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Meet the 2012 SXSW Filmmakers #10: Wu Tsang, 'Wildness'

By Indiewire Staff | Indiewire March 4, 2012 at 10:00AM

Director Tsang Wu's "Wildness" is a chronicle of the Silver Platter, an LGBT immigrant bar in Los Angeles. Wu had no filmmaking experience prior to directing "Wildness," so he had to teach himself how to write and edit. He says that money was a certainly a major issue in the production of the film, but his biggest challenge was telling a story that could appeal to all audiences. "Not only because I'm an artist with an experimental background, but because my experience of the world - and the experiences of my subjects - are so far outside the realm of what people expect to be 'normal,'" says Wu. "Yet at the same time, we all know ourselves to be humans with the same impulses, desires, and weaknesses as everybody else - so my struggle was figuring out how to create representations that were 'relatable' for wider audiences, while still being real about our differences."
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Tsang Wu
Tsang Wu

Director Wu Tsang's "Wildness" is a chronicle of the Silver Platter, an LGBT immigrant bar in Los Angeles. Tsang had no filmmaking experience prior to directing "Wildness," so he had to teach himself how to write and edit. He says that money was a certainly a major issue in the production of the film, but his biggest challenge was telling a story that could appeal to all audiences.

"Not only because I'm an artist with an experimental background, but because my experience of the world - and the experiences of my subjects - are so far outside the realm of what people expect to be 'normal,'" says Tsang. "Yet at the same time, we all know ourselves to be humans with the same impulses, desires, and weaknesses as everybody else - so my struggle was figuring out how to create representations that were 'relatable' for wider audiences, while still being real about our differences."

What It's About: "Wildness" is a magical realist portrait of the Silver Platter, a historic LGBT immigrant bar in LA where a performance art party explodes into creativity and conflict.

Says director Wu Tsang: "At its core, 'Wildness' is a love story between me and a special PLACE: a bar called the Silver Platter on the east side of Los Angeles. Our characters are more or less conventional archetypes; while everything else about the story is not. I'm a young, idealistic queer person who arrives to the bar in search of something, I don't know what. The bar is an elder/parental figure, who takes me in and looks after me, but also loses patience and teaches me some hard lessons when I make mistakes. In the end, it's sad because the bar dies; I lose the thing I care about most. It doesn't die physically (the building remains and the business stays open) but it stops talking to me, kind of like it says, 'My work here is done, you don't need me anymore...' So in that sense it's also a coming of age story.

"My background is as a performer and organizer. 'Wildness' became a film because I was throwing a party that got politicized when our safe space was threatened by its growing popularity. I felt an urgent need to communicate my ideas, while still remaining true to the wild energy and spirit of the party. I had help from amazing collaborators such as my co-writer Roya Rastegar, my lead performer & interpreter Mariana Marroquin, and my editing mentor Jonathan Oppenheim. I love that filmmaking enables me to do what I love best: bring people together, and create all sorts of social and cultural collisions through story-telling.

"I imagine that Austin is a city experiencing similar social challenges to Los Angeles- being so close to the Mexico border, where US immigration policies daily affect many people's lives. Similarly as a college town, Austin is full of young creative people and it has burgeoning underground scenes, which share space -and neighborhoods- with all types of communities. I hope 'Wildness' can inspire people to think differently about their daily experiences of gentrification. And perhaps understand the role that land or a 'sense of place' contributes to our perception of boundaries and how we might willfully cross them- each day in our own way.

"I've been inspired by iconic hybrid narrative-docs such as Marlon Riggs' 'Tongues Untied' and Charles Atlas's 'Hail the New Puritan.' I've also been informed by amazing filmmakers whom I've had the privilege of working with or developing alongside, such as Ira Sachs, Matt Wolf and Dee Rees. Perhaps my number one inspiration is Lizzie Borden's 'Born in Flames' because it has this raw energy of the filmmaker trying to grasp at intersectional politics that don't exist in real life (hence the sci-fi fantasy element, like "AFTER the socialist revolution, when the women's liberation army takes over the world" - love it!)

"I'm new to the film world so mostly I will be trying to take it all in. I'm really looking forward to encountering SXSW audiences, who are reputed to be thoughtful and open to taking risks. This will be the first time that 'Wildness' plays for a theater of strangers! (We are world-premiering in NYC but that is essentially home turf for me.) My end goal for 'Wildness' is digital distribution, because I want a variety of people who are essentially like me in terms of media-consumption: a little lazy, non-film-buffs - to be able to access the film easily on demand. We'll be keeping our eyes peeled for those opportunities...

"I'm just finishing a major 'trifecta' in NYC - participating in the New Museum's Ungovernables Triennial, the Whitney Biennial, as well as world premiering 'Wildness' at MoMA's Documentary Fortnight - so it's been hard to catch my breath. But I do have one exciting project in the works, which is a continuation of a short 16mm film I just premiered at the Triennial called 'For how we perceived a life (Take 3)' which is a performative investigation of 'Paris Is Burning.' I hope to continue collaborating with my DJ friends TOTAL FREEDOM and NGUZUNGUZU who continue to light up my universe of sound. I secretly have almost no knowledge of music, because I'm surrounded by their amazing work - it's all I ever listen to!"

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.

This article is related to: Meet the 2012 SXSW Filmmakers, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Wildness