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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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There’s the famous quote from Godard about Masculin Féminin being about the children of Marx and Coca Cola. What did that mean to you? Is that about consumerism?

My film begins by saying “Dear Mr. Godard, we know Coca-Cola but who the hell is Marx?” And I think the rest of the film was trying to figure out how that applies to the characters of Mimi and Philip.

Masculin Féminin was about youth in the '60s. It was the first generation that defined themselves as being consumers, unlike their parents’ generation who didn’t have the same leisurely ways. It was the onset of the sexual revolution with the birth control pill.

In my film, the last quote is, “Nothing new on the western front.” The alternative quote that I considered ending the movie with was “Sois jeune et tais tois,”which means “Be young and shut up.” It’s supposed to be a sarcastic quote that was used in ‘68 by the student protesters who would put up these big posters with de Gaulle who had his hand over the mouths of the youth. The poster was created to outrage the youth, to say, get out there and let your voices be heard. But I chose to say “Nothing new on the Western front” because I feel we’re on the same trajectory that Godard picked up on in the '60s and I think we’re on the extreme end of some things he picked up on. For example in original film there’s a scene, which you see in my film, where he’s talking about there’s going to be machines that will give sexual pleasure and things like that. Now we’re in an age where you can go out to Barnes and Noble and buy a book like Kama Sutra for Dummies or you can buy condoms in every flavor.

How does filmmaking fit into your political activism?

What I love about the medium of film is that it’s a medium that can be shared with enormous amount of people. That comes with responsibility and power to be able to articulate something in a very precise way. For me all films are political. When I was active in my community, I realized that if you speak to a large crowd of 500 people, maybe one person will actually remember it. It’s fleeting, and it’s gone. The magic of cinema is that you can articulate something over a longer period of time and have that stay and be archived and be shared many times over for generations. There was something that fascinated me about that. Also that it’s a craft that I can work towards being able to get better, and that was really powerful and alluring.

Emily Wilson is a freelance writer and teaches basic skills at City College of San Francisco.