In anticipation of the release of Fire Island, Dorkaholics had the honor of interviewing the film’s director Andrew Ahn about working on the film, as well the themes and topics associated with it.
Catch Fire Island on Hulu, out now (June 3).
Neil Bui: How would you say Fire Island compares your past works?
Andrew Ahn: It’s much funnier. My previous works, Spa Nights and Driveways, are much more intimate family dramas. This is my first romantic comedy, and I don’t think I expected to do a romcom. But when I read Joel Kim Booster’s script. I saw it in it so much of myself as a queer Asian American man and my group of queer Asian American friends. It really resonated with me, this celebration of chosen family and pure joy. And it’s a topic that I haven’t had the chance to explore in my previous work and is such a big part of my life, that this felt like the perfect project to enter into.
Neil Bui: Did the experience of working on documentaries like I’m Divine and Tab Hunter Confidential prepare you in any way for directing Fire Island?
Andrew Ahn: I love those projects. I was an assistant editor and post-production intern on those films. Those were my first gigs coming out of film school. And what I loved about working with the director, Jeffrey Schwartz, was that he’s a gay man and has a community of gay filmmaker friends. It really felt like an introduction to [the] professional queer filmmaking network that let me know that there are people who want to watch and make queer films. And I think that gave me the motivation to seek out collaborations with other queer artists; so meeting Joel Kim Booster and entering into this collaboration with him felt really natural and organic.
Neil Bui: While Dol focused on a clash of Korean American and gay identities, Fire Island casts a spotlight on friendship in queer communities, how does this shift feel for you as a filmmaker?
Andrew Ahn: The queer Asian American experience is very multifaceted. What’s the word I’m looking for? It’s a very multifaceted and complicated thing – you can’t define queer Asian Americanness in one movie, but you can pick an element of it and explore it. I really love being able to kind of match the form to the content, and to talk about queer joy it just made sense to talk about it in a comedy. I think that my work is always trying to feel holistic. I’m never trying to force something into a form that it doesn’t naturally want to be in. I think that my main philosophy as a filmmaker hasn’t necessarily changed, but I am definitely more excited to take risks in my career. I think I have more confidence in my voice, and I want to try different things. I think this is the best way to have fun as a filmmaker, to stay engaged in my career. I think about filmmakers like Ang Lee and Todd Haynes, who have tried many different genres and I really love that about their body of work. My junk is that Fire Island is my version of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility.
Neil Bui: On a similar note, Fire Island has had comparisons based on the literary classic Pride and Prejudice for those who haven’t watched the film yet are familiar with the legacy text, in what way should they expect to see these parallels?
Andrew Ahn: Oh, it’s pretty direct. There are very clear connections between the characters in our films and the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Noah is definitely our Elizabeth Bennett. Howie is our Jane Bennett. Will is our Mr. Darcy. There’s a lot of really fun parallels. I’d say the main difference is that I think many people expect adaptations of Pride and Prejudice to really focus on the romances. But our film actually kind of shifts that emphasis towards the chosen family, towards the friendships, and that to me feels really queer and really modern in a in a fun way.
Neil Bui: In a past interview, you mentioned the challenges of being a queer Korean American filmmaker trying to make queer Korean American films. As your career has continued on, how have these challenges changed in the world of filmmaking?
Andrew Ahn: It’s a good question. I think it would have been really difficult to make this film even five years ago. I think it would have been labeled as too niche. There might have been a desire for one of the four leads to be a big famous white actor. The fact that we have four Asian Americans, top billed in this film, with a queer Asian American director, I think it’s really significant. That said, I think there’s still so much work to be done and part of the reason we were able to make this film is because it’s just a super brilliant idea. It’s fun. It is an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I’m kind of waiting for the moody broody gay Korean American drama to get green-lit with a big budget at a studio, that’s gonna be maybe even harder to achieve, but who knows. I think that it’s a sign of changing times that a film like this has gotten made and is getting this kind of release. And I’m like, super thrilled about it. I really hope to use this platform to pull up seats to the table for other queer Asian American artists.
Thanks for reading this article!
If you’d like to share your thoughts in reaction to what you just read, then feel free to leave a comment below or click here to submit your own opinion piece. The Dorkaholics Team is always on the look for new, additional voices to join us, share their own unique perspectives, and contribute to the diverse platform we are building in our corner of the internet and pop culture community.