Zombies invade Slamdance
January 20, 2007
Zombies get a bad rap. Many of them don’t creep around with that eerie, stereotypical straight-armed hand dangle, dead-leg strut either.
"People have a lot of misconceptions about me, but I’m just like everyone else, I have hopes and dreams," said a zombie character in Grace Lee’s fictional documentary "American Zombie," which will screen Jan. 20 and 23 as part of the Slamdance Film Festival.
What’s more, as opposed to popular opinion, human flesh eating isn’t part of the zombie food pyramid. When a character was asked about zombies eating flesh, he said, "Let me ask you this, are there flesh eating humans?"
The film documents the lives of a community of the walking dead who reside in Los Angeles. Many of them feel alienated by their human cousins and only want to belong in society.
"It’s a population that deserves our respect and social services," said an actor while pointing out the zombie community on a map.
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During a scene, zombies protest their rights and chant, "We’re here, we’re dead, get used to it."
Director Lee said she thought it would be fun to explore the other side of the stereotype.
"It’s a very different take on zombies to show their inner emotional lives," Lee said. "I wanted to give zombies there own voice."
Lee focused mostly on the elite zombies for shots but also broke down the classes of zombie life.
"The characters we focus on are high-functioning zombies," Lee said. "These high-functioning zombies are passing off as humans."
The "high-functioning" zombies are torn between not being able to mingle with humans and ridiculed by the lower-class zombies that tend to look and act more like the stereotypical monster.
"It’s their own kind of minority," Lee said. "You may see other zombies too. But mostly we shot the ones that can talk and discuss how it feels to be stuck in life and death."
Lee, a Korean-American, admits to feeling the effects of being a minority. While she doesn’t have a personal agenda in the film, she wanted to touch on themes such as racism.
"But it’s looking at an identity in a new way," Lee said. "It’s documenting a community that’s not identifiable yet. It’s looking into the specific problems they have and the struggles they go through."
Lee says the film asks the questions of, "What does it mean to be human?" and "What is human?"
"To me that’s interesting of ‘what is human,’" Lee said. "Who’s to say I’m not a zombie? Who’s to say a zombie isn’t human? Are we only defined by our biology and the blood in our veins?"
While most of the movie is filmed a little tongue-in-cheek, Lee wanted "American Zombie" to force viewers to ask questions about their life and society.
"I like to raise questions and I want people to figure it out on their own," Lee said. "Is it a metaphor for something? It deals with identity and identity politics. But, most of all, I hope people are entertained by it."
In the past, Lee has financed her own documentaries. Her latest was the "Grace Lee Project," a true documentary which followed Asian women and had a similar theme involving people who are conscious of identity issues.
For this film, IHQ completely financed her endeavor.
"IHQ is a Korean company that produces big films in Korea," Lee said. "This was their first film in America."
According to Lee, IHQ wants to expand into the United States and it thought funding an independent film would be a good transition. Lee, however, made it clear that there is no Korean influence in the film.
"There’s nothing Korean except for me, and I’m marginally Korean. It’s an American film," Lee said.
The funding helped her work with a full crew to produce the film.
"This is a feature film," Lee said. "This is definitely still low budget, but usually it’s just me and one other person."
Working with IHQ and more people, however, caused a few more complications when producing the movie. Everything had to be passed through a committee and she wasn’t afforded the luxury of complete control.
"There’s a lot more people to deal with and report to," Lee said. "You have to plan more and it’s confusing for people too. The hardest thing about working with them is everything takes longer because of differences and time zones."
Lee said, however, that having the funding made those problems seem light. She was still afforded the opportunity to be creative and she said she was able to create a spontaneous documentary feel with the film.
Her biggest problem was her tight schedule.
"We shot it in 18 days," Lee said.
Lee was forced to be involved in the budget, marketing and scheduling for Slamdance.
"This happens on any independent film," Lee said. "We created postcards, press materials, promotional activities and provided information for cast and crew to get here. All that stuff gets overwhelming. Hopefully it will be worth it."
Now, after finishing it, she hopes audiences will like her zombie creation.
"It really is like sending your child off into the world, hoping they have a good first day at school," Lee said.
"American Zombie" will screen during the Slamdance Film Festival Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. and Jan. 23 at 6 p.m. at Treasure Mountain Inn.