Home in Hawaii on 35 mm Film With Emily May Jampel

A gradual kind of emotional character revelation exists in Emily May Jampel’s stories told through films and analogue photographs.

Raised in O'ahu and currently based in New York City, the writer-director-actor, who also curates and produces films (among many other things!) has created a body of work that teeters between liminality and intentionality. Her lens examines the nuances present in exploring one’s identity: touching on sapphic and queer experiences, growing up in an Asian household, and the triumphs and trials of figuring out where one belongs in the world.

While Jampel takes pride in her multicultural upbringing, she isn’t afraid to admit to the times this has also made her feel lost. Turning to filmmaking, she uses the discipline as a medium to connect with what feels most true and explore the concept of being caught between cultures.

With two of her short films – Lucky Fish and MINSEO – now screening in NOWNESS Asia, it’s in these projects that she has captured behind the scenes happenings on 35 mm film. Through it all, revisiting places on analogue that once meant something to her, the films take an earnest journey into nostalgia and connection.

credits: Emily May Jampel

Hi Emily! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

I’m a director and writer born and raised in O'ahu and currently based in New York City. I also act, produce, curate, and consult a bit as well. I identify primarily as a filmmaker, but also enjoy taking photos for fun and appreciate it as a medium.

How are things going, creatively speaking? What have you been curious about recently?

I was honestly burnt out at the end of last year and sort of in a creative rut for several months, but just recently I feel like I’ve started to climb out of a hole, and have been writing a lot again.

I just got back from Aspen ShortsFest, this wonderful film festival in Colorado where I premiered my new short Mānoa Valley. I watched tons and tons of short films every day and it left me feeling excited and energized about making another film. After seeing the movie Janet Planet directed by Annie Baker at the New York Film Festival last year, and a short film called Invasive Species directed by Annie Ning, I’ve been very curious about sound design and thinking about ways that I can better utilize sound in a more creative, outside the box way in my films.

When were you first introduced to film photography?

I was first introduced to analogue photography in high school. A couple of skaters I was friends with owned point-and-shoots and would take photos all the time to document their lives and friends. They kept photo blogs, loved William Eggleston, and would follow photographers like Sandy Kim online. I also worked at American Apparel in my senior year, where they stocked issues of Vice Magazine. I remember seeing a lot of film photography featured in the Magazine, and also that the American Apparel ads were often shot on film. The summer after I graduated, I bought a cheap point-and-shoot off eBay and started taking photos of things around my neighborhood. I don’t take film pictures too often anymore, ever since moving to New York. I usually only take my camera with me when I travel, go back to Hawaiʻi, or am on set.

When did you first learn about Lomography?

There’s this store on Oʻahu called Treehouse that opened in 2012, the year before I graduated high school. I used to go there to buy film and remember them selling Lomography products there. I’m just realizing this now, but I think one of the first rolls I ever took may have been a roll of Lomography film. I forget what kind it was exactly, but I remember there was this bluish-green tint to all of the pictures and that I had taken photos of all my favorite trees and flowers around my neighborhood.

credits: Emily May Jampel

What films or artworks have inspired you growing up that you still reference in your work today?

Growing up, my tastes were kind of all over the place. In my Tumblr era, I was into films like Juno, Adventureland, and Rushmore. To me, these feel pretty different stylistically than the films I make, but maybe there’s a kind of general optimism and sincerity in those films that I could also see existing in my work. My all-time favorite TV show was also The O.C. and I think I’ve always loved something about the indulgence and soapy-ness of the world of high school depicted on-screen, and how high those emotional stakes feel. I love taking elements from familiar genres like teenage coming-of-age films and infusing them with my own tastes and experiences to make them feel a bit more personal and specific.

You have connections to Hawaii, Hong Kong, Japan, and New York, where your short films and analogue photography work have found audiences. Creatively and thematically speaking, what do these places have in common for you? How do you find ways to tie them into your artistry and filmmaking?

For me, these places all represent this contradictory experience of deep belonging, while at the same time, deep alienation. I feel like I’m always trying to navigate that dichotomy and space between them. Hawaiʻi is the place I feel the strongest emotional attachment to as the place where I grew up, yet it’s also somewhere I’ve never felt like I fully fit into. In Hong Kong, I feel a sense of deep familiarity in certain spaces like my grandparents’ house, or certain restaurants and neighborhoods where I’ve been going since I was little, yet at the same time, I know extremely little about Hong Kong and Chinese customs. I don’t speak Cantonese, and feel very much like an outsider there culturally.

Japan as a culture and place feel much more familiar to me, since I used to go there to visit my dad growing up. I understand some of the language and can even pass as fully Japanese and blend in on the street. In many ways, it’s very comfortable. But as an American, I’m also constantly aware of the internal disconnect and how different I actually am, even if I can blend in on the outside. Of all these places, New York probably feels the most familiar to me, since I’ve been living here for eleven years. I have my routines, my favorite spots, and know how to get around. Yet things here feel so transient (it’s a city that people are constantly passing through and moving away from) and it’s also so far from home, that it can be a very isolating and lonely city to live in. I think how I experience these environments deeply informs the way I think about the world and comes across in the films I make.

credits: Emily May Jampel

In previous interviews, you’ve shared how character is something you prioritize and put the most weight on — given that you first got into acting before directing your own films. As someone who works both in front of the screen and behind it, what has this taught you about how you like to frame your characters?

I think if anything, my experience in acting helps me deeply understand a character’s emotional headspace and how they feel. So when I’m directing, I am constantly thinking about how I can articulate that emotional state to the audience. I like capturing a character’s relationship to their environment and tend to prefer keeping the camera relatively still and creating frames that characters can move through, rather than moving the camera around them. Both my narrative films were entirely shot on sticks, and with Sukeban, the frames were completely still. I think when it comes to cinematography, it’s mainly important to me that every choice be motivated by story and character, just not a pretty image. I tend to like working with DPs who understand these elements and are emotionally driven, not just technical. Even a choice like shooting on film isn’t something I want to do just for the sake of doing it – it has to be essential for serving the story and feel necessary.

credits: Emily May Jampel

In the past, you’ve shared that your filmmaking and creative process takes time. In some ways, this could be similar to an approach towards analogue photography and how shooting on film pushes us to slow down and be more intentional with the kind of images we want to create. How has your perspective on image-making changed since you started photographing on 35 mm still images and even working with 35 mm motion picture film stocks? Do you see it as a necessary part of your creative practice?

Sukeban was my first time shooting on film and I loved it. I had previously acted in projects shot on 16 mm and loved how intimate and intentional those felt. The images also just feel more tactile and almost have a life of their own. There’s almost this sense of mystery and presence behind them and they carry more weight. There’s an element of unknown that goes into shooting on film because you don’t know exactly how the final image will look while you’re shooting, which can be a little scary (I like the comfort of shooting digital because I can feel certain about what I’m getting and that I have what I need), but there’s also something special about letting go of certain elements of control, and being present and trusting in the process.

I think shooting on film has made me approach writing differently. I find myself being a lot more deliberate about the images I’m crafting in each scene and thinking about things like blocking earlier on. I don’t think shooting on film is necessary, but there is something really special about it and I’d love to do it more often.

Film photos from the set of Sukeban taken by Emily May Jampel

How would you describe your photographic style? What usually strikes your attention?

I think visually I’m drawn to a lot of landscapes and nature. When it comes to photos, I’m not that interested in photographing people unless it’s people who happen to be within a larger environment or space that I find interesting. I tend to be drawn to these more quiet or seemingly mundane details in an environment, and tiny moments that for some reason feel very special.

Your latest film which is set to come out this summer entitled “Mānoa Valley” touches on your roots in Hawaii. What was it like growing up in Honolulu and capturing it on film this time around?

This was such a special experience for me. Growing up in Honolulu was such a specific experience of being surrounded by so much beauty, yet feeling incredibly isolated, bored, and suffocated by my surroundings at the same time. If I had to pick a movie that my experience growing up there felt the most like, it would probably be Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto (2013), which was also a big inspiration for Mānoa Valley. It was so much fun getting to return home to capture this version of my hometown on film. I got to revisit all of the parks, cemeteries, gas stations, and houses I spent time in growing up, and share these places and memories with my cast and crew. It was like getting to revisit this time in my life but with an entirely new family and a sense of purpose that I didn’t have growing up there.

Film photos taken in Japan by Emily May Jampel

Overall, why is image-making important to you? And as someone who works around several aspects and roles in filmmaking, what kind of impact do you want to leave?

I think the most simple and honest answer is that I just really love it. Nothing has made me happier and given me a stronger sense of self and purpose and genuine excitement about being alive, than making films and I just hope that I will be lucky enough to keep on doing it for as long as possible. As far as impact goes, I just want to keep on telling stories that feel honest and unexpected, and also supporting other artists and filmmakers in telling theirs. Especially as an Asian-American artist and filmmakers from Hawaiʻi, I care about seeing more work and stories told from within these communities, especially in the independent film space, and hope that through the work I make, I can eventually help create more spaces and opportunities for this.

What other film formats, cameras, and film stocks are you looking to try out next? Any Lomography products you are curious about and would like to explore?

I’ve been using the same point-and-shoot camera for almost ten years, a Yashica T4 that I bought off of Etsy in my freshman year of college. I love how portable and sturdy it is because I’m very clumsy and drop things a lot. I’ve used it to take almost all my photos, but it would be fun to try another camera. The Lomo LC-A+ 35 mm Film Camera seems amazing and I also think Lomography’s La Sardina camera is so cute.

For my films, I’d love to try shooting a more traditional narrative on 16 mm (or even 35 mm, if it makes sense for the project). I’m also interested in learning more about color correction, and would love to work with a colorist and DP to create a more customized look for a film before getting to shoot it, instead of just handing it off to the colorist at the very end. I know this is more common for feature-length films, but I think it could be an exciting opportunity to experiment with finding a more unique style and shaping the look of a film from the very beginning.

credits: Emily May Jampel

Who are your favorite photographers and artists whose works have been integral to your creative practice?

For photographers, I love Rinko Kawauchi’s work and have a few postcards of her photos in my bedroom. I also like Rika Noguchi, who has this photo book called My Father’s Album with several photos taken by her father of Rika and her family, that she developed after he passed away. Motoyuki Daifu is another photographer I like.

When it comes to films, directors like Kelly Reichardt, Mia Hansen-Love, and Sofia Coppola have all been very influential to me. I’m not sure I can really compare my work to any of theirs, but there’s something in the pacing of their films, and how they fill silences, give their characters a lot of breathing room, and have this style of filmmaking that feels understated yet deeply meaningful, that I aspire towards in my films.

Anything you’d like to share with the Lomography community?

I’d love to give a shoutout to a few photographers and friends who worked on the set of Mānoa Valley with me: Vincent Bercasio, Lila Lee, and Brandyn Liu. They’re all very talented artists from Hawaiʻi, go check out their work!

I also have a few upcoming projects I’m very excited about. Mānoa Valley just had its World Premiere earlier this month at Aspen ShortsFest, and I just released a new short documentary piece called MINSEO that I directed, on NOWNESS Asia. This is the first time I’m mentioning it, but I also have a new narrative short I wrote that I’m planning on shooting later this fall.


Thank you to Emily for sharing her film journey with us! See her latest short film MINSEO on NOWNESS Asia and Sukeban — her 16 mm project on Instagram. View more of her personal and professional work over on her Instagram and website.

written by macasaett on 2024-05-25 #people #hong-kong #hawaii #new-york #japan #35-mm #analogue-filmmaking

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