Mila Zuo, a filmmaker and assistant professor at Oregon State University, is the winner of this year's Oregon Media Arts Fellowship Award — and the proceeds from the award will help bankroll Zuo's next short film.
The fellowship, administered by the Northwest Film Center in Portland and funded this year by the Oregon Arts Commission, goes to filmmakers who have shown a commitment to the art form and are working to create new work. Zuo, who teaches film studies in OSU's School of Writing, Literature and Film, would seem to be an ideal candidate.
Her 2016 short narrative film, "Carnal Orient," played at the Portland International Film Festival (run by the Northwest Film Center) and in festivals in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, London and Singapore, among other locations.
To some degree, the film she wants to shoot this summer, "Kin," reflects her move from Los Angeles, where she earned a doctorate and a master's degree in cinema and media studies, to the mid-valley, where she started at OSU in 2015.
The mid-valley, she said, is "quite a different environment. It's allowed me to become more of a nature enthusiast."
And "Kin," a drama about two men and a woman who live in a somewhat isolated house, to some extent reflects the more wide-open environment of the mid-valley. She said the script reflects a "fascination in these kinds of spaces that are outside the bigger towns" — and also explores the "feelings that might emerge from living in these spaces" — not to mention "how love and violence can exist in these spaces."
And Zuo hopes the finished film (it used to be called "Kindred," but she changed the name to avoid confusion with the Octavia E. Butler novel) offers something else: a measure of "cinematic empathy toward people who may not feel represented" in film. If "Kin" works on that level, depicting with a measure of respect the lives of people who live and work and love outside urban areas, it will be welcome indeed.
With that said, no more spoilers. Besides, Zuo said, the shooting script (she wrote it with her writing partner, Dougal Henken) still needs some judicious trimming: It currently covers about 20 pages, and Zuo hopes the finished project clocks in at about 15 minutes — a good length for the festivals in which she hopes to enter the film.
And it's about as much movie as you likely can buy for what Zuo expects to be the budget for the project, which should be somewhere around $10,000 or $15,000. The exact amount of the fellowship has yet to be nailed down, she said, but the hope is that the award will cover a good chunk of the budget.
Zuo earned her bachelor's degree in English and film studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her resume includes stints playing guitar in a band and working as a magazine editor. She applied to graduate school at UCLA to continue film studies, and her research interests include Asian and Asian American cinema, film philosophy and feminist and queer theory. She's working on a manuscript that takes a deeper look at the world of contemporary Chinese woman film stars.
In the short term, though, she's about to begin searching for locations where she can shoot "Kin" this summer, and wants to assemble her cast and crew. (She encouraged people who want to know more about the effort to contact her by email at Mila.Zuo@oregonstate.edu.)
Her plans for the future include continuing to make films, teaching and researching — but not at OSU. She's accepted a job beginning this next academic year at the University of British Columbia.
So shooting "Kin" will mark her farewell to this area. But her production plans for the new movie reflect to some degree how her time in the mid-valley has influenced her: "Carnal Orient," she noted, was shot inside a warehouse.
"For this film, I want to be outdoors."
I know, I know: I promised that the online version of last week's column (the annual listing of summer movies that might appeal to actual adults) would include a list of documentaries that also are expected this summer. I know that all of you raced to the online version, and can only imagine the bitter tears you wept: I just didn't get that list prepared in a timely fashion.
But rejoice: I finally have prepared the list of promising summer documentaries and have attached it not just to last week's column but this week's as well. Here's a sneak preview: The summer includes "Remember My Name," purportedly an unusually frank look at the career of musician David Crosby, and "Echo in the Canyon," about the music that emerged from Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon in the 1960s. (mm)