Slant 11 Preview: Asian American Jesus

We can safely say we’ve never screened anything quite like Asian American Jesus before at Slant. A mockumentary directed by Yasmine Gomez, it stars writer-performer Samantha Chanse as six different characters including a self-important spoken word artist, Truth Is Real (top row, right), who is the subject of college freshman Suzette Law’s (bottom row, left) final project for her ethnic studies class, ‘Performing the Diaspora: Asian Americans and the Arts.’

We caught up with Yasmine to ask her about the making of Asian American Jesus.

How did you get together with performer Samantha Chanse  to create Asian American Jesus?

Samantha and I became friends through the Asian American arts community in San Francisco. I had wanted to do a mockumentary film for a while, and thought spoken word would be an ideal subject. It wasn’t until I saw Sam’s one-woman play, “Back to the Graveyard,” where I was introduced to the awesomely bad Truth Is Real, that I knew I had my star. After the play, I approached Sam about creating a short film based on her incredibly funny spoken word character. We met over bowls of pho, discussed the story, and a few weeks later we were filming.

Samantha Chanse and Yasmine Gomez filming Asian American Jesus.

Samantha is known for her live performances, such as her one-woman shows and stand up comedy. How was it translating that to film?

It’s funny because initially, Sam was just supposed to play Truth Is Real. But as the script developed, new characters appeared that Sam wanted to play as well. Before you knew it we had another one-woman show on our hands, which was a little challenging to direct, especially when the characters interact with each other, but Sam’s performances make it work.

One thing I enjoyed was the inside jokes about the Asian American art community. How have audiences who are not in that community reacted? Do they get the jokes?

I think everyone has been exposed to bad art or artists who are delusional about their own greatness, when others see otherwise. The film pushes this self-important art so it’s so over-the-top horrible, that hopefully audiences laugh because they’ve been forced to uncomfortably sit through their own similar encounters. I just hope this film is not one of them! At the same time, we see that Truth Is Real means well and is passionate about her art, so it’s hard not to respect that.

You didn’t go to film school. How did you get into filmmaking?

I actually studied to be a scientist, but couldn’t see myself working in a lab for the rest of my life. For fun, I decided to take a screenwriting class through UC Extension. From there, I had the beginnings of a story which did not turn into a film until I took Madeleine Lim’s film production class through Kearny Street Workshop, where Sam was actually the artistic director at the time. I figured my script could go into a drawer or I could make it into a film myself because who else would? That first film was 23 minutes long which really burned me out, but luckily I stuck to it and now I’ve found myself a new career.

What are you working on next?

Sam and I actually decided to collaborate again and just completed a short film for the 72 Hour Film Shootout. It was a crazy sleepless whirlwind of a weekend, but we came out of it with a pretty good comedy we can be proud of. Hopefully it will be making the film festival rounds next year.

Asian American Jesus screens as part of Slant 11 on August 11 at River Oaks Theatre.

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