By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ursula Liang’s “labor of love,” 9-Man, which documents the Chinese American sport of street volleyball has received critical acclaim. We first covered the documentary in December 2012. Since then, the film and its makers have traveled the country showing it at various festivals and receiving awards.
The film was shown at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival this past February to great reviews. It won the Directors’ Choice Award at the festival. “We had a packed house,” recalled Liang of the Seattle debut, “It was a wonderful crowd.” She noted that the energy of the Seattle crowd stood out to her when it was shown. She notes that several players that participate in the 9-Man volleyball tournaments live in the Seattle area. Liang believes that Seattle as well as Chicago and Vancouver are ripe to have 9-Man teams. Tournament hubs rotate between cities which include New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The sport is comprised mainly of Chinese Americans or Chinese Canadians that compete in volleyball tournaments with its own set of rules. Games started in the 1930’s by men in alleys and parking lots where many Chinese immigrants settled. During those times, it was a source of camaraderie and inclusion at a time when America was not accepting of many Chinese. Now, players come from all walks of life. The sport is a passion for those that compete and a connection to the past.
Liang stated that Northwest Film Forum’s Program Director Courtney Sheehan has helped her from the start. “She contacted us very early on and really cared,” Liang noted. The local help, assisted with getting 9 Man to be a part of the Seattle Asian American Film Festival.
The film has received considerable notoriety. In addition to the Seattle accolade, the film won an Audience Award and Best Documentary Director Award at the Los Angeles Pacific Film Festival, an Audience Award at the Boston Asian American Film Festival and a Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Austin Asian American Film Festival.
In addition to the film festival circuit, the documentary was featured this past month on the World Channel as part of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. The documentary was featured on America ReFramed, a series on the network that shows independent documentaries. The film received a national audience and Liang received positive notes from people that may not have known about her film. The showing put the film in front of new communities, a goal of Liang for 9 Man.
Another goal of the film was to help change the perception of the Asian American athlete. She believes that the film has accomplished its goal with the personal and athletic portrayal of the film’s athletes.
In order to fund 9-Man, Liang and her small team promoted the project on Kickstarter where they surpassed its $25,000 goal and received $40,591 from public benefactors. Liang indicated that she received a post-production grant from the Center for Asian American Media. However, it did not cover all of the post-production costs. In addition to the costs for production and marketing, she still must cover costs to travel to film festivals and other promotional activities.
Liang continues to work as a freelancer in addition to her work promoting 9-Man. She has done a wide variety of work including projects for the “Op-Docs” section of the New York Times. In the past, Liang worked as a sports journalist before working on the documentary.
9-Man continues to make its way through the independent film festival circuit but Liang is developing a new strategy for the documentary. “We are actually going to start an educational movement,” Liang said. She hopes that the film can be seen by more university students. The documentary is being sold on DVD via the 9-man web site.
Liang is also working on new projects as she is in the beginning stages of research for her next film. She would like to continue working on projects about the Asian American community.
Although she is not committed to a project at this point, Liang stated that she would like to work on a film about women. While subject matter is important, she also hopes to learn from her debut film to work more economically. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.