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Lily Tang: Sharing Stories of the Asian American Experience through Film

When drive mixes with passion and activism, a beautiful, impactful work of art is produced.

Lily Tang is a junior double major in political science and BDIC in social policy and Asian American studies. She is also obtaining a certificate in Asian/Asian American studies. She is an event coordinator at the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center and spearheaded the first ever Asian American film festival at UMass in 2018.

“I felt that the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center didn’t have a really big, dynamic event in our programming or a way to engage the UMass community in a more fun, informative and social justice-focused way. A film festival is something that I felt captured all the things that I wanted to see at UMass.”

The film festival invites three different film makers for three days, and each day features a film with a Q&A session — and of course food. To better align with the interests of the student body each year, festival coordinators have also invited a Youtuber to present on the final day of the festival.

What made you want to start the film festival?

“I started the film festival because I did not see programming that talked about Asian American identity in a way that is intersectional and actually representative of the diaspora”

Lily wanted to start a conversation with students about what it means to be Asian American and be a political identity. She is looking to teach students how to use their privileges to not only understand themselves, but to better uplift the community as well. The film festival also aims to give voice to students who may not see their identities represented well or at all.

“I feel like the different stories are lost — we talk a lot about culture, but we don’t talk about gender identities or the politicalization of our identities as Asian Americans.”

How was the process?

Creating a film festival from scratch was difficult, especially because Lily wanted to make sure that people got paid for their work, and the cost of the festival has ranged between $9,000-$12,000. Getting administration to “buy in” was initially challenging because a film festival had never been done and there’s no real protocol on how to create such an event. However, with the success of last year’s festival, this year’s was a lot easier to manage. This year, Lily was able to work with various RSOs on campus and outside agencies to co-sponsor and integrate different aspects of the UMass campus into the 3 days.

“I wanted to make a point in paying POC film makers, especially those who are not as famous and are doing very important and good work on a local scale.”

How do you pick filmmakers?

“Honestly it’s all unexpected.”

Last year, Lily knew she wanted to invite Ken Eng, a Boston based filmmaker. She was able to meet him when she was in high school and wanted to harness his narrative. Through him, Lily was able to connect with Adele Pham, the producer of Nailed It. These two films had a focus on the immigrant/refugee experience; for the third festival day, Lily wanted to capture what contemporary life is like for Asian Americans, so she invited one of the most famous Asian American Youtubers, WongFu Productions.

“This translated into this narrative of the differences of generations, and how each generation has important things and messages to give,” she says. “Modern-day Asian American activism and advocacy for our own community is different from two generations ago, but we still acknowledge how we stand on the shoulders of past generations.”

This year, Lily wanted to explore intersectionality, including LGBTQ+, men, and women identities. She’s invited Katytarika Bartel, co-founder of the non-profit, ANGRY ASIAN GIRLS, to the festival, to focus on Asian American women activism and feminism. Katy’s film aims to share stories about local Asian American women songwriters and activists. Filmmaker Patrick G Lee will focus on LGBTQ+ Asian Americans activism in both contemporary and historical times. The final presentation by Youtuber Mike Bow will focus on masculinity, as well as navigating and breaking out of Asian American men stereotypes.

The Asian American Film festival will be held in the Campus Center from November 6-8!

Lily Tang '21

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