Los Angeles filmmaker returns to Manhattan to share films with his hometown

Dan Chen speaks to the participants of the 48-Hour Film Challenge on Friday in the K-State Student Union. He gave advice to the current and future professional filmmakers competing in the challenge.

Thursday evening, the Beach Museum of Art welcomed Asian American filmmaker Dan Chen, who grew up in Manhattan, to show two of his films, “Ella” and “Just Doug.”

Aileen June Wang, curator at the Beach Museum, described the purpose of hosting Chen.

“My hope was — I think it was achieved here — to use very interesting, compelling stories about being ‘other’ or marginalized and use that as a platform for people to relate and connect to each other,” Wang said.

In 2017, the Manhattan Mercury ran an article about Chen filming “Ella” in Manhattan. This sparked interest in students from the Asian American Student Union, which helped sponsor the event Thursday, Wang said. The K-State Confucius Institute and Dow Center for Multicultural and Community Studies were also sponsors.

When he writes, Chen said he gravitates toward coming-of-age stories, like “Ella.”

“I tend to like exploring and questioning things that have happened in life that I’ve experienced rather than other people,” Chen said. “Growing up here was such a formative time for me.”

Chen said it was a delight to show his films in front of a live audience in his hometown.

“If you’re a filmmaker nowadays and you’re not famous, like a Spielberg or a Barry Jenkins, I actually think most up-and-coming filmmakers rarely get to see their work in front of a live audience,” Chen said.

In first film that was screened, Chen follows his dreams of becoming an actor and has a chance to catch a break in his career when invited to guest star in a popular comedy show. While on set, he reaches a dilemma when asked to emphasize Asian stereotypes in his role.

“Just Doug” is a comedy project Chen worked on to be a pilot episode. He said it was also his first time making a film about Asian Americans.

Wang said Chen’s use of contrasting humor and awkwardness is brilliant. For “Ella,” Wang described the tone as more poetic and serious.

“Unlike ‘Just Doug,’ that tension and the reason for that tension is not all said,” Wang said. “I thought it was really great to show two different approaches and the range of what you can do with a topic.”

The film screening is part of the Beach Museum’s “Silk Road Through Kansas” Program Series, which also includes “Voices: Art Linking Asia and the West” on display through December.