BAAFF: What was your experience like at this year’s BAAFF? What keeps you coming back?
CHEN: My experience this year at BAAFF was terrific. I got to see all five of the shorts and they were all first rate. I’m so proud of Susan Chinsen for starting BAAFF—it’s a fantastic festival that highlights and encourages the creativity of Asian Americans in the film industry.
Last year a film I was in, Almost Perfect by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan, was featured at BAAFF. This year the film I’m in, Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future by Albert M. Chan, was presented as part of the Shorts Program. I’m always delighted to support the writers and directors behind the films I’m in, as well as Susan and BAAFF.
BAAFF: What were your experiences like filming Descendants of the Past? Why should Asians and non-Asians see this film?
CHEN: I had a great time making the film. Albert M. Chan is a very gifted writer/director/producer. He has a keen eye for all aspects of a film. He knew exactly what the film needed. He’s kind, organized and hard- working, and he’s also a wonderful actor. The rest of the cast and crew were professional and terrific to be around. I am very sad that our Emmy-nominated cinematographer, Cira Fellina Bolla, passed away before she could celebrate her terrific work with us.
Everyone should see this film because it provides an opportunity for viewers to re-examine their own family histories and beliefs, and the influence of their ancestors on their own lives. I imagine that many Asian Americans will relate deeply to the family traditions depicted in the film.
BAAFF: What are the challenges Asian American actors/filmmakers face today? What advice do you have for aspiring actors/writers/filmmakers?
CHEN: Asian American actors and filmmakers, like many other minority groups, face discrimination. There are many roles on TV and in films and theater that could have been played by Asians but they were never considered. I just saw an important play written by Han Ong, Chairs and a Long Table, that deals with how Asian American actors suffer in this business.
Personally, I have been very fortunate. I received an Emmy nomination for my first professional job, the first CBS Playhouse Special called The Final War of Olly Winter, and a Golden Globe nomination for my second film, The Hawaiians. This opened a lot of doors for me and I got cast for parts that were not written specifically for an Asian woman. I got hired for roles called “Val” or “Janice” and the producers would sometimes add a Chan or Chow as the character’s last name. But my case was definitely not the norm and, sadly, Hollywood has made little, if any, progress in that regard. As I have gotten older, I have been cast only if the name on the script is an Asian one, and those names are few and far between.
My advice is to make sure that you’re absolutely passionate about being an actor/writer/filmmaker. If you have any doubts, find another path because this business is extremely difficult and so dependent on luck, timing and other factors out of your control. But I would advise anyone to at least give this profession a try so that they would never have to look back and regret.
BAAFF: Why are Asian American films important? Why is this a unique voice in cinema and TV?
CHEN: Asian American films are important because this is a multicultural, multi-religious, multiracial country and Asian American voices are very important in contributing to the total richness of America.
BAAFF: What are some of your upcoming projects we should keep a watch for?
CHEN: I have been giving a lecture, Heroes of History: Legacy of My Chinese Family, which is accompanied by more than 150 slides. It is about three generations of my mother’s family and their contributions to Chinese history.
I have written four songs, which have recently been performed in festivals in New York and Vermont:
This Tree, a Christmas song (lyrics by Ruth Wolff)
Eight Nights, a Hanukkah song (lyrics by YiLing Chen-Josephson)
Words Never Said (lyrics by Diane Winslow)
Mother Life (music and lyrics by me)
I have written a number of Chinese fairy tales for children that I am currently shopping around to publishers.
I am writing a half-hour TV comedy/drama about a half-Chinese, half-Jewish family. Its working title is Hyphenated.
Thank you Tina! We look forward to following all that you do!