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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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Filmmaker Jy-Ah Min grew up in Southern California. In college she got involved with politics – registering students to vote, organizing young Korean Americans, and putting together peace marches–and had planned to be a lawyer. But while studying at the University of San Diego she met Jean-Pierre Gorin, a leftist who worked with the French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Gorin suggested Min watch Godard’s revolutionary 1966 movie, Masculin Féminin. When Min saw the film about “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” as Godard notoriously described it, she was fascinated by his use of text as images and rapid sound cuts, and she saw parallels between '60s youth in France and her contemporary peers in San Diego. She wanted to explore this idea with her camera, and ended up making her first feature film, M/F Remix, about roommates Mimi and Philip. M/F Remix –– which is not a remake of Masculin Féminin, but, like the title says, a remix –– made its U.S. premiere at the International Asian American Film Festival in San Francisco in March, and will screen at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival from April 6-17th, with more screening dates viewable here. AlterNet spoke with Min about reinventing a classic, infusing art with politics, and filmmaking as activism.

 

 When did you first see the Godard film, and what about it interested you?

It must have been like early 2003. It’s certainly not my favorite Godard film, but for me it wasn’t a question of finding a film that was my favorite. At the time, I was a visual art major but I had the intention of going to law school. But I got bit by the film bug at this time, and I saw this Godard film and there was something about that film that gripped me. It’s about the youth of the '60s during the time of the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution, but for me it didn’t feel like the past. There was a language embedded in the film, or perhaps the language of Godard, that I felt was relevant to the present and the place I come from, which is the world of hip-hop. 

I can be a very obsessive person because I keep thinking about things and I don’t let them go. After seeing that film, I was thinking about all the elements of it, and it kind of opened my eyes and helped me pay attention to what was happening around the time which was, you know, 2004 was the reelection of Bush, so the election period was coming on. This was a time where people were starting to pick up cell phones, but not everybody had them, and there were a lot of technological changes happening. I felt this urgency to understand it even though I was 23 or 22 and didn’t quite understand it. But I had a sense of something that was disappearing that I wanted to grasp and capture.I started talking to Jean-Pierre Gorin, a French American filmmaker who worked with Godard. He was very interested in the project and wanted to see where it would go. It started out as a summer project. I never imagined I’d be a filmmaker.

How did politics play into your movie?

I grew up in Southern California as an immigrant, and I’ve been involved with Asian American community throughout my college years. I worked for the Southern California Korean College Student Association, SCKCSA. It’s a collation of Korean American college students, and we did community service and did political work in community, so I was a politically conscious kid. During the Bush and Kerry election period, for me it was such a crucial moment, and yet I felt... I don’t want to say apathy, but people were not involved. My peers were uninvolved. They weren’t necessarily uninterested, but there was no activism. As we know today, Bush got reelected and then we had the Iraq War. For me, it was a really crucial moment and nothing was happening around me. A lot of people were not involved at all, and I kind of wanted to understand that better because a lot of my obsession in my youth was about being politically active and trying to get more people involved in that. So I was trying to understand -- how do you create activism in your community, and how can you move people to collectively work toward something?