Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Aimee Long on A SHOT THROUGH THE WALL

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Inspired by a true event, A Shot Through The Wall is about an Asian American police officer who accidentally discharges his weapon during an investigation, killing a black teenager through an apartment wall. The case spirals out of control as the incident is deemed police racial bias. His fellow cops and unions initially tell him there’s nothing to worry about, but politics erupt and he’s left standing alone. His fiancée is African American, but his reluctance to involve her as part of a PR defense unleashes a series of mishandled opportunities for him to defend himself.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Aimee Long: My film is about an Asian-American cop whose life unravels after accidentally shooting an innocent black man through a wall. It is about the spectrum of race in our society and the complicated relationships that exist between the police and the different types of communities that exist for people of color in America.

Merin: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

Long: I wanted my film to be as authentic as possible, hoping to keep it realistic and transparent. I didn’t want the camera to become another character in the film. In such a film that contains characters with all sorts of different viewpoints, I wanted to make sure the camera was as non-invasive as possible, letting the audience become engrossed in the arguments and complexity of the issues.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and to the main characters in it?

Long: I was sitting at a large dinner with family and friends and we began discussing the Peter Liang/Akai Gurley story. This was the incident that happened in 2014 when an Asian-American cop accidentally fired his gun and the bullet ricocheted into an innocent African-American man in the projects. We had a fairly heated argument about the verdict that had just been announced. Some people were in total support of the cop, but most were incredibly torn. When I talked with my other friends later, I found the same thing to be true. The Asian-American community, in general, was split between wanting to support one of their own for what they perceived to be a scapegoat situation and wanting to support the Black Lives Matter movement regardless of the race of the police officer. I found this fascinating. Unlike a lot of other police violence cases, that one touched on issues beyond police violence and exposed what it means to be an outsider in our society. I wanted to tell a story that represents myself as an Asian-American or a person of color in this country. But when I really started working out the story, I realized that people are dying. That has to be our main priority. It was a hard line to walk and I hope I did it justice.

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

Long: I talked to a lot of people. I was so worried that I was pigeonholed into a specific way of thinking based on my upbringing. I am an Asian-American woman who was raised partly in the San Francisco Bay Area, partly in Beijing, and partly in Paris. I know that I don’t have the same perspective as an African- American person or a white cop from New York. America is so broken up into different mindsets. I wanted to tap into people’s views from as many different places as possible. When I was writing this film, I interviewed cops, attorneys, people who worked closely with victims of police violence, anyone and everyone that would give me their time. It really brought to life for me the issues that people in the black community deal with every day. I can’t imagine a world where I am terrified for my life just talking to the police. I don’t have all of the answers, but I can try and shine a light on the systemic issues and start a conversation with my film.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film.

Long: Coming from shorts and commercials, I definitely had a different perspective on storytelling. This is my first feature and I really discovered that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. This was also a film with many different characters and perspectives, so it took some time to make sure each character’s perspectives were shown, but the film still remained focused.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Long: Specifically, with this film, I think it was important to me to make sure the issues it discusses were handled with care and respect. Real people have died and entire communities are dealing with these issues on a daily basis, so making sure the film can still be compelling and accurately reflect these issues was critical. Besides that, I think it was just the usual New York low budget independent film problems. A lot of things can be solved with money, so not having much always presents challenges.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Long: I am currently writing another feature and developing ideas. I always try and make sure I have a few pots boiling, so I’m working on a few things.

Merin: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Long: Definitely Kenneth Loach. He makes such wonderful films with compelling characters and he doesn’t shy away from important social justice issues. Also, Ang Lee has influenced me a great deal in his exploration of different genres or Wong Kar Wai’s camera work and ability to create mood and atmosphere. Maybe Christopher Nolan too. I think he is so masterful in his story construction. His plants always pay off so well and his use of detail is fantastic, nothing is wasted.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Long: Keep at it. It’s a tough business and you have to just keep pushing forward and trust yourself. Also, try not to second guess yourself when you are in charge of a set full of testosterone. Go with your instincts, do the work, and you’ll be alright.

About Aimee Long:
Aimee was raised in Paris, Beijing, and the San Francisco Bay Area. After switching careers from mathematical algorithms to directing films, she went on to attend UCLA film school. In 2016, Aimee co-founded Kings Road Pictures to develop and produce feature length films with a socially conscious message, reflecting the realities of today with the dream of our future possibilities.

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