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[whitespace] Quixotic Eye

Local filmmaker Joanne Shen turns her camera on life's eccentrics

By David Templeton

THOUGH JOANNE SHEN is now officially a student of filmmaking--enrolled in Stanford's film school program--she made her first film before having any formal schooling in the craft. "I was a student of life," she laughs. Evidently, that was enough; the resulting true-life short film, The King of Kowloon, about a clownish, elderly graffiti artist in Hong Kong, has been making the circuit of international film festivals, racking up praise and kudos for Shen's keen-eyed humanity and sense of compassion. It was while in Hong Kong, living the life of an expatriate American journalist (she's originally from New Jersey), that Shen made the bold decision to quit journalism.

"I decided that documentaries were my calling," she says, firmly and happily, in spite of her awareness that, as she puts it, "there doesn't seem to be a way to make a living at this." She found a partner, Martin Egan, and began searching for a subject for her first film. "I wanted a local subject," she explains. "Something that would be entertaining and engaging, and also, somehow, empowering."

She found it in the King, an alternately endearing and lamentable figure, scrawling nearly indecipherable rants and ravings on hundreds of building walls, then going home alone. Shen, with camera in tow, was graciously allowed into this strange man's quixotic life--and was changed forever by the experience. "Real life is so fascinating," Shen says. "I think it's something I bring from my journalism background. I like going out there and meeting new people, being able to stick my nose into places I wouldn't normally have access to." Now that she's at Stanford, acquiring a toolbox full of technical filmmaking skills to add to her obvious intuitive abilities, Shen is readjusting to America while keeping alert for new places to stick her nose into. Her latest project is a quirky short on the strange mystique of neon signs. "The kind of films that I want to make are a little bit quirky," she clearly affirms, "showing how weird and incredible and wonderful and unbelievable our world is. Those are the kinds of stories that interest me."

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From the August 26-September 1, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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