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Fifteen Minutes for the Video Star

Fifteen Minutes for the Video Star

The VC Film Festival unleashes under-exposed indie music videos at the festival's first ever music video showcase, Hey! Listen Up!

By Ana La O

They call us the MTV generation, but recently, the video star seems to have died... at least on the airwaves. With The Hills and My Sweet Sixteen dominating MTV, most music videos, especially independent videos, have found themselves largely confined to the likes of YouTube and MySpace. But for 15 Asian American directors, Hey! Listen Up! (the VC Film Festival's first ever music video-only program) offered a rare chance to present their independent videos on a silver screen at the Director's Guild of America.

"The Internet is a great way to gain exposure, but to see the music videos on a big screen with an audience is a totally different experience," says Hey! Listen Up! curator Grace Su. "At a film festival, filmmakers get the time to really share the work behind their work...[and] communicate with their peers and an audience that wants to know more!"

On the opening night of the sold-out event, the audience definitely seemed interested. Stragglers trailed in and happily sat in the aisles for lack of free seats in the DAG's tiny 38-seat Theater 3 to watch an eclectic mix of music videos, ranging from experimental to commercial videos.

The program opened with L Star's "Music For Life" (dir. Rocco Vogel), a dramatic hip hop video highlighting the hard life of youth in Harlem, and continued with indie rock videos like Ninja Academy's "Your Kung Fu Sucks" (dir. Rachel Tejada) -- a  Beastie Boys-esque video that plays on kitschy Kung Fu iconography -- and Love Grenades' "Young Lovers (dir. Steve Lee) -- a black white homage to Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie. A surprising and impressive selection was Kelly's Zen-Yie-Tsai's "Bystanding: The Beginning of An American Lifetime" (dir. Karen Lin). Lin's gorgeous black and white video portrait of New Yorkers perfectly translates the messages of unity in Tsai's spoken word.

While the program welcomed its share of newcomers and up and comers, it also showcased VC Festival veteran Patricio Ginelsa and his video for Native Guns' "Champion." Another name familiar to Asian American cinema goers was So Yong Kim, who directed In Between Days and co-directed the video for Asobi Sesku's ambient indie track, "Thursday." Finally, Asian American hip hop favorite, the Far East Movement, dominated the program with three videos: "Smile" (dir.Todd Angkasuwan), "Eyes Never Lie" (dir. Hosanna Wong), and "Round Round" (dir. Evan Leong), the evening's rambunctious finale. Nothing says happy ending after all, like import models scarfing down hot dogs to a ghettofied Beach Boys song.

But no matter how popular or famous the director or the video, all these entries seemed to be linked by a common thread -- under-funding and under-exposure. Most of the videos were made on retro Super 8's or Panasonic DVX cameras (film-quality digital) and on budgets as low as $400. None of them were backed by labels and almost of all them are on YouTube. Or if they're not, they're hidden where the general public can't find them. Even Evan Leong's bigger budget commercial "Round Round" -- featured on The Fast and The Furious 3: Tokyo Drift soundtrack -- can only be seen on FF3's bonus features or online.

Furthermore, the few television outlets supporting independent Asian (American) videos -- namely  MTV Chi, MTV Desi and MTV K -- may be pulled of the air by MTV/Viacom. And even if they do survive, there's still the issue of exclusion. "With MTV Chi, I felt like it was just Chinese. Where do the Filipinos fit in that?" asks Ginelsa, who supports another Asian American music channel called MYX, which at least offers a more inclusive name. Too bad, MYX is only part of a special Direct TV package, which Ginelsa himself doesn't subscribe to.

Consequently, these filmmakers still rely greatly on the web to get their music videos to the public. But while websites can offer significant exposure and sometimes even money prizes, the rewards are mainly directed toward the musical artist rather than the video director. Steve Lee's video for "Young Lovers" is a finalist for's music video competition for independent artists. Sponsored by Sony and Epic records, the website rewards the winning musician with an Epic Records recording contract, but has no concrete prize for video directors.

"It's really about the artist, it's not really about us," says Leong. "We're just making the videos for $20 each."

In fact, when Su asks Leong why he made his videos, he responds, "Just keep staying in practice... We're artists, [we] gotta keep doing something."

And of course, there's the motivation of a good song. Ginelsa insists, "I always feel it's a crime when songs aren't out there in the masses. I always feel it's kind of a responsibility to visualize that for people."

So with most of the glory being directed towards the musical artist, Hey! Listen Up! offers long overdue recognition to the talents behind the music videos. As a good fifth of the audience (a majority of them were featured talents) stood up for the directors' Q&A at the end of the program, it became clear that these artists were ready for their fifteen minutes of fame, even if only fifteen minutes, literally.

"It's always great when there's a response to [your] music video," said Ginelsa about VC's selection of his Native Guns Video. "I feel bad for the other videos that don't get the same kind of response… When a film festival actually invites you, you know you did something right."


Asia Pacific Arts