By Rebecca Nussbaum
Although she lives mere miles from Hollywood, Elaine Tang â12 produced her animated short film “El Monte” in Beijing this summer.
The film documents the plight of 72 Thai workers imprisoned in a Southern California garment factory in 1995 who were paid less than one dollar for an 18-hour work day. It will be screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 12 in Koreatown.
Tang envisioned the film while volunteering at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles where she has interned for two years. “El Monte” was one of APALCâs most notable legal cases, Tang said, and she hoped a film would draw more attention to the challenges facing modern immigrants.
“When I learned of these Thai immigrants, making the difficult decision to leave their families in pursuit of a better life, their imprisonment in what can only be described as a labor camp and the generosity of community advocates and lawyers who fought for them, I was filled with emotion,” Tang said in the “El Monte” press release. “I knew in that instant that I needed to make more people aware of this story as well as of the challenges faced by so many Asian-American immigrants in pursuit of the American dream and the incredible role that the APALC plays in this process.”
Tang acted as a middleman between Chinese animation firm Xing Xing Digital and the legal center back in Los Angeles, explaining the El Monte story to her production team and translating the legal centerâs comments back to the animators.
Tang speaks dialects of Chinese at home and takes Mandarin at school, but her language skills were tested in the animation studio, as her co-workers spoke only Chinese.
“A lot of the technical animation terms I didnât understand,” she said.
Tang said that it was vital that the film be as historically accurate as possible. To make this happen, the real sweatshop workers did voice-overs for their characters, and the animators drew the cartoons to look like the workers.
Tang co-wrote the script with John Liu, Director of Content Development at Xing Xing Digital.
“We whipped out the script in two or three days,” she said. “The rest was kind of just talking with the legal center and getting their feedback on our work.”
After finishing the film in two and a half months, Tang entered it in a few film festivals.
“I wasnât expecting [it to be chosen] at all,” she said. “It was really just for the legal center.”
“El Monte” was Tangâs first attempt at animation filmmaking.
“It was really cool, but I donât know if I want to focus on it,” Tang said. “It was a fun side project for my work at the APALC.”
As Tang hoped, the film has given the APALC publicity and raised awareness about the El Monte case and labor rights.
“Through this film, I hope to give a voice to those previously unheard and to inspire all to uphold justice,” Tang said in the press release.