Interview with Doris Yeung from Avalon Films
Doris Yeung founded CinemAsia Film Festival, one of the biggest Asian Film Festivals in Europe. I once got 2nd place in a fishing contest when I was 8. So that's basically the same...right?
I met Doris in 2015 at the Creative Labs Hawaii Writers Immersive Program. She flew all the way from Amsterdam to Hawaii to revise & revamp her screenplay "Four Seasons" Before Doris and I met, I had the opportunity to read her screenplay. In fact we all had to read each others screenplays and give each other notes. And I have to admit when I first read her screenplay, I initially thought, oh we won't be friends. I know right? Reading a screenplay and judging this person without ever meeting them. What the heck Rex?! Her screenplay was well written, well told and on-point. But for me, it was dark, too dark for my thin skin. I like happy endings, superheroes punching the bad guy, the heroes winning...every time. I mean I can't even watch a horror commercial without changing the channel. Doris's screenplay was not horror, but it dealt with real problems in real life situations.
When I actually met Doris in person, she was cool, calm and collected. It was nothing I expected. I don't even know what I was expecting. A Gothic like vampire? A Slytherin? Even Steven King doesn't look like a vampire or belong in the Slytherin house, or does he? Either way, I was wrong to judge her personality on her writing and I apologize. But I was still drawn to her like a moth to light. She gave great advice, she was compassionate and she was insightful. We shared many things in common and found ourselves talking about our own lives a lot. So much, that I picked her up and drove her around Oahu. I took her to all my favorite spots, East Side, North Shore, Shrimp Truck, etc. Fast forward 3 years and I was getting chocolate wasted in Amsterdam with Doris at her Film Festival CinemAsia. How life comes full circle in the best possible ways. I caught up with Doris as she promotes her next project on Kickstarter, The Ugly Model.
When did you move to Amsterdam and Why?
I moved to Amsterdam at the end of 2001 because of a relationship.
How long did it take you to get adjusted to the new country?
It took about 3 years before I felt like I was part of the city. A lot more after I did the mandatory immigrant “ingburgering” (integration) course which was mostly a Dutch language course for a year. After I started to understand the language I started to feel more like I could be a part of the Dutch world.
When did you start CinemAsia Film Festival in Amsterdam and Why?
I started organizing film screenings of Asian films in 2003 because I was asked by filmmaker friends if I could help organize screenings for their films in Amsterdam. As I was an Asian Diaspora filmmaker myself, most of friends at the time were Asian or Asian Diasporic filmmakers thus we had enough content to fill a festival program with our own films. After an enthusiastic audience response to our screenings came the idea for a larger pan-Asian film festival. Asian art house cinema was very popular in Europe at international festivals but mainstream and popular Asian cinema was not really shown. I felt there was a need for a festival that combined Asian art-house with popular cinema in Europe. CinemAsia Amsterdam officially started in 2004.
I wouldn’t even know where to begin when starting a film festival. How did you go about starting a film festival? Films First? Locations First? People First?
When I first started screening films we asked for donations from the LGBTQ community because a lot of the films had LGBTQ themes. Through that community, I met one of the organizers of Rozefilmdagen, the LGBTQ Film festival of Amsterdam who helped us write our first fund application. Public Arts funding in Europe was quite abundant back then, if you had a good idea and could write a decent proposal you had a good chance of being funded. It’s quite a different story these days as EU governmental funding for the arts has been cut tremendously. So the steps were, apply/find funding first, then theater partners, then approaching distributors of films we wished to screen and putting the film program together.
What advice would you give to someone looking into starting a film festival, for example, me?
Get to know the funding situation of your city/country. Start building a network of like-minded and passionate collaborators who share your vision. Film festivals are passion projects. Without a shared vision and passion it’s not possible to run a festival these days as arts funding is getting less and less.
I got to experience your film festival party and what I loved about it, is that everyone was extremely happy to be there. It felt like a family. How did you go about setting up this kind of atmosphere?
We have been organizing the festival for 14 years and there are some beloved parts of the festival such as our Asian food hall (we transform part of the theater into Asian food stalls) and our annual Rainbow Karaoke party and of course our wonderful selection of the best in Asian cinema. Our team and audience are very loyal and some have been coming for years and look forward to letting loose.
Why did you decide to step away from your own Film Festival?
I stepped away as Festival director in 2014 in order to make my own film projects. I am still involved as Board director with the festival.
You have produced, written and directed your own films. What drives you to tell your stories?
My passion is making films about Diasporic people, crossing cultural and geographic boundaries and exploring themes of where and what “Home” is.
I had the pleasure of reading one of your screenplays that dealt with some dark themes. Your films seem to dip into really real dark themes. What draws you to these kinds of stories?
I believe in order to understand and accept Happiness, you have to have to explore great sadness and pain. Both Light and Darkness are part of the richness of the human experience.
Tell me about your most recent film Tax Stories?
Taxi Stories is my second feature film and it is my love story to Asia, about how it has changed from when I child or young adult living there. Making the film enabled me to go back to Hong Kong and Beijing where I used to live to reconnect with those cities and also explore new ones, like Jakarta. Asia is changing rapidly and in the film I explore the human disconnect that comes with rapid growth as illustrated by 3 different Asian cities each representing wealth, idealism and unsustainable growth.
Taxi Stories are 3 different stories in 3 different locations. What a daunting task to take on. What was your biggest takeaway while making this film?
3 stories in 3 different cities is like making 3 different films but with the budget and time for 1. Each part had a different crew and cast in a different country with different logistics and challenges. It was definitely an ambitious challenge to pull off which I’m quite proud that we did. My biggest takeaway is if you put your mind and passion into something, you will always succeed.
What’s your next big project?
I have two projects in different stages. I just shot a documentary in New York and Philadelphia about Asian masculinity called THE UGLY MODEL with Asian male models Kevin Kreider, Daniel Liu and NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin . We’re starting a crowdfunding campaign this month and have started the editing process. Another project in development is a narrative feature film called FOUR SEASONS about a Korean former child prodigy violinist who finds creative and personal freedom from an abusive past in a new land.
Click on here to support, every little counts
What advice would you give to expats?
Find your place in your community that makes you feel at home, If you can’t find it, Build it.
What story are you dying to tell?
Stories are like babies, there are no favorites. I have like 5 stories that have been festering in my brain for many years. I hope to one day be able to tell them all.
Shout out to Rex for being a fellow crazy traveler on this amazing journey of life.
Bonus: My recent trip to Amsterdam where I met up with Doris :)