BAAFF: How did you get into filmmaking and specifically this film about Fred Ho?
De Castro: I was a New York county trial lawyer, but closed my law firm and dove into filmmaking. It started when I lost both my parents to cancer and the experience made me very interested in cancer survivors and I thought film would be a good way to explore this. I interviewed many survivors during this time.
One day, I was walking through a book store and saw "Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior" by Fred Ho. It was an amazing read and I was surprised to find out that he was still alive! I got in touch with him for an interview and that's how it all started.
His story is just incredible. His last year began with a heart attack, tumors in one of his lungs. He couldn't play his saxophone for a while. But he chose to give up chemotherapy that could have extended his life, so he could tour and do concerts. He even did a concert when this film was in post-production!
BAAFF: What do you think the message of the film and Fred's choice is?
De Castro: For Fred, I think it's about legacy. He really believed in leaving a legacy after he passed. His mortality makes us think, "what is the meaning of being on this planet?" and to Fred it was that everyone can make something of their lives no matter how much time you have left, and leave a memorable legacy.
The film also speaks to the culture of cancer. I spoke with dozens of survivors and never met one who didn't have an opinion on medicine, where cancer comes from, and how society views cancer. How society as a whole treats cancer patients, how friends and family relate to them, it looks at those relationships and issues.
BAAFF: How does being Asian American come into your work?
De Castro: As an Asian American artist [Filipino] there's no real niche when you compare us in media like African American or Latino cultures. You have to be your own niche. That's the core of what Fred could do as a jazz musician; he had a voracious drive to get what he wanted. He was a model in this way, among other ways, and he came from an Asian American activist core. He was a pioneer. I was very influenced by his drive and sense of identity. "If I like it, I'm going to finish it." Fred taught me that.
BAAFF: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
De Castro: Filmmaking is a strange profession because the best knowledge is what you have from outside of filmmaking. Coming to this later in life, like I am, can be a great asset due to the life experience you already have. Don't sweat the small stuff, like learning to put together a DCP (digital cinema package), don't sweat the details. You don't need to know everything. If you can learn to tell a good story, it'll all come together.
Thanks Steven! Learn more about Fred Ho's Last Year here, and check back on our site to get tickets to the Boston Premiere on Monday, October 13th at 6:30pm at the Paramount Center/ArtsEmerson. And mark your calendars for the full festival starting October 23rd (click the calendar link below to save the date on your calendar!)