Miami has always been a vibrant hotspot for diverse cultures and unique talents. Today, we are proud to spotlight one such talent, Melanie Wu, an experimental filmmaker whose work captivates audiences with its unique blend of personal narrative and cultural insight.
Her most recent work, “Loveboat Takeout,” explores her family’s experience of operating a Chinese restaurant in Miami. This short film is a fusion of documentary and narrative cinema, weaving together an authentic depiction of her family’s immigrant story. This evocative blend of reality and fiction reflects Melanie’s distinctive style within the realm of experimental documentary filmmaking.
Melanie’s approach to her craft has evolved significantly throughout her career. From her early beginnings with found footage shorts to the incorporation of her family’s rich photo album and oral history, Melanie’s work portrays her life story as a relatable, public narrative. She cites the influential works of Agnes Varda, Edward Yang, and Derek Jarman’s film “Blue” as major inspirations in her career.
The cultural diversity of Miami plays an integral role in shaping Melanie’s work, with its influence prominently featuring in “Loveboat Takeout.” The film questions the underappreciation and rejection of Asian influences in the city, while also celebrating the entrepreneurial endeavors of the immigrant population, predominantly those of Asian descent.
Melanie’s journey to bring “Loveboat Takeout” to life spanned two years, during which she transitioned from narrative to docu-fiction. Despite facing challenges related to coordinating an entire film shoot from New York City, her dedicated Miami-based crew ensured a smooth shoot. The result was a compelling film that has been received with enthusiasm and interest.
In “Loveboat Takeout,” Melanie creates a rich, immersive experience that resonates deeply with audiences, allowing them to connect with her personal growth and insights. She believes that having conversations about her work promotes the creation of more pieces and strengthens her skills as an artist.
We are excited to have “Loveboat Takeout” as part of our Chroma Art Film Festival screening in Miami. Melanie’s submission embodies our mission to celebrate experimental works and provide an inclusive platform for unique artistic voices. Her film represents a significant contribution to reshaping cinema and challenging traditional norms.
“Loveboat Takeout” tells a story that many will find relatable – a story of cultural heritage and personal experience. Melanie hopes that her film will shed light on the overlooked labor of the Asian diaspora in Miami and inspire conversations about cultural recognition and appreciation.
1. Could you shed light on why you chose an experimental documentary format for “Loveboat Takeout”? I originally wrote Loveboat Takeout as a narrative short that was heavily inspired by my family’s experience operating a Chinese restaurant in Miami. As I was developing the film I realized that there was a rich archive of family photos and videos of the restaurant and wanted to figure out a way to integrate them into the film. Additionally, my past work has been experimental personal docs so it just organically strayed away from the original narrative screenplay.
2. How has your style within this genre evolved as you’ve grown as an artist and filmmaker? When first approaching this genre I made a lot of found footage shorts using public domain videos found in the Prelinger archives. However, there came a point when the archive did not have enough footage that was closely aligned with my aesthetics to tell the story of my family’s immigrant story. This then led me to look into my family’s photo album and oral history and approach that material as a fruitful archive. I like to see my films as an extension of the family archive in hopes to present a super specific, personal story as something approachable and relatable to the public.
3. Are there specific films or filmmakers that have inspired your approach to experimental documentary filmmaking? Agnes Varda and Edward Yang are my favorite filmmakers. Also Derek Jarman’s film “Blue”.
4. In what ways has Miami, with its rich cultural tapestry and diverse community, influenced your work? Can you identify aspects of “Loveboat Takeout” that have been shaped by this environment? The film is all filmed in Miami including the archives that I used. The narrative is based on my family’s experience operating a Chinese restaurant in the city. Themes of immigrant labor and the Asian diaspora emerge, however, it takes an interesting shape considering Miami’s population. The immigrant population comprises half of the Miami population, according to the 2019 census, most being of Latin American descent. There is an overall consensus in the city that the labor of immigrants is essential, however, there is less appreciation and recognition of the Asian population’s entrepreneurial endeavors. Overall, the film will question the underappreciation and rejection of Asian influences, yet be a celebration of immigrant work that is not too evident to the Miami population.
5. Has the unique milieu of Miami sparked any particular scenes or narratives in your film? The city does define the aesthetics of the film which naturally occurred since it’s an environment that I was born and raised in. I shot scenes in the homes of my family, the places I’m most familiar with. It was important for me to present Miami through a lens that feels like home and avoid the stereotypical depictions of the city we see in the media.
6. Could you guide us through the creation of “Loveboat Takeout,” from its initial idea to the finished piece? It took about two years to complete the film. The first year was writing the script and pivoting from a narrative film to a personal docu-fiction short. I knew I wanted my cast and crew to be based in Miami so everyone who was involved in the project were folks who were born and raised in the 305. We shot in two days during spring break weekend. What was great while developing this project was that this was my thesis project for college so I receive a lot of eyes and feedback from my peers.
7. Did you face any notable challenges during the making of your film, and if so, how did you overcome them? I’m currently based in New York City and I knew that the film had to be made in Miami. It was difficult and stressful to coordinate an entire film shoot in a different city. There were moments when I relied on my crew in Miami to do minor tasks before I flew down. Thanks to them the shoot went smoothly and on schedule.
8. Can you share a memorable anecdote or a pivotal moment from the process of creating “Loveboat Takeout”? It has to be going through my family’s photo albums and VHS tapes. As I was seeing the moments that were captured on camera from my family members I questioned why were these specific moments documented. I then began to think that I am not the sole creator of the film because these images were composed by my family. This film then transformed into a love letter recognizing my family’s hard work.
9. How does “Loveboat Takeout” reflect your personal growth as an artist and filmmaker? This is the first film that has properly been distributed to an audience in theater spaces. It was my first time watching it in a room with other folks and being able to talk with them after the screening. It is different distributing your work online with little to no engagement from others. I believe having conversations with others promotes the creation of more work. I learned what I like and what I do not like and from that how to improve and strengthen my skills as an artist. This film has allowed me to become eloquent when I articulate my practice.
10. What do you hope audiences at the Chroma Art Film Festival will glean from your film? I am excited that the film will be screened in Miami! This is inherently a Miami film and for the audience who are members of the community to recognize this other part of the city that is left invisible.
11. What made you decide to submit “Loveboat Takeout” to the Chroma Art Film Festival, and how has your experience with the submission process been? The submission process was super easy and I agreed with the Chroma Art Film Festival’s mission of being an inclusive platform focused on experimental works. Loveboat Takeout just seemed like a perfect match!
12. What role do you believe film festivals like Chroma Art play in fostering and shaping the future of experimental documentary filmmaking, particularly in Miami and NYC? There are stories that have been told in an unconventional manner that doesn’t follow the similar outline of a traditional documentary. It is important to give screen time to those documentaries. Experimental documentary filmmakers are reshaping cinema and challenging the traditional notions of it which makes Chroma Art awesome in showcasing these works.
13. Your work is deeply rooted in exploring personal experiences and cultural heritage. How do these aspects surface in “Loveboat Takeout”? My family previously owned Loveboat Takeout it was a business that I remember growing up in. However, Miami seemed to not recognize the labor of the Asian diaspora and it became noticeable to me when I moved to NYC. My family assimilated into the culture of Miami which is a city that is separate from the rest of America. Miami embraces and welcomes all the cultures that inhabit it, yet those of the Asian diaspora do not receive the same amount of recognition. The food that came out of my family’s restaurant was simply just a commodity.