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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”