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Reality is a slippery medium. Just when a documentary filmmaker thinks she understands a story, people surprise her. Such it was for Debbie Lum. Instead, she not only got sucked into the story of one couple, but also became a makeshift marriage counselor and a character in her film. What impact do you hope this film will have?

I hope by touching audiences emotionally Seeking Asian Female will inspire individuals to reevaluate how stereotypes and expectations negatively impact human relationships, love and marriage. I hope the film will bring into wider discussion the objectification of Asian women by Western men and the real-life complications that grow out of their fantasies. I hope the film also raises questions about how stereotyped thinking impacts all communities, including those who are being stereotyped in this case Asian Americans and women.

These men seem to fit a pattern: they tend to be older, white, and yes, creepy. Sometimes the negative stereotype carries over to the women who wind up marrying these men. These women from China, Thailand, Vietnam and all parts of Asia, are often thought to be marrying for money or a green card, or both. I thought pointing the camera in their direction and analyzing the causes, the consequences and the nature of their fantasies, would perhaps help dispel the trend.

I never thought that what would emerge from immersing myself into the subject matter would be a nuanced, complex exploration into marriage, immigration, cross-cultural understanding, and the ways in which romance evolves into human relationship through language, communication and companionship. At the center of the story I found two human beings with limited options who were facing and confronting their expectations and fantasies not just about Asian women, but also about love and marriage, America and China and husband and wife.

I never expected that while telling this story, the film would the tables back at my own stereotyped expectations as a filmmaker and an Asian American woman, to reveal how problematic it is to stereotype any individual, whether white or Asian, old or young, American or Chinese, or woman or man. Many of the challenges I faced in making the film became part of the story of the film itself. But whenever I filmed Steven, it was very clear that because I am an Asian American woman he gave me amazing access and could also never really ignore me as I filmed him.

I spent a lot of time in the very uncomfortable position of being keenly focused on the type of man who would make me extremely uncomfortable in my personal life. The more I filmed him, the more I realized that by including my story, I would be able to capture a story that is never shown on camera — how it feels to be objectified as an Asian American woman. I also realized that Sandy was completely isolated and had not a single friend in America outside of Steven. Steven and Sandy began to call on me asking me to come over at every conflict. I was a one-woman crew, learning how to shoot and record sound as I filmed them.

Anyone else in the scene would have made shooting very stilted. I grew up learning Mandarin from college professors, not my parents who did not speak Chinese. Filming while translating between English and Chinese was extremely challenging, especially as their relationship drama intensified — and all of us became more and more exhausted. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, as expressed in the film, was realizing that by capturing their story, I had begun to play a role in the success or failure of their relationship, a relationship that I had always questioned. Ultimately, I had to get over my own prejudices before I could tell the story well.

Early on, Steven perhaps trusted me because I am an Asian American woman who tends to smile a lot. He also found out that my husband is white and identified with me. At the same time, we watched documentaries that I had edited and co-produced and some of my short narrative comedies.

Steven had a very trusting and open personality. For Sandy, I think she initially trusted Steven and that is why she agreed to let me film. But upon initial meeting, she was deeply relieved to know that I could speak Mandarin I did not grow up speaking Mandarin, but had just returned from living in Shanghai for two years and had been studying Chinese. The more I filmed and the more complicated their relationship became the more we all began to understand each other and appreciate each other.

In that sense, because I had to take the process of capturing a well-rounded story seriously, I was forced to look at their story from their own point of view and therefore the compassion that I felt for both of them, including Steven, who proved that despite his rather questionable motives was willing to work very hard at being a good husband to Sandy, led us all to trust each other more. Seeking Asian Female was shot over the course of 5 years, amassing over hours of footage.

We cut out many great scenes and countless interviews. The dress was a size 10 and Sandy was a size 1. She generously offered to do all the custom fitting over a period of several weeks. Janet and Wayne were ballroom dancers and collected porcelain dolls. Sandy and Steven have a very great sense of humor. We cut out many fights as well as many scenes of love and play.

She also made friends with two older Chinese American women. Finally one favorite scene was an extremely revelatory scene where Steven and Sandy discuss why he only wanted to date younger women, with Sandy and myself grilling him until he was surprised to find out that he was the oldest suitor she had. Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you. Chronologically, one of the first very moving scenes happened shortly after Sandy arrived in America to live with Steven.

Throughout the film, no matter how many times other issues strained their relationship — from money issues, to wedding preparation stress, to cultural misunderstanding — Sandy continued to care about this one thing the most. What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think? Audience response has been really amazing so far. The film appeals to people from all backgrounds, genders, and age groups. Newly married couples have approached me to ask a question only to spontaneously break into a debate between themselves over the plight of the characters.

The film provokes many conversations, particularly for anyone who has been in or tried to be in a relationship. Steven and Sandy have seen the film. Steven has always been extremely supportive of the film and would have perhaps been a better promoter of the film than I am! For Chinese and Asian people in general, sharing intimate details of personal life is not something that is as culturally accepted as it is in the West.

In contemporary Chinese culture face is very important and causes a lot of social pressures that we are relatively immune from in the US. Steven learned quite a lot about how to make her happy and respect her, and supports her wish to avoid press requests even though he would be happy to be in the limelight. The independent film business is a difficult one.

What keeps you motivated? The chance to tell a story about a person or a subject that has never been told before. Why did you choose to present your film on public television? What are your three favorite films? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers? Be tenacious. Be honest. Be patient. Find a great mentor and surround yourself with people who know more than you do.

I could not have made this film without having worked for years as an editor for my mentor, Spencer Nakasako. My employer who hired me to edit one of his documentaries and became a great friend and colleague, S. Leo Chiang, gave me invaluable knowledge as I tenuously ventured out of the editing room to shoot the film. Having a great mother and partner who support your undying ambition also helps!

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film? What led you to make this film? What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film? Photo By Susan Monroe Many of the challenges I faced in making the film became part of the story of the film itself. How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film? Debbie Lum at work What has the audience response been so far? Sleep very much. Tags asian fetish debbie lum filmmaker interview online dating yellow fever. Independent Lens. Watch Full Documentaries.

Attractive wm seeks asian for marriage

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