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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."