A documentary about immigrant culture in the Central Valley, produced by Stan State professor Steve Arounsack, will air this month on the local Public Broadcasting Service television station.
Arounsack, associate cultural anthropology professor, recently produced and/or directed three films that received widespread acclaim.
His project “Halfway Home,” which features the stories of four artists who refuse to shed the artistic traditions of their homelands while living and working in the Central Valley, will be aired at 7 p.m. May 23 on KVIE, virtual channel 6.
The film follows four Valley artists. Harjeet Singh and Paramjeet Kaur have a shared passion for bhangra, a traditional Punjabi dance that they teach to the Sikh community in Yuba City. In Stockton, Lon Chan shares his devotion to hand-making traditional costumes for Cambodian classical dance. Nikiko Masumoto reveals how she uses her work as both farmer and playwright to share the stories and traditions of Japanese Americans.
“Halfway Home” brings to light how communities can use artistic practices to meld a sense of belonging with celebration of cultural histories.
“I’ve had a passion for video since high school,” said Arounsack, a Stan State alumnus who has been the Director of Keck Visual Anthropology Lab (KVAL) at the university since its 2013 inception. “I really dug deep into it while doing my graduate work here at Stan State with a documentary about Southeast Asian traditional music in the Central Valley. We initially had modest hopes for it, but eventually it made on the local PBS station (KVIE in Sacramento) and went nationwide. That really started my journey. I began to hone my technical skills and ethnographic interview techniques from that point on.”
The project received a documentary fund award by the Center for Asian American Media.
A second documentary, “Getting Lao’d: The Rise of Modern Lao Music and Films” also received a funding award from the same organization and was selected for the Seattle Asian-American Film Festival and the Kineforum in Jakarta, Indonesia. This project, filmed over 10 years, follows a new generation of young pioneers as they reimagine Lao media in a Communist country. The film features many of the country’s most prominent musicians and filmmakers and is perhaps the most comprehensive examination of the rise of modern music and films in Laos.
Arounsack also is co-producing a feature-length film, “Raising a Beast,” which is in pre-production in Laos. It has been chosen for three film labs in Asia and is one of only four international film projects to receive a 2018 Tribeca Film Institute Pitching and Mentoring Award.
One of the great benefits of becoming proficient in film work, Arounsack said, is the way it’s taught him how to observe everything around him while also listening to what everybody — especially his students — have to say.
“My film experiences definitely inform my teaching at Stan State,” he said. “Foremost, it has taught me to critically listen to my students. Each student has a story.”