The idea for Sophie Zeng’s short film about the commercialization of Pride month came to her one day while looking down at her new sneakers.
“I was wearing my new rainbow converses and looking down at my feet the idea of rainbow capitalism suddenly came to mind because I realized it’s not talked about as much as Pride in general,” he said she says. “It’s out there, but you have to look for it.”
This idea led to the creation of her eight-minute film, Priceless Pride, which asks whether Rainbow merchandise and big company marketing during Pride month in June is generating or distracting more support for the LGBTQ community.
Her film will be showing at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at noon today and is part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, which runs through Saturday and is showing more than 100 Asian-American and international films (tickets to Zeng’s screening are free). The festival is organized each year by the Pacific Arts Movement, a local non-profit organization focused on highlighting Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander films. The organization’s film-centric programs include Reel Voices, an eight-week summer documentary program that trains local high school students in filmmaking. Zeng was part of the program last summer.
Zeng, 14, is a freshman at Bishop’s School in La Jolla, where she is studying the technical side of theater and, more recently, film. She took some time to talk about her documentary, what she learned from the Reel Voices program, and what she hopes her film will say to viewers. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: They were part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival’s Reel Voices program. What have you learned about yourself and filmmaking in these eight weeks?
A: I went to Reel Voices with no experience other than iMovie school projects. Through Reel Voices I learned the basics of filming, camera techniques and editing with Adobe Premier Pro. We also learned about the documentary tone, your idea and how you want the audience to see your idea. I think one of the most important things I’ve seen for myself is how powerful documentary filmmaking can be. I think movies can be so powerful just because they start writing, but then you add more dimensions to them, so the ability to change someone’s mind is something I think can be so influential , especially in today’s world. I’ve definitely learned a lot from Reel Voices that I hope to continue to apply in my life, and I hope my documentary can reach people and hopefully make them think more about their actions and consequences.
Q: Where did the idea of dealing with the topic of commercializing Pride come from? What motivated you to make this film?
A: Reel Voices launched in June, Pride month, and right before that I started seeing a lot of stuff about Pride and advertising rainbow products, rainbow shirts, shoes, bracelets. I ended up buying a pair of Converse shoes from the Pride 2022 collection. As we started exploring documentary ideas, I started thinking about social issues and prominent events in my life. I went through a lot of ideas like Lunar New Year because my family is Chinese; the Del Mar Fair, which is based in San Diego, but none of them really stuck. In a Reel Voices session I was wearing my new rainbow converses and looking down at my feet the idea of rainbow capitalism suddenly popped into my head because I realized it’s not talked about as much as Pride is than whole, in general. It’s out there, but you have to look for it. A lot of my friends are also part of the LGBTQ community, so I’m getting more involved as well.
Q: What was your goal with Priceless Pride? What did you want to say with this film?
A: When I got the idea to study the commercialization of Pride Month, I started thinking about the choices we make when shopping. Most of the time, when we buy things, we’re guided by what’s pretty, cute, trendy, and cool, but we don’t really think much about the consequences of that. Originally, the path of my documentary was to interview large companies and examine how their donations and contributions compare to their profits, but later I decided to take a more consumer-oriented perspective. When I first started contacting these big companies, I realized they weren’t really interested in speaking to me. A lot of companies just didn’t respond, and then there were those that didn’t really give anything other than the general statements you can find on their website. I just realized that detailed information about their profits and their actual contributions and where all their money actually goes isn’t really available to the public, so I decided to go down a consumer route.
My documentary aims to provoke the thought to wonder if the actions of these big corporations commercializing Pride balance their profit-making intentions. My documentation doesn’t provide a solid answer because I don’t think there is; The point is just to be aware and think more about who you’re supporting and why, and whether the money you’re spending when you actually buy Pride merchandise is actually going to the people you choose to support.
Q: What is your personal perspective on this commercialization of what began as a radical and political act of resistance to oppression and antagonism against the LGBTQ community?
A: I’m not very cultured when it comes to LGBTQ Pride history, so I don’t really want to say anything about it without really knowing it, but I think if there’s one message I want to convey through my documentary, it’s it not a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but the fact of the matter is that I think someone consuming Pride merchandise should do so intentionally and thoughtfully, being aware of who they are helping when they buys this Pride item and if that money really goes to the community they want to support.
Q: How did you get into making films?
A: Ever since I was a child, I always liked to watch films. One of my favorite feature films is the mystery film Knives Out. The way the suspense and mystery has been portrayed in the film is something that never ceases to amaze me and it is such an amazing film. It’s still amazing every time I decide to watch it.
Just before I signed up for Reel Voices, I also started getting more into documentaries. Documentaries are on the rise, especially on Netflix. I’ve seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix and White Hot, which is about the history of Abercrombie. I found them both super interesting and insightful. You have definitely changed my perspective on some things in my daily life. One of the other amazing documentaries I watched was at the San Diego Asian Film Festival spring show called Free Chol Soo Lee. It was about the life of a Korean immigrant and I found it to be a very insightful window into the past. His story was about being wrongly convicted of a murder and fighting for justice against discrimination. When he finally got free, he fell back into the trap of drugs and gangs and struggled to get back up, but after his experiences of the darker side of life, he was really trying to be a better person and to help people, and he succeded. So I found the story of his redemption really inspiring.
Q: What do you enjoy about filmmaking?
A: It’s 2022 and the world is busy and I find that there are many things that I’m really passionate about. In the end I have a strong opinion and I want people to hear my opinion, I want people to be able to see my perspective and also see other people’s perspectives. There’s a side to the exercise of creativity, and I’ve always considered myself quite an artistic person. Filming and editing is always fun to play around with the software, but I also think what really brings me joy is knowing that what I say and what I show has the ability to impact someone else’s life.
Q: I don’t know if you’ve attended Pride or if you’d like to disclose whether or not you’re part of the LGBTQ community, but one of my questions was to ask how you would describe your own Pride experience.
A: I am part of the LGBTQ community like my friends. Personally, I think I’m privileged in my life not to have been seriously targeted for such things. I’m fairly new to the community I would say. I’m not particularly involved, I’ve only recently become more involved and interested in the things that affect the community, but one of the things I found super fun for my documentary was the Pride parade. I went to the San Diego Pride Parade in July to get film for my documentary and I really thought it was super fun. The lines were insanely long for everything, but it was kind of amazing to see such a large turnout in San Diego. I never thought there was such a large LGBTQ community locally. It was enlightening to see everyone so open and comfortable in their identities. I didn’t get much footage from the parade and festival for my documentary, and while it’s not the main point of my documentary, I think it supports the message of my documentary. I’m just glad I got to see the LGBTQ community together and openly and accepting each other’s identities.