18.3.10

This year’s Asian American Film Festival was bittersweet for me, knowing that Loni Ding’s funeral was happening smackdab in the middle of it. CAAM has a nice post here about her.

I was a student of Loni’s in her video documentary class at Cal in the late 80s. I can’t begin to tell all the things she taught us, so I’ll stick with one that has made the most impact upon me (or at least, what I am most aware of, because when you have a great teacher, some stuff gets absorbed into your molecules so thoroughly that you forget where it came from).

At 20 I had a decent idea of how to listen to my friends, but Loni taught me how to listen to strangers: she gave me a key to the world. You have to listen with complete open acceptance & patience, in order to draw out someone’s true story. It’s not that different from listening to friends, actually; it comes close to what you might call unconditional love. Loni taught about listening as an active practice of asking for, waiting for, recognizing & capturing exactly what each person can best give: their own truth. She taught me the difference between truth & dogma, that human reality is always more compelling & important than preconceived political agenda; that it doesn’t work to want people to say what you want them to say. You have to want them to say what they want to say.

I leaned on her teaching so hard when I was in the South for the Chinese Restaurant Project. I’m sorry I never told her how much she had helped me. Here is my humble tribute to her, a short sound piece I made from a visit with Van Tran, proprietor of a gas station/Chinese takeout counter in Flora, Mississippi. (It’s better on headphones, if you have em handy. The clicky sounds are my Holga.)

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