Student Delegate Blog: UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Saturday, as the second full day of programming for SFIAAFF, was full of stimulation and inspiration. Notably, the UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL panel.

By Yen Le

Saturday, as the second full day of programming for SFIAAFF, was full of stimulation and inspiration. Notably, the UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL panel introduced the CAAM Fellows and the impressive projects they and their mentors were working on. Moderated by Karin Chien of dGenerate Films, the Fellows also shared their collective wisdom for fellow Asian Americans trying to break into writing, directing, or producing. Special Guest Anne Lai, produce-in-residence at Sundance Institute stressed the importance of finding a mentor with a “generosity of spirit” and superb listening skills to really help identify what is you want to achieve and help you get there.

Watch live streaming video from caam at

The panel prompted me to consider the type of mentors I need to find to help me on my path. I want to pursue documentary and film production in China and help improve access for emerging Chinese filmmakers.  I spoke with Karin Chien whose distribution and production company works in China about future opportunities.

We have screened many amazing works at this festival. The most powerful piece I have seen so far has been Ross Tuttle’s short documentary RESIDENT ALIENS. It tells the stories of three young Cambodian-Americans that were deported to Cambodia after committing felonies in the US. The documentary chronicles their trauma at being deported from a country they considered home, their culture shock and harrowing road to building a new life in a foreign country. The subject matter, although heavy, was juxtaposed with the charisma and the dark humor of the three main characters which made it that much more compelling.

I chatted with the director, Ross Tuttle at the Festival Social Club on Saturday night and I was shocked to learn that he currently has no distributor for it. This story deserves a much wider audience because it forces the audience to ask uncomfortable questions about what America really stands for. It challenged me to to wonder about how the US government defines “American.” The deportees lacked citizenship (they had resident green cards) but how far is that from interning other Americans of “dubious” ethnic backgrounds?

Another theme running through “Resident Aliens” is the globalization of hip-hop and the appeal of American urban youth culture to developing countries, which “SAIGON ELECTRIC” also exemplifies.

Yen is a participant in this year’s Verizon Student Delegate Program.


  • I agree that Resident Aliens was one of the more insightful and also unexpected works. (I totally thought we were going to watch a Resident Evil meets Aliens spin-off)

    My only problem–which is more of me being nitpicky–is the lack of perspectives from different sides of the spectrum. They raised such an important issue that I only wished there were interviews from the the locals, KK’s kids, government officials, etc. But alas, this was a very small project that was almost entirely made by Ross Tuttle. Hopefully it will receive distribution in the near future.

  • UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL was an immensely informative panel! Karin Chien did a wonderful job moderating, posing great questions to the mentees. Perhaps the most helpful advice I gleaned from this panel was the influence of a mentor and how perseverance, constant work, and drive towards self-improvement are some of the most important things to have as a beginning filmmaker. If you were unable to attend, I would highly suggest watching the video which Yen posted!

    I too was impressed by RESIDENT ALIENS’ examination of deported refugees. The characters were compellingly human, flawed but yet struggling to make the best of an unchangeable situation. It was a startling look at U.S. foreign policy.

  • I also hope this film gets distributed because there it narrates three Cambodians’ pursuit for happiness in a new country – a universal pursuit for anyone who is displaced. I’ve seen a similar film showing displaced Cambodians, so I was unsurprised at U.S’s policies regarding refugee deportations. Tuttle’s film, however, gave me more insight about how one refugee can ultimately find a new life in a foreign, though motherland country through passions in art, such as dance and rap.

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