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Politically Active Filmmaking: A Conversation with Director Jy-Ah Min

How a former activist/organizer parlayed her politics and hip-hop background into a compelling 'remix' of Godard's 'Masculin/Feminin.'

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Southern California is very spread out and we’re always in private spaces, and we’re always moving from one private space to another. I was interested in the people in their 20s being obsessed with the things they were obsessed with, and I wanted to capture that.

You say you saw parallels between France in the '60s and Southern California in 2004. What were those parallels?

Godard tried to create a system of distance in his film so the camera was able to capture young people almost like looking at animals in a zoo. If you have the proper distance, you see how they move, and react and he creates the distance between the subject and the story by using text and images and sound in an aggressive way. And for me, that was not only linked to a language I recognized in music, but in terms of circumstances -- I mean, this is 1966 just two years before 1968, which rocked the world. At the same time the Vietnam War is going on and you see the young people in Paris who he called the generation of Marx and Coca Cola having the leisurely life and not really caring about what’s going on in the world, or maybe that’s just a side Godard chose to capture at the time.

I know Godard said in an interview once that Masculin Féminin is not a film about youth, but it’s a film that thinks about youth. In the same way, I ended up creating a film that is not necessarily about Masculin Féminin at all, but it’s a film that contemplates the methodology used in Masculin Féminin to think about the present. I wanted to  create the same kind of distance that Godard had. That’s why the film turned out to be quite experimental, because I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to turn out to be. I had an idea in terms of style and construction because I had a lot of guidelines. Godard has a lot of stylistic techniques that I certainly borrowed from. What I like about his style is he has a trademark way of using text as an image, and he has a way of creating rules and breaking them. That to me is relevant to hip-hop. I believe we are the generation of remix. Not necessarily by choice, but because we are so overwhelmed by all the information and images coming at us all at once.

Were you trying to present Mimi and Philip, the characters in the film, as passive?

They were passive, but I wasn’t trying to criticize the characters for who they were. I was simply trying to observe the people around me. I don’t think M/F Remix is a negative film or saying that all young people are doomed, we don’t participate and we don’t care. I think it’s quite the opposite, and I think there’s a reason why a lot of academics have a hard time pinning us down as Generation X or Y or Z or whatever, because they can say we’re lazy or this or that, but at the same time we’re super productive. I think it’s just a different mode of communication all together.

I was born in 1980, so I turned in papers written by hand and I wrote rough drafts. I remember a time before the Internet. I lived through an age where there were a lot of changes and different modes of communication and expression and productivity. For me it was just trying to describe one aspect of the lives of Mimi and Philip but not in a judgmental way. I wanted to create an environment in the film that allowed me to capture the daily mundanities of two young roommates co-existing together in the isolation of their own home.