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by Indiewire Staff
March 3, 2012 12:00 PM
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Meet the 2012 SXSW Filmmakers #9: Debbie Lum, 'Seeking Asian Female'

Debbie Lum
During her childhood in St. Louis, Debbie Lum lived behind one of the largest single screen movie theaters in town. She saw the blockbusters like "Star Wars" and "E.T.," but especially remembers the disappointment she felt after seeing "Sixteen Candles" with its foreign exchange student character Long Duk Dong. Lum has since set out to make films that better represent Chinese culture. She's bringing her documentary "Seeking Asian Female" to the South by Southwest Film Festival.

What It's About: Two strangers, an aging American man obsessed with Asian women and a young woman from China half his age, meet online and become engaged. This intimate and quirky personal documentary is told from the director's POV as a Chinese American woman who always wanted to know why so many Western men are obsessed with Asian women. As Lum films the two attempting to build a marriage from scratch in California, she become their translator and unwitting marriage counselor -- all the while trying to determine could it possibly be for love?

Says director Debbie Lum: "This is a real life story about two people with questionable motives who are thrown into a crazy situation -- but above all, I really wanted to show both the humor and the human side of the story. 'Yellow fever' (Western male obsession for Asian women) is a really polarizing issue in the Asian American community, and probably pisses off a lot of women as well. I really tried to get beyond black and white polemics and dig into the layered complexities of the issue through a very personal story.

"My family has been in America for four generations but my roots are Chinese. And I realized that the only stories that vaguely represented where I came from were gross stereotypes at best, and demeaning at worst, but generally non-existent. You don't have to be Asian American to feel a disconnect between what you see in the movies and your own real life. There are so many untold stories out there. Those are the stories that really interest me, the ones I really want to tell.

"Romance and relationships are unpredictable. Chasing the story took over five years. I had to wait for my main character to find a Chinese woman who wanted to marry him. There were so many late night calls to me after she arrived, as I went from documentary filmmaker to translator to marriage counselor. I didn't realize I had become a character in my own film until halfway through shooting it. My editor will tell you how much work that created in the editing room.

"I'd like audiences to be surprised by the way in which two seemingly strange characters are so relatable. I'd like them to see a different side of the stereotypical international bride story, and have a new image of what it means to be a Chinese woman and a Chinese immigrant in America. I'd really like people to ponder how powerful and troubling stereotypes and expectations are in romance and relationships, and think twice before making judgments about others based a few details they know.

About her inspirations: "'a.k.a. Don Bonus by Spencer Nakasako' - the first documentary I ever edited, was shot entirely POV by a 17-year-old Cambodian immigrant kid with virtually no filmmaking experience. Not 'beautiful' it is still incredibly vivid, intimate and powerful because the subject/cinematographer could only be true to his life. Other recent docs I love with similarly obsessed main characters -- 'Marwencol' and 'Anvil.' On the other side of the spectrum, I often thought of fiction films about awkward, unconventional love stories as I was creating this. Movies like 'Annie Hall' and 'Punch Drunk Love.'

"I'd love for my film to find a great audience at SXSW. I'm excited to see all the great films that will be in the festival. Looking forward to meeting all the interesting folks who will be convening in Austin for the SXSW.

"We just finished this film -- literally days before this goes to press. First off, I plan to take a trip to Hawaii and sleep, and give my family more attention. If I muster the courage to make another film again, I plan to explore a few ideas for fictional films - an ensemble black comedy about love and death and a period piece set in the 1950's about two Chinese American college students who fall in love, then try to elope before their parents can prevent them from getting married (loosely based around my parents story.) I'm always exploring documentary ideas but it's too early to talk about them. Check back later!"

Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

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6 Comments

  • Zhou Shuren | May 7, 2013 9:50 AMReply

    Is it a western men craze for asian women 0r is it an asian women craze for western men? As a westerner who grew up in Asia, the latter is true from my experience (and most westerners in Asia). Who crazes who is not important. Sure, some men have a preference for asian women just as some women have a preference for men who are handsome, rich or highly educated. Everyone is after something and everyone has their reasons for loving someone. Overall, please don't propagate your biased view through a video that contains some random older westerner and a young Chinese woman. Given that you are just an ABC in the US, it's hard to believe any projections you may have about Chinese culture and Asia (and their relationship to western men). I hope your video made you feel better about YOUR situation.

  • Andrew S. | April 3, 2013 10:21 AMReply

    Dear Debbie:

    I am really glad that you were able to make the film.... I think it is fantastic that young filmmakers are able to share the "Asianness." Right now, my son and I are working on documentary on Asian Male point of view film.... We would appreciate any insights.....

    Here is the blog page: cradlebrainproductions.wordpress.com

    Look forward to seeing the film on the PBS show...

    take care

    Andrew

  • Aimee Chen | January 23, 2013 3:09 AMReply

    Dear lum,

    I am so excited to say hello to u.
    I was attracted by your title "Seeking Asian Female",and found it very awesome. In telling the story about two strangers (Western male obsession for Asian female)wanna create true love between them. IMHO,It sounded like their romance and relationship are unpredictable.But u really did ur best efforts to help them. Moving~~BTW,I am Chinese in China.Glad to meet u here . If u have a chance,I am looking forward to making friends with u on facebook.

    Yours sincerely,

    Aimee Chen

  • Dave Crawford | January 9, 2013 9:33 AMReply

    Dear Ms. Lum;

    I read the information that was available about your documentary, Seeking Asian Female, and found it very interesting. I noted you grew up in St Louis which is where I currently live (just across the river in Illinois.) In telling the story about Steven and Sandy I think you became a driving force in the success of their relationship. You made the communication between them possible and probably helped them evolve into a successful relationship. I know you stated your involvement made you a subject in the documentary which you didn't intend but I think that involvement gave you a closeness that put you in a position to produce a truly clear perspective on what was going on in their life. What little I have read made me hope that their relationship was a successful love story.

    You are to be commended on the work and effort you put into making this documentary. I would like to know how I could obtain a complete copy of your film before it was cut down. If you would tell me how I can get a copy and the cost I would be most appreciative. I am looking forward to watching the entire documentary.

    Sincerely,

    Dave Crawford

  • Aimee Chen | January 23, 2013 3:13 AM

    I am looking forward to watching the entire documentary,too!

  • Michael Groff | March 13, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    To Debbie Lum
    From: Michael Groff

    You have a great idea! Go with it! I currently live in Fairbanks, Alaska transferring to Australia to be a fruit farmer. Now your idea is greatand I would like to help as much as I can with your idea!

    THANKS, Michael