“Jeff Imada: Breaking Barriers by Design” will be screened Sunday, May 6, as part of the “Digital Histories: Our Stories, Now Told” showcase starting at 1 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.
Imada is generally recognized in the industry as the first Japanese American stunt coordinator in mainstream Hollywood movies, and is perhaps best known for his work in the “Jason Bourne” and “Fast and Furious” franchise series of cinematic blockbusters. However, in a career that has spanned roughly 40 years, Imada goes back to the days when Asian Americans and Asians in general were few and far between on both sides of the camera.
Shiozaki, perhaps best known as the director of the iconic documentary film “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” and whose own career also goes back to the 1970s, presents Imada’s story with an empathy born of common experiences. “Jeff and I knew a lot of the same people along the way,” Shiozaki explained, “and it was a privilege for me to bring that era back to life.”
Starting as an actor and extra while still a student at UCLA, Imada was a part of that first wave of Asian Americans and other minorities and women who began breaking into the film industry as a result of the civil rights revolution that was happening nationally. And as with so many opportunities opening up back then, acceptance was grudging on many fronts, and the pioneers faced many challenges and obstacles.
Imada, however, persevered and kept pushing forward.
“Jeff’s story is really inspiring,” Shiozaki says. “As a stuntman, then as a coordinator, it can be an anonymous road. We know the names of the actors and actresses and even what they look like. We know the directors because they’re the ones who run the show. But stunts are always secondary to the action itself, and in the case of a stunt double, you’re actually supposed to be the actor. You’re lucky if anyone even knows you’re in the movie. Even more so with the stunt coordinator.
“So many people enjoy the action, but if it’s done well, it just seems real. Not many people outside of the industry understand that it flows so well because the stunt coordinator choreographed it like a dance or ballet.
“In the industry itself, people in the know understand what you’re doing and its value. It’s hard for people at large to give you credit when they don’t even know you’re there. This is a small step towards fixing that for Jeff, letting people know what a big deal he is.”
The 39th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is the nation’s premier showcase for Asian Pacific American filmmakers. Screenings and events will be held at various locations around the city from May 3 to 12.
For a full schedule, consult the website at http://festival.vconline.org/2018/welcome.