Take-Aways from the Revolutionary Storytellers of Digital Histories

UCLA AAS140SL student Sharon Lee (far left) with fellows of the 2018-2019 Digital Histories program (from left): George Takaki, instructor Joel Quizon, Steve Nagano, Aimee Aiko Kurland, Robert Shoji, George Wada, Barbara Kagawa Shore, Cory Shiozaki, Mitchell Matsumura, Frances Ito, Kevin Shore, and Tracy Quan-Nichols. DH fellows Carol Shubin and David Osako were away on outside projects and are not included. (Photo: Abraham Ferrer/Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

UCLA AAS140SL student Sharon Lee (far left) with fellows of the 2018-2019 Digital Histories program (from left): George Takaki, instructor Joel Quizon, Steve Nagano, Aimee Aiko Kurland, Robert Shoji, George Wada, Barbara Kagawa Shore, Cory Shiozaki, Mitchell Matsumura, Frances Ito, Kevin Shore, and Tracy Quan-Nichols. DH fellows Carol Shubin and David Osako were away on outside projects and are not included. (Photo: Abraham Ferrer/Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

By Sharon Lee

During my senior winter quarter at UCLA, I was under the assumption that I would be going in to assist Visual Communications’ Digital Histories (or “DH” for short) class with creating their film projects. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how much the DH members taught me — they offered me life advice, wisdom, and encouragement. I always looked forward to every Saturday I spent at Visual Communications because it was always so much fun to sit in on the DH classes. Every time we would have conversations about our upbringing or my college experiences over lunch, I felt comfortable in the DH members’ words and presence.

It’s truly remarkable to see how Joel Quizon, this year’s DH Coordinator, is dedicated to pouring his efforts into the program and its members. Through Joel’s mentorship and guidance, DH members are encouraged and able to thrive in a community where they can not only be comfortable in successfully making their own film productions, but in sharing their life experiences with other members.

Founded as an empowerment initiative of the Little Tokyo Service Center’s DISKovery Center from 2004 through 2011, Digital Histories consists of an engaged group of older Asian Pacific Americans who are devoted to crafting unique stories in the form of documentary films. Whether they’re offering tips to their fellow filmmakers or going over the directing techniques of Alfonso Cuarón’s award-winning film ROMA, DH participants possess unique interests, skill sets, and perspectives.

Soon, one notices that everyone has advice that effectively troubleshoots anyone’s questions or concerns. For instance, the musically inclined husband and wife team of Kevin and Barbara Shore have created a film about their family’s memories with a compilation of heartwarming home videos layered with music written by their son. Kevin and Barbara often offer advice on how to make a DH film more dynamic by adding musical elements that dramatize and add to the story.

As one of DH’s longest-tenured participants, Fran Ito is currently working on a film about Ann Burroughs, a South African human rights advocate who was imprisoned for her involvement during South Africa’s Apartheid movement. Fran mentions how she wanted to work on tone and lighting while we were going over the raw footage of Ann’s interview. Fran also discussed with the other DH members that she wants her editing to enhance visuals so that the audience could better appreciate Ann’s human rights advocacy. This is just a glimpse of the remarkable work the DH members are capable of. There are so many more DH members that I wish I was able to find the time to interview.

I believe it’s so important to highlight this program because so many older adults are not represented in general throughout media. Additionally, Asian Pacific Americans have historically been misrepresented and left absent from television and movie screens. Digital Histories pioneers a more interesting and revolutionary model for film productions by unveiling more types of narratives that have been barely mentioned while also encouraging older filmmakers to produce their own works. Indeed, with the emergence of social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram opening up more ways for film productions to be distributed independently, DH encourages anyone interested in filmmaking to just go ahead and pick up a camera.

Something that stuck with me was when DH fellow Tracy Quan-Nichols shared, “It doesn’t matter how old you are; all you need to be is willing to learn.” Echoing this theme of the constant learning that anyone can achieve in their life, Tracy’s film revolves around an artist who volunteers his time to teach art classes to the community. With this drive towards constant learning, there follows self-reflection and self-discovery. Tracy also expressed, “I didn’t know I could do film…it makes me believe that nothing is impossible.” With this lasting remark, anyone is possible of making their story heard, seen, and felt — all you have to do is believe in your abilities and make it happen.

Sharon Lee is a 4th year UCLA student studying Political Theory and Asian American Studies. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, she works at Refinery29 as a Talent intern and loves traveling to NYC or natural non-touristy destinations (yes, very different). Sharon is an aspiring entertainment attorney who loves popular culture and gets encouraged seeing API within the entertainment industry. She's a Yelp Elite member and loves to workout at Orange Theory and Sweat Yoga.

The films created by the 2019 class of Digital Histories will be premiering at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on Sunday, May 5th at 2:00 pm. Click here to learn more!