News / Arts & Entertainment

Sundance Film Short Explores Homosexuality in the Korean-American Community

Filmmaker Andrew Ahn used his film, Dol (First Birthday), as a way to come out to his parents.

In a scene from filmmaker Andrew Ahn’s short film Dol (First Birthday), a Korean-American family gathers amid traditional dol decorations.
In a scene from filmmaker Andrew Ahn’s short film Dol (First Birthday), a Korean-American family gathers amid traditional dol decorations.

The story behind the new short-film Dol (First Birthday) is packed with enough drama to be turned into a movie of its own.

Dol was Korean-American filmmaker Andrew Ahn’s way of coming out to his parents. He wanted acceptance from his family. He got that and, in the process, had the movie accepted for screening at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious cinema showcases in the world.

The movie, which will be shown at the Utah film festival on January 20, follows Nick, a gay Korean-American man living in Koreatown, Los Angeles with his partner Brian. When Nick attends his nephew's dol, a traditional Korean first birthday party, he finds himself yearning for a life just out of reach.

In an interesting plot twist to the making of Dol, Ahn got his parents to act in the semi-autobiographical film, although he didn’t tell them what it was about. Instead, he told them it was the story of a Korean-American male who was having an “existential crisis.”

“They were totally game,” Ahn said of his parents’ willingness to act in the film. “The fact that they were so game almost made it more heartbreaking for me because I was completely fooling them.”

Ahn said he was “super nervous” before showing his parents the finished reel.

“I got so tense, I almost couldn’t press play,” he said. “They said, ‘Just hit play. We’re going to love it. We’re your parents.’

“When the credits started rolling, my dad said, ‘Oh is that it?’  I knew at that moment they didn’t get it. It was so upsetting to me because this was the whole reason I made this film. I didn’t want to have to verbalize it. I didn’t want to say ‘I’m gay.’”

Ahn said he broke down in tears and finally told his parents.

“If I’d just taken the DVD back to my room, they would have been in total denial,” he said.

Ahn said his relationship with his parents is not easier now that he’s come out of the closet, but he said it’s healthier.

Andrew Ahn
Korean-American filmmaker Andrew Ahn's second work, Dol (First Birthday), has been selected to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

“They think it’s a phase, but that they’re willing to talk about it, which is about as much as I can hope for at this moment,” he said. “It was as if they were getting to know their son again. I was so happy to see that the lines of communication were open. I had a bag packed thinking they were going to kick me out of the house.”

Ahn said the Korean-American community is very conflicted about homosexuality.

“The community is very Christian. Church is a very big part of Korean-American family life. Because of the church you have resistance to homosexuality.” At the same time, he added, there are more Korean-Americans coming out earlier.

Ahn said it’s not only the church that makes homosexuality a difficult topic to address, but that the high value placed on traditional families in the Korean-American community can make coming out even more of a challenge.

“I think it’s because our parents have such high hopes for us. They wanted the American dream. They wanted a family. They wanted to put down roots in America. If you’re gay, it’s a little trickier to have a family, to have grandchildren for your parents.”

Coming out, Anh said would be “tricky and difficult” for his parents to accept. In 2008, his mom encouraged him to vote for California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I was so afraid. I really needed something like this film to push me through … to really motivate me to tell them,” he said.

Ahn already had experience delivering surprising news to his parents. While at Brown University, he was studying biology “like a good Korean boy” on his way to medical school, but instead graduated with a degree in English. He later felt his calling was in filmmaking and enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts’ film directing school where he earned an MFA.

His first narrative short, Andy, has screened at numerous festivals and venues around the world, including Slamdance, Outfest, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, REDCAT and MoliseCinema (Italy).

He said he’s already planning two feature-length films, both set in Koreatown.

Six months after coming out to his parents, Ahn was informed that Dol was selected for Sundance. It is one of just 64 shorts selected from almost 8,000 submissions.

“[My parents] were super happy for me,” he said. “They were kind of dumbfounded at first. [My mom] asked if I was going to meet Robert Redford, who she’s had a crush on forever.”

Dol Trailer from Andrew Ahn on Vimeo.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."