| By Park Chung-a|
A scene from the film “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”
The issue of identity has always been at the core of artworks by many adoptees. Joy Dietrich, a Korean adoptee filmmaker in her mid-30s, has confined the issue of identity not only to adoptees.
From her films like ``Surplus’’ and ``Robot Girl’’ to her new feature film ``Tie a Yellow Ribbon,’’ she has consistently focused on not only the identity problems of adoptees but also those of being an Asian-American women. Dietrich, who also works as a research editor at The New York Times, has just finished shooting one third of ``Tie A Yellow Ribbon’’ in the United States.
Structured into seven thematically related vignettes and stretching over three decades, the film exposes the lives of three Asian-American women _ Bea, Jenny and Sandy, as they grow up in America’s predominantly white society. In a recent e-mail and a phone interview with The Korea Times, Dietrich from New York talked about the need to raise awareness on Asian-American women in the U.S. , a segment of population that has not been greatly exposed and given voice.
Question: Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Answer: I was born in Korea, abandoned by my biological father in the city of Seoul when I was one or two years old. I lived in an orphanage for four years until I was adopted by my American parents. I lived in Texas for the first two years in the U.S. and then moved to Indiana where I stayed until high school graduation.
I went to college in Ohio and after graduation, lived in Geneva, Switzerland and Paris for several years. I moved to New York in 1998 to do films. From 1994, I worked as an editor and reporter for various magazines and news services in the United States and abroad. Until today, I continue to work in the field of journalism to help pay my bills.
In Fall 1999, I shot my first 16-millimeter short film called ``Surplus’’ (shown in Seoul last year at an art exhibit about Korean adoptee artists). ``Surplus’’ is about a poor Korean farmer having to choose which daughter out of many daughters to let go after a devastating drought. The film has shown in more than 30 film festivals and events.
Q: What does the title ``Tie A Yellow Ribbon’’ mean?
A: It has several meanings. For one thing, it's a famous song. For another, it's what Americans do to remember or honor soldiers overseas. They tie a yellow ribbon around a tree to honor the troops abroad. Yellow Ribbon, however, also has another, darker meaning. The Yellow Ribbon society is an organization that is a suicide prevention center. My film touches upon the topic of depression and suicide. Asian-American girls have the highest depression rates in the U.S.
Q: What steered you into filmmaking?
A: Filmmaking for me is more of a compulsion, a will to expose and discuss social issues that affect our lives. It’s very hard work and I can’t say I do filmmaking because I love it, it’s because I have to do it.
Q: What message do you want to convey to viewers through your new film? How is it different from other two films?
A: I would like to give more exposure to Asian-American girls. We are invisible in American society. There are hardly any films that show on mainstream media about Asian-American girls. So, my film is about three Asian-American girls growing up in the U.S., one of which is a Korean adoptee trying to fit in with her white family.
Q: When do you think the film will be done and released?
A: If everything goes according to plan, it should be completed in December 2006.
Q: What are the difficulties in making the film?
A: Finding financing to fund the project is the greatest hurdle. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a grant from New York State Council on the Arts and also am receiving development funds from ITVS (see Itvs.org). However, we are still looking for funds to finance the completion of the film. The Hollywood system is risk-averse and not many want to venture into a territory that’s experimental and seldom done. ``Tie a Yellow Ribbon’’ is a bit edgier than most mainstream films and contains complex portrayals of three young women trying to find their place in American society.
Q: Have you ever tried to find your biological parents? Or are you willing to do so?
A: I went to the orphanage I came from when I visited Korea the last time in 1989. But I have not much interest finding my parents compared to other adoptees. Why don’t I have much interest? I think this question might be the main theme for my next film, which will be a documentary about an adoptee’s search to understand birth and belonging.
Q: Any memorable or interesting episode while making the film?
A: The first part of the film was shot over 5 days in February 2005. During that period, we had wild weather conditions. The shoot began warm, Spring-like, 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Then it rained and by nightfall, it was freezing cold. By the last day, we were hit with a blizzard. We finished shooting in the middle of the night and when we were going back home, we were slipping and sliding all over the snowy roads. There was almost a foot of snow on the ground. We’re currently raising money to have the second part of the shoot.
Q: Have you faced any prejudice as an Asian-American female filmmaker? If so, how did you overcome them?
A: I’ m not sure if I ever faced prejudice as an Asian-American female. If I did face some condescending attitudes, it might be more about being female than Asian-American. Also I don’t know if some people react with prejudice or just disinterest in stories about Asian-American girls. Not many people are willing to take risky stories that veer off the mainstream.
Q: What do you want to say to other Asian-American women who want to start career in filmmaking?
A: Persist, be willing to work hard, don’t give into self-doubt, be open-minded to learn a lot and then persist again.
Q: Is there any official or non-official network among Asian-American or Korean-American female artists or filmmakers? Any organization that represents them?
A: No, specific Asian-American female artists or filmmakers organization that I know of. There are organizations that manage film festivals, promote Asian films in the U.S. like Asian Cinevision in New York and NAATA of San Francisco. NAATA (the distributor of my first film Surplus) also gives funds to filmmakers. But nothing specifically to promote Asian-American female artists.
Q: Do you have any network with Korean artists or film directors?
A: Yes. Greg Pak is an advisor on the project. Steve Maing has collaborated on a couple of my films. Both are Korean-American filmmakers.
Q: Currently, you also work as a research editor at the New York Times when not engaged in filmmaking activities. Do you find any relation between journalism and film-making? If so, in what way?
A: It’ s been a very smooth transition. You have to come up with a good story, a good angle, that catches people’s interest and attention, whether it’s an article in a magazine or a film you watch in theaters.
Q: When will be your next visit to Korea?
A: The last time I was in Korea was in 1989. I did a semester abroad program at Yonsei University from August 1988 to January 1989. It was an exciting period at the time, it was during the Seoul Olympics and a lot of student demonstrations. I will visit Korea again when someone invites me to be a guest speaker or attend a film festival.
Q: What does Korea mean to you? What is your impression about Korea?
A: Korea is a distant memory. Somewhere I once belonged and would like to see again.
Q: What is your ultimate goal as a film director?
A: I would like to make interesting, socially relevant films with a lot of integrity.
Q: Anything you want to say to our readers?
A: We are seeking more funding to help us finish ``Tie a Yellow Ribbon.’’ Please go to our film Web site www.yellowribbonmovie.com.