film by working with 2021 DocuLab fellow Liz Burke BMC ‘23 on her film. Then, in spring 2022, she took Hong's "Feminist Filmmaking Studio" course, where she first learned how to use editing software and different technical equipment to make her own short film. She believed this summer's DocuLab partnership with A-Doc to be a resonant opportunity to continue her journey in film, especially as the Asian American daughter of parents who immigrated from Hong Kong.
“It’s exciting to be welcomed into a community of Asian filmmakers and learn from such intelligent people, since I didn’t feel there was a significant Asian representation in the film industry beforehand,” she said.
An anthropology major and visual studies minor, Wan has long been committed to pursuing activism and social movements through visual representations. As a cohead of Students for Abolition, Liberation, and Transformation on campus, as well as the Abolitionist Law Center and Human Rights Coalition off-campus, she was interested to explore how film could contribute to such organizing work.
“I think film can carry and memorialize messages that might be otherwise lost, and can act as a generative catalyst for social, cultural, and political shifts,” she said. “DocuLab is an amazing opportunity to pursue that work, improve my film editing skills, and research how to make the most societal impact.”
Much of Wan’s work is with Hong, both on-campus and remotely. She has also been working on the impact team with Stella Naw and Ningli Hkawn, impact strategist and impact producer for the film, respectively. Both Stella and Ningli are indigenous Kachin diaspora women activists from Myanmar, each with fifteen years of advocacy experience.
Wan hopes to promote societal change and education through film, all while making Asian experiences more visible.
“I hope to become more familiar with film editing work, creatively strategize and dream big with impact strategies, facilitate and participate in team meetings better, and keep fostering the relationships I’ve made with others so far this summer,” she said.
The DocuLab students largely worked remotely and separately throughout the summer, but they reconvened in early August to attend the Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia together, with their teams and metors, capping off their impact-filled summers.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.