Artful Films That Challenge Stereotypes

Documenting ordinary lives to illuminate the extraordinary nature of cross-cultural connection

Film has the unique capacity to connect us to worlds outside of ourselves and, thus, deepen our understanding of other life experiences, while also increasing our self-understanding. Kimi Takesue, Associate Professor of Arts, Culture, and Media at Rutgers University, is an award-winning filmmaker who explores the complex dynamics of cross-cultural encounters. Her films examine the meeting point when people from different worlds search for communication and connection. Over the last 20 years, she has produced and directed nine acclaimed films in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the US. All of Takesue’s films are structured as immersive sensory experiences that invite the viewer to “be part of the journey.” She encourages audiences to see the visual poetry of everyday life and to look deeply at things they might otherwise overlook. Takesue moves among genres in order to express different ideas, experiment with various filmic languages, and, perhaps most importantly, inspire audiences to see and reflect upon the world in a new way.

In addressing social issues, Takesue creates artful films that challenge stereotypes, encourage contemplation and, hopefully, increase our sensitivity, empathy, and understanding of others. Her evocative, formally innovative films have stimulated engaged discussion and meaningful dialogue around identity, cultural representations, cross-cultural encounters, tourism, documentary practices, and globalization.

Takesue’s films have a distinctive and intimate perspective since she often fills both creative and technical roles as Director, Producer, Cinematographer, and Editor. In the US, there is little industry support for contemplative forms of filmmaking; therefore, within a predominantly commercial and sensationalized marketplace, “quieter sensibilities” are not represented. Takesue’s work aims to do just that; regardless of the genre, she is interested in making rigorous but inclusive films that invite the viewer to engage on multiple levels: intellectually, aesthetically, and emotionally.

Current research includes:

  • Ninety-Five and Six to Go: Currently in post-production, this film is a feature-length documentary about the life of Takesue’s Japanese-American grandfather. Shot over a six-year period in Hawai’i, the film charts her grandfather’s daily life and how, in the years before his death at the age of ninety-five, he became invested in “re-writing” a feature love story that Takesue developed, that has yet to be realized. His unusual script doctoring resonates with concerns about aging, the complexities of family, the pursuit of art, and how we find creative solutions to disappointments in life.

    Takesue’s film offers much-needed, complex representations of Japanese-Americans. She hopes to complete the film in 2016 but to do so she needs funds for post-production expenses (edit conforming, sound mix, color correction, music licensing, titles) as well as distribution costs.

  • Tour Guide: Currently in production, this feature-length experimental documentary explores the multi-faceted lives of Cambodian tour guides who lead foreigners to the “Killing Fields,” Angkor Wat and other tourist destinations thought the country. The film explores whether the traumatic national history of genocide can be effectively remembered without becoming atrocity tourism. To complete the project, Takesue needs funding to return to Cambodia for additional filming and support for production and post-production costs.
  • The Water Rises: Currently in development, this feature-length screenplay is inspired by Takesue’s award-winning short film, That Which Once Was. In 2032 an eight-year old Caribbean boy, displaced by global warming, fends for himself as an “environmental refugee” in a hostile northern metropolis. Haunted by memories of flooding that left him homeless and orphaned, the boy forms an unexpected friendship with an Inuk ice carver who helps him confront his past. The Water Rises focuses on those who are suffering from displacement, loss, and trauma as they struggle to find ways to cope and, ultimately, heal in a world impacted by climactic disaster.
  • Past Films: Takesue’s previous visually stunning documentaries include Where Are You Taking Me? which captures the nuances of everyday life in Uganda and challenges dominant representations of horror and victimization. Looking For Adventure follows a group tour through Peru and explores the tension between the commodification of Andean culture for foreign consumption and the universal desire for new experiences and adventure. Her narrative film That Which Once Was depicts the plight of a young Caribbean boy who loses his family to flooding and faces life as an “environmental refugee.” Each of Takesue’s films offers captivating glimpses of life around the world.

Bio

Raised in Hawai’i and Massachusetts by a Japanese-American father and a Caucasian mother, Kimi Takesue moved between different cultural zones after her parents divorced. This bi-racial background shaped her world-view as multi-faceted and positioned her as an observer in diverse environments. While pursuing academic interests in Cultural Studies and Women Studies at Oberlin College, she was immersed in exciting discussions around identity politics; yet, she began to feel restricted by academic discourse and wanted to find “a personal and artistic form of expression.” Takesue became intrigued by the potential of filmmaking as a creative way to challenge Asian-American stereotypes. Summer internships with Women Make Movies and Third World Newsreel in New York City solidified her interest in film production.

Takesue completed the last semester of her Oberlin B.A. in London and then stayed in the culturally vibrant city for five years. Working at night as a “coat-check girl” at a prominent restaurant, she spent her days taking adult education courses in arts production and creating a network of friends in the international arts community. During her years in London she developed the self-sufficiency and determination that would become crucial in her film career. Her London experience was formidable indeed; when she returned to the US, she received a fellowship and began a M.F.A. at Temple University.

While at Temple, she learned that her time abroad had prepared her well to create new films that looked at the “ordinary” in interesting ways. Since completing her graduate degree, she has continued to draw upon a multi-cultural perspective thematically and aesthetically in her filmmaking. Takesue concentrates on the points of synthesis, collision and contradiction that individuals face as they interact with one another and grapple with questions of difference, identity, and communication. Within her filmmaking she is interested in investigating ways of seeing and the interplay between the observer and the observed.

Kimi Takesue is the recipient of the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Film. Other honors include a Rockefeller Fellowship, two artist fellowships from the New York Foundation in the Arts, a Kodak Cinematography Fellowship, and grants from ITVS, Ford Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Center for Asian American Media, The Arts Council of England and artist fellowships at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony.

Her critically acclaimed Ugandan documentary Where Are You Taking Me? was commissioned by the International Film Festival Rotterdam and premiered at the festival, followed by screenings at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight-NYC, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and festivals in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Uganda, Poland, Portugal and India, among others. Where Are You Taking Me? was theatrically released by Icarus Films, was a Critics’ Pick by Time Out-New York and LA Weekly and was described by The New York Times as, “Fascinating…an unusual, visually rich visit to the nation.” The film enjoyed favorable reviews from additional publications including The Nation, The Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, Variety, and The Wall Street Journal.

Previous films have screened at hundreds of film festivals and museums internationally including the Sundance Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, New Directors/New Films at the Lincoln Center-NYC, SXSW Film Festival, London’s ICA, Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Walker Art Center and the Museum of Modern Art-NYC and have aired on PBS, IFC, Comcast, and the Sundance Channel. Takesue has produced television for A&E Network and PBS including The First 48. She has served as a nominator for the Rockefeller Fellowship, panelist for the New York Foundation for the Arts, and selection committee member for MoMA's Documentary Fortnight.

Aside from filmmaking and teaching, Kimi Takesue enjoys practicing yoga and gardening on her small rooftop garden in Brooklyn. She travels widely which provides inspiration for her film projects.

Research Website: http://acm.newark.rutgers.edu/faculty/kimi-takesue/

In the News

Film: Where Are You Taking Me?

Distributor: Icarus Films

Where Are You Taking Me?: Movie Review

The Christian Science Monitor

Film: Summer of the Serpent

Distributor: Women Make Movies

Film: Heaven’s Crossroad

Distributor: Women Make Movies

Awards

John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship-Film

Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship-Film & Video

New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship-Film & Video

Gold Medal & Grand Jury Prize: Brno International Short Film Festival, Czech Republic

Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award: Brooklyn International Film Festival, New York

Golden Reel-New Visions Award: Los Angeles Asian Pacific International Film Festival

ITVS / PBS: Futurestates Audience Award