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Sundance-bound Andrew Ahn comes out to Korean-American parents in his film, 'Dol'

James Kim

Filmmaker Andrew Ahn's film about being a gay Korean-American screens this weekend at Sundance. He met KPCC's John Rabe at the Mohn Broadcast Center for an Off-Ramp interview and photo shoot.

There are tons of movies about gays and lesbians coming out to their families, but few filmmakers create films as a way to come out to their parents ... until now. Andrew Ahn, a first-generation Korean-American, was born and raised in Los Angeles and got his MFA in film directing from CalArts. His short-film "Dol" debuts at Sundance this weekend, and is also being highlighted online by Yahoo. Ahn spoke with KPCC's John Rabe, and said his grand strategy kind of backfired.

Dol, is a traditional Korean ritual for a baby's first birthday celebration, where the baby is set among various objects like a pencil, paintbrush or bowl of rice. The first object the baby grabs symbolizes his or her future; if he or she picks the pencil, they'll be a scholar, pick a paintbrush? Become an artist. What does this have to do with coming out as a gay man?

"I don't know what item would represent being gay," Ahn joked. He did know he wanted to document a personal moment in the film.

"I saw footage from my own first birthday on an old beta tape," he recalled. "As a gay Korean man, this ritual just seemed really pertinent to where I am in my adulthood, thinking about family -- thinking about the future."

Ahn wanted to use the film to come out to his parents because he couldn't bring himself to broach the topic directly. He filmed his actual parents, aunts and uncles because he knew they'd want to watch. That way, Ahn could force himself to come out. But things didn't go as planned.

"After the credits rolled they said 'Oh, is that it?'" he said. "I just started crying because I built up the moment so much, and I knew that they were in denial, that I could have taken the DVD, gone back to my room and they wouldn't have said a thing."

According to Ahn, homosexuality is a complex issue in immigrant Korean culture. While there are lots of progressive images supporting homosexuality in the media, there's a conservative Christian community that's equally as strong, and bridging the gap causes problems. Ahn had no idea how his parents would react. "I was scared. I packed a bag, just in case," he said.

Ahn said that despite his worries, it went fine. But the budding filmmaker said his parents are still naive. "They think that it's a phase. My father said something that I think really sums it all up. He said: 'We're not going to force you to change, but we want you to be open minded.'"

Still, he's proud that they were so open to discussion. Ahn has come to realize that he made the film not just for his family, but also for himself. And now, he's said he's made it for the everybody.

"Because of Sundance and because of press, I'm coming out to the world. And so I forced myself off another ledge, and I have to say it's very liberating," he said.


With contributions by Andrea Wang

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