Meet an AWC Fellow: David Liu

Learn about one of our Armed with a Camera Fellows from the Class of 2018 - 2019, David Liu, who directed the short film ANGELS LANDING that premiered at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

The Armed With a Camera Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists will open for submissions for its 2019-2020 cycle starting August 1st. For submission guidelines and more info, click here.

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How has life been after AWC? What projects are you currently working on?

I’m re-writing two feature screenplays set in World War II Britain and the jazz scene of 1950s New York, respectively, as well as producing and directing content through my company, Journey West Pictures. We’re in production on a feature documentary about the 1992 Little League World Series directed by my friend Jonathan Juntado. I’m also working on a set of stories set in the San Gabriel Valley, the place that brought me up and made me who I am.

How did you first hear about AWC and what pushed you to apply?

I first heard about AWC through filmmaker friends at USC. Two of my USC shorts, NOODLE DELI and TWENTY YEARS, were making their way around the festival circuit at the same time as a couple of AWC shorts, Quyen Nguyen-Le’s NUOC and Kayla Tong’s HOME IS WHERE THE SUNSETS. I saw them, loved them, and became interested in the program ever since. I never got a chance to actually apply until my schedule freed up about a year after graduation, and I’m super thankful I did.

Tell us about the film you made as an AWC Fellow.

The film is called ANGELS LANDING, and it’s about two estranged brothers who meet after many years apart at their childhood spot, the iconic Angels Flight Railway in downtown Los Angeles. The older brother is played by George Tsai, who’s been in so many of my films now, folks think he’s my on-screen alter ego. (They wouldn’t be wrong.) The phenomenal Albert Kong (SEOUL SEARCHING) plays the younger brother — shout out to my friend Christina Jun for connecting us. My friend and fellow USC alum Ante Cheng (GOOK, MS. PURPLE) shot it, and his dope work speaks for itself. It’s our second collaboration after SAMIR, a Warner Bros.-funded feature I produced last year.

The script came out of a personal situation, and I guess there’s fragments of my favorite writers in there too — John Cheever, Raymond Carver. We filmed for one afternoon in downtown LA, and took the railcar down to Grand Central Market for dinner afterwards.

How has the program affected your filmmaking mindset or process?

AWC did a good job of reinforcing the notion that as storytellers, we have to stick to our guts and let the story come out of us. It’ll take a while, so be patient with it. Nothing is trivial. Everything matters. I had a great time getting to know my fellow filmmakers in the program, and seeing their process. Watching specific stories grow out of specific individuals and thinking, yes, it totally makes sense that you’re the one telling this story. No one else but you. It’s a beautiful thing.

What was it like to have your film premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival?

VC has been a champion of my work and others’ works for quite a while now, and I’m incredibly grateful for the support from the community. Whenever you get the chance to premiere your work in front of the hometown crowd, it’s always special. I don’t suspect that’ll ever change.

How did it feel to be part of the AWC Fellowship - working amongst AAPI filmmakers?

Whenever you’re isolated from the rest of the community for a period of time, whether it’s because you’re developing your own material or because you’re just taking a break from it all, fellowships like AWC are a rich reminder that we’re all in this together, that there’s room in this world for the smallest of moments to play out on the biggest of screens.

What would you say is the importance of the AWC program?

Every other week, there’s a new artist incubator program popping up somewhere around town as the industry continues to push for greater diversity and representation. That’s cool and important, but let’s not forget that programs like AWC have been at it for much longer, empowering voices and perspectives within the AAPI community over the last decade and a half. In this day and age where “progress” can be summed up by a statistic, we need the independent creative spirit of fellowships like AWC more than ever.

Looking back, what was the most challenging or most memorable part of the experience?

It’s always a challenge to tell a story in five minutes. You can compose a five-minute song, or write a five-minute poem, deliver a five-minute speech. But a film, at least in the traditional sense, with characters and dialogue and a world to convey, that’s something else altogether. But it’s said that true creative freedom comes from limitations, and that was an attitude that I always tried to maintain for this particular experience. And who’s to say that good short films can’t be like good songs, or speeches, or poems?

What advice would you offer other young filmmakers or those just starting out?

The French New Wave is just a term made up by academics. Movements are temporary, but individual stories — told boldly, with real emotional resonance — last forever. Let’s tell our stories like only we can, and see what happens.

Visual Communications’ Armed With a Camera (AWC) Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists will begin its eighteenth season this fall, as we cultivate a new generation of Asian Pacific American artists committed to preserving the legacy and vision of our communities. Donate here to support the program!