A D.I.Y. movie musical made for all of $15,000, indie popster-turned-scenarist/actor H.P. Mendoza and local cinematographer-turned-feature-director Richard Wong's Colma: The Musical proved to be the little movie that could after its 2006 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival debut. It won a limited theatrical release and critical praise, including a flattering New York Times review. After collaborating on last year's unclassifiable (IMDB lists it as "action/drama/musical/thriller") SFIAAFF premiere Option 3, they're back with Fruit Fly, which isn't quite a Colma sequel but feels like one. It brings back that film's Maribel (L.A. Renigen), this time starring as a straight newcomer wading into SF's theater and gay-nightlife scenes while dealing with some unresolved identity issues. With 19 numbers (including "Fag Hag"), it is once again not your grandma's (or even ABBA's) kind of musical.
This time around Mendoza (who also plays a supporting part) is in the director-editor's chair. But Wong's brightly colored widescreen HD photography is once again an outstanding element. He spoke with the Guardian before Fruit Fly's bow as this year's SFIAAFF Centerpiece presentation.
SFBG H.P. Mendoza directed this time, but it seems like the two of you are collaborative in most aspects of the movies you've made together.
RICHARD WONG I was certainly very involved in a lot of different ways. This is definitely H.P.'s movie, though. We were originally going to do something called On Sundays. Where Colma was kind of H.P.'s story, I wanted to do a movie about my family dynamic, this big, grand musical. But the economy really screwed that. We decided to use our CAAN (Center for Asian American Media) grant just to jump in and do something, [resulting in] both Option 3 and Fruit Fly.
SFBG You must have been really surprised by the exposure Colma got.
RW So much has happened since then, it's really changed my life. I can attempt to be an actual, serious filmmaker. When we were making it, it was hard to see that as even a possibility. It was so remote. Of course all the timing was wrong with the writer's strike and the recession, but nonetheless, I honestly still can't quite believe it.
Sun/15, 6:15 p.m., Castro
March 20, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive
March 22, 7 p.m., Camera 12
THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL March 1222. Main venues are the Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets (most shows $11) are available at www.asianamericanmedia.org. For this week's schedule, see film listings.