Project Gelb screened at the 2017 Vancouver Queer Film Festival. The 43-minute documentary, originally released in 2015, highlights the dating experiences of 8 Asian men. The majority of them are gay and of East-Asian ethnicity.
The men represent a wide range of ages, from 20 to 68 years old, and each describes their stories of navigating the dangerous waters of dating as Asian men in a society where being Asian is being a minority. A review of the documentary can be viewed on the Georgia Straight online magazine.
The documentary can be viewed here in its entirety:
The film is by director Francis Luta, a native of Toronto, Canada. Francis was at the screening in Vancouver, where I saw the documentary for the first time. I recently interviewed him by phone and ask why he made the film and what have been some of its outcomes. I hope you enjoy the interview below.
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Gayasianmale.net: How did the idea of the film come about?
Francis Luta: During the making of the film, I was taking stock of my friendships and realized that I had very few Asian friends, specifically gay Asian friends. As an adult, friendships have become much more important to me since I was more of a loner in school and making new friends in your late twenties/early thirties isn’t the easiest. One of the reasons why I made the film was to meet other Asian guys, not only to commiserate but also to have genuine connections.
A lot of what the guys spoke about in the film happened to me. The whole experience of dating and using the social apps is something that I was familiar with. There came a point where I had enough and wanted to do something; to give back to the community in a small scale but to do it in an artistic manner. So, I made a documentary.
Where did the name of the film come from?
Project Gelb was supposed to be a temporary title. The other documentaries I was working on at the time had the word ‘Project’ in it and after a while, the title stuck. Gelb is the German word for yellow and I initially chose this working title because I spent a year living in Germany in my mid-20s. It was an important year of finding myself, my artistic voice, and forced myself try things outside of my comfort zone. Coming back to Canada, I wanted a project to somehow reflect my German experience
It is also a bit of a joke when you think about it. It goes back to what Chris Tsujiuchi mentions in the film – there is not much room for non-white performers – and pokes fun at the supposed ideal of an Aryan race.
Where did the men come from? Was it primarily filmed in Toronto?
The men were from the network of people I already knew. I met Kevin through mutual friends and he and Chris T were already friends. I think I met Chris Jai from Facebook. Dr. Albert Wong is a neighbor of mine. Yes, they all live in Toronto. They were filmed separately, one at a time – in a span of a couple of months.
I wanted the men to be from different demographics – older, younger, straight, gay. I also specifically wanted someone who was an actor – someone not shy about his looks. Steven was the hardest to find. There had been other guys in my network that fit this description but they did not want to participate in the documentary. Fortunately, Steven stepped up.
Was there something that you learned or experience with one of these men that has really stuck with you?
This film as a whole was like holding up a mirror to myself. While it was these guys telling their stories in front of the camera, it was also me telling mine; it was me hiding behind them while they told their stories.
When Kevin spoke about his experiences going to gay clubs and how other Asian guys would eye each other down as if their territory were invaded by another Asian guy – this stuck with me because I’ve had similar experiences. Once I was at a party and was having a really good conversation with a white guy. His Asian boyfriend was so jealous that he basically ruined the conversation. He could have easily joined in but instead showed such animosity towards me. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that maybe I was flirty, or that I was Asian or whether we were having such a good conversation without him. I would’ve been happy to talk to him too—without the attitude. It is humorous but also sad.
Has making this film changed you?
Coming across Chris’s interview during the editing process, he says “if you are Asian and want to be center stage like Beyoncé – then that is what you should do. And if you do that and commit to it people will accept it. That has been my experience.” I realized that this is what I wanted people to walk away with from this film, so I made it the concluding note.
You almost have to be delusional about your goal and tackle it aggressively. This is also the advice I have taken from the film. Thanks, Chris!
There was this one scene with a shirtless white guy walking down a street carrying a large sign ‘I don’t date Asian’ – was there any difficulty or awkwardness in filming that scene?
When I look back I realize – wow, that was actually kind of bold. This was one of those ‘delusional’ things you do especially when you are in the arts.
In one of Jaime’s sound bites, he mentioned that seeing ‘No Asian’ in dating apps is like seeing someone walking down the street carrying a big sign with ‘I don’t date Asians’ written on it. I immediately realized that we needed to do a visual depiction. The idea came naturally and there were no second thoughts. We found a model from Craigslist, I went to Staples for the poster materials and we filmed the next day. Alex, the model, was actually married to an Asian girl at the time, so he had also taken a personal interest in the project.
I did not really care what was going to happen. I just knew it had to be done. We were actually stopped and questioned by the police, thankfully they were just curious and let us go on about our business. It was actually kind of fun.
The words were written backward so when we were out in public you had to take a second look to read it. In fact, people did take second looks even in a busy financial district – and they weren’t really sure what to make of it. They didn’t know what we were shooting. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go about passing out business cards explaining the intent — that we were not racists and we were just making a film.
Some people defend similar statements in the dating apps by saying it is just a preference but when you see it actually depicted – it’s clear that their statement is ridiculous and unacceptable anywhere else, and that they are no better than me by saying that. It’s not cool and it doesn’t make you desirable – and if you feel so strongly about it that you still feel the need to defend and proclaim it in this day and age, then be more transparent about it by saying you are ignorant, uncultured and ugly.
How have the men’s lives changed after the film, if any?
Most of the guys are still doing what they love doing. Kevin and Chris T are both artistic directors. Chris is actually currently on tour doing his thing fearlessly. I really admire that about him. Chris Jai was a journalist when I met him but now he’s doing more styling and wardrobe for films and Steven is modeling and acting in New York. Even though we don’t keep in touch on a regular basis, I think in a way, making this doc allowed us to make peace with certain things and tackle our individual goals harder than before.
Besides the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, did Project Gelb screen anywhere else?
Vancouver was the career benchmark for the film. It was submitted to other festivals but did not get accepted due to its length. It’s an unusual length to be screened at a festival. Festivals usually want to screen as many short films as possible in one sitting and Project Gelb takes up a lot of space.
I knew the risk of keeping it at this length from the beginning but didn’t want to compromise; it is 43 minutes of insight into ‘our story’ and I just felt so strongly about not budging. Thankfully the Vancouver Queer Film Festival came along and accepted it.
Was there anything else that you wanted to add about the film?
The one criticism that I received was that the film was ‘one-sided’. Obviously, it is one-sided. That is because it is our story. It is from our side. It is not a criticism to me; it is an obvious fact.
Thank you for making the film and for agreeing to this interview Francis!
Thanks for doing this article, Edward!
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