by Mimi Chen, AsAmNews Contributor
The inauguration of Donald Trump as US President sparked a worldwide protest in the form of a Women’s March the next day on January 21, 2017. That March and subsequent Women’s Marches were marked by a sea of women donned in pink knitted hats all protesting Trump’s misogynistic attitudes and policies threatening the rights of women.
With the support of P&G Studios, an all-women team was assembled to mark the fifth-year anniversary of the occasion with a documentary called “I Can’t Keep Quiet.” It centers around “Quiet,” a song that went viral during the Women’s Marches and is considered the musical heart of the protest. “Quiet” was written by Milck (AKA Connie Lim), who enlisted the help of fellow singers to sing the song in a chorus throughout the march.
Filmmaker Alma Ha’rel posted a video of Milck singing the song during a march. The video reached thousands and quickly became the musical anthem of the Women’s March.
The group consisted of several renowned individuals in filmmaking, included Grace Lee, an esteemed Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Maile M. Zambuto, an Emmy Award winner, Kimberly Doebereiner from P&G Studios, as well as Brianna M. Arnolde, Adrianne E. Gonzalez (AG), and Eurie Chung, a renowned Peabody Award winner who made her directorial debut with this film.
AsAmNews sat down for a chat with the two filmmakers of the documentary, Grace Lee and Eurie Chung.
When asked how the film came about, Lee and Chung explained that the main instigators were Maile Zambuto and the songwriter Connie Lim (AKA Milck). “Everyone was already in the P&G orbit” due to different connections, they asserted.
“And when Maile and Connie went to them, seeing if there would be any interest in helping fund the film, they were pretty enthusiastic and they were actually very open and receptive to it. And so, that’s kind of how that partnership came about.”
Apparently, Lee and Chung are old hands at working together. Lee talked about the various projects they’ve worked on together with Chung going from being an associate producer to producing a project that Lee directed. But with this project, Lee said, “by the end, you know, Eurie was clearly the director and kind of took on the mantle of getting the film across the finish line.”
Chung credited Grace with helping her on her journey.
“Grace has been a real mentor to me over the years and I feel like I really learned filmmaking from her, since I didn’t go to film school,” she said.
In addition to taking a course on documentaries at UCLA and working with Grace, she said she felt like “they’re kind of the ones who taught me almost everything I know about documentaries,” revealing that even tho the timeline was originally 5 months, the “I Can’t Keep Quiet” documentary actually took over a year to finish.
It seemed part of the time taken was to gain the trust of the main subject in the documentary, which would be the artist Milck, (Connie Lim). Chung talked about how Lim needed time to figure out her message and stated that it also took some time to gain the trust that was needed, where Connie felt comfortable.
“You know, she’s pretty vulnerable, I think, in the film about her flaws and her internal evolution and process. So I feel like the film also kind of went through this evolutionary process as we came to understand that we really should be a little bit more in-depth about her emotional journey,” Chung said.
“I think the film took as long as it needed to,” she added.
Even tho the film touched upon the emotional journey of activist artist Lim, they also included several other themes in the film because they realized that “we’re in a different moment now” in 2021 than we were in 2017
“You know, with all the anti-Asian hate, the racial reckonings, the social, the pandemic, everything changed. I mean, that’s another reason it took, you know, longer. But I feel like the kinds of themes that come out in the film are related to all of the things that many of us have been grappling with over the last few years,” Lee said.
Both Chung and Lee feel it is important to amplify the stories of Asian Americans, particularly women because of the dearth of such stories in the American public. But they see their work resonating in front of a broader range of audiences, not just Asian Americans.
“Like when we screen at an Asian American Film Festival, there’s a different kind of community response. But, the audience has been responsive, regardless of race or ethnicity, even gender, like we’ve had strong responses from men as well,” said Chung.
She noted it’s because these are themes we all can relate to in many aspects.
“We can ask ourselves these questions because we’re seeing it through a very personal response and lens and watching one person’s journey,” Chung said. “I think it gives us permission to respond. So there’s a lot of women who have been doing domestic violence work or something or, you know, who are in very intense sort of professions dealing with some of these same issues.”
Chung added that one woman told her she felt like she had permission to cry after seeing the film, because” it’s hard to talk about these things and hard to day in and day out grapple with them.”
Lee said the fact that she and Chung are also Asian-American women adds an important perspective to the documentaries they make, so it is imperative they continue to work together on projects to help boost the stories of Asian-American women.
Their first screening of “I Can’t Keep Quiet” was at Vital Voices, which is not a film festival, but more of a women’s conference in DC. And they were astonished by the response from the women, “It was a little bit overwhelming, it was our first screening publicly and everyone was sort of in tears just watching it on the big screen for the first time. So I think it just hit in a different way but like, you know, women of all races came up to us afterwards, just like in tears, just wanting to talk about how they were feeling in response to the story.” said Chung
But they said they feel a different vibe and response depending on the kind of audience, such as when the film was shown at the LA Asian American Film Festival in Camp Fest.
“They were very supportive and Connie’s also been performing at some of the festivals, so we’re lucky to have a program where we screen the film and have her do a three or four song set which adds to that kind of response,” Lee said.
To have all the different responses make it particularly heartwarming, added Lee.
As far as streaming, they are currently considering several options.
“I mean, like all independent films, we do hope to get distribution but it’s hard. We’re a weird length, we’re 30 minutes. So it’s just a matter of finding the right place for it and if we don’t end up finding the right distribution for it, we will figure a way to do it as we want as many people to watch it as possible,” Lee said.
The next screening of the film will be during the Women Deliver Festival in Kigali, Rwanda, July 17-20.
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