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Artists of the Month: Sébastien Kong and Steve Tran

The Filmmakers Connect group proudly presents Sébastien Kong and Steve Tran as the Artists of the Month for their exceptional contributions to the film industry. The dynamic duo recently gained significant acclaim for their film "I Am No One," which won Best Indie Short at the Los Angeles Film Awards (LAFA) in October 2023. This compelling film illuminates the social invisibility of the Franco-Asian diaspora, a theme that resonates deeply with both directors.

Sébastien Kong: A Visionary Director

Sébastien Kong's journey into the world of cinema is both diverse and inspiring. Born in France and a graduate of the Cinema School ESRA, Sébastien began his career in journalism before transitioning into filmmaking. His early work with major music labels, producing videos for internationally renowned artists, laid a solid foundation for his narrative style. Sébastien's passion for storytelling and his dedication to highlighting underrepresented communities have been evident throughout his career.

From producing documentaries to working on major international film productions in Morocco, Sébastien's experiences have significantly shaped his filmmaking perspective. His commitment to mentoring young filmmakers and his involvement with the DIVÉ+ collective, which promotes diversity and inclusion in French cinema, reflect his dedication to fostering a more inclusive industry. Sébastien's work with Banh Mi media, focusing on the Asian community in France, and his collaboration with various Asian diaspora associations underscore his commitment to social issues, culminating in the creation of "I Am No One."

Steve Tran: A Multifaceted Talent

Steve Tran's career is a testament to his versatility and passion for the arts. Starting as a lead actor at the age of 14, Steve quickly made a name for himself with notable roles in films like "Neuilly sa mère!" and "Beur Sur La Ville." His foray into stand-up comedy showcased his talent for writing and performing, further broadening his creative repertoire.

Steve's diverse roles in both comedic and dramatic genres highlight his ability to bring depth and nuance to his characters. His return to live performances in 2018 and his involvement in major productions, such as "Asterix and Obelix: the Middle Empire" and "Le Flambeau," demonstrate his continued dedication to his craft. As a co-creator and writer of "I Am No One," Steve draws from his own experiences and observations, contributing to the film's powerful narrative on the challenges faced by the Franco-Asian community in France.

A Powerful Collaboration

The collaboration between Sébastien Kong and Steve Tran has resulted in a film that not only entertains but also provokes thought and discussion. "I Am No One" is a poignant exploration of identity, prejudice, and societal expectations, themes that are deeply personal to both directors. Their combined talents and shared vision have created a film that resonates with audiences and critics alike, earning them well-deserved recognition.

Steve Tran, who also plays the lead role of Minh, brings a deep, personal connection to the character. The use of voice-over in the film allows the audience to hear Minh's thoughts and uncover his secrets as the story progresses, adding layers to the narrative. The film's cinematography, noted for its exceptional quality, enhances the storytelling by capturing the nuances of Minh's daily life and the broader societal context he navigates.

As FCA's Artists of the Month, Sébastien Kong and Steve Tran exemplify the power of storytelling to address important social issues. Their dedication to their craft and their commitment to representing underrepresented communities serve as an inspiration to filmmakers and audiences around the world. Below, we delve deeper into their creative processes, inspirations, and future aspirations through an exclusive interview with the directors.

Sébastien, you started your career in journalism with StreetLive and transitioned into film directing. How did your early experiences in journalism influence your approach to filmmaking?

At the beginning, I just wanted to be a camera operator and my first job was often in journalism and documentary. But my passion is filmmaking cinema, and with time, I often met new people. I evolved, progressed, and matured, and after years, I was ready to tell stories cinematically.

Steve, you landed your first leading role at 14. How did starting your acting career at such a young age shape your professional journey and personal growth?

I had my first audition at the age of 8 and landed a leading role at 14. I truly learned the craft on set, which shaped my professional journey. I started filming on celluloid, which taught me discipline. On a personal level, this first role convinced me that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Sébastien, your work on major productions in Morocco must have been quite different from your projects in France. How did these international experiences shape your filmmaking perspective?

In Morocco, I worked with Dune Films, which gave me the opportunity to work on British and American sets for fiction in Morocco, including on Gladiator 2 last year.

It's different than working on French projects because it's not the same mentality and mindset. When I work with major productions, I can learn more and meet mentors, and we have a family spirit. It's a dream team and a collective mindset, but in France, the mindset is individualistic and very hierarchical. You don't have the same budget, fewer people, and fewer jobs to make a movie. There are jobs that don't exist in France but are present in major productions. Major production is amazing and a rewarding experience.

Sébastien, your involvement with associations representing the Asian diaspora in France is significant. How does this engagement influence the stories you choose to tell?

This engagement influences the stories I tell because they are real stories and not the cliché we can see in French screenings. It's not a touristy and exotic look. The Asian Diaspora is a story of French immigration, so we need to know, understand, and discover this dual culture for these people, especially when they are interesting and universal subjects, not victimizing and activist subjects.

Sébastien, what was it like directing Steve Tran in the role of Minh? How did his performance influence your vision for the character and the film

Steve and I understand each other 100%. We live with the same societal problem, and we know why we did this project, so it was easy to work on the character and the film.

We decided that the character wouldn't pronounce any words, and we have just his point of view with a voice-over.

Steve, you've worked with Sébastien Kong on multiple projects, including "Boom Boom." What makes your creative partnership with him so successful?

Sébastien and I have been friends for 20 years. We understand each other even without speaking; we are complementary. Our guiding principle is sincerity in everything we undertake.

Sébastien, "I Am No One" addresses the social invisibility of the Franco-Asian diaspora. What inspired you to focus on this theme, and what message do you hope the film conveys to audiences?

In France, the government has a political speech which is "black white butter" for the spirit of living together. They forgot to include Asians by using "Yellow", because there is an ordinary racism issue where some French people think that the Asian diaspora doesn't talk, fight, or work, especially in computer science or restaurants, and speak with an Asian accent. However, Asian people who were born in France do not have that accent. In France, many people think that all Asian people are Chinese, but there are also Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, and Laotian communities and cultures to discover. We can share interesting news stories and cultural experiences.

Steve, as a co-creator and writer of "I Am No One," what personal experiences or observations did you draw upon to contribute to the film’s narrative?

I drew inspiration from my family and anecdotes from people I know. No one really knows the Asians in France and their social invisibility.

I wanted to talk about positive racism.

Asians are seen as smooth and without stories. It’s a way to humanize us.

Steve, You play the lead role of Minh in "I Am No One." How did you prepare for this role, and what aspects of Minh's character resonate with you?

I was inspired by one of my cousins; he is naturally taciturn and quiet. We always wonder what he is thinking.

I think what resonates with me about Minh's character is his sense of family and the love he has for his mother.

Steve, what advice would you give to young filmmakers and actors, especially those from underrepresented communities, who are trying to break into the industry?

Go fill your well of knowledge by watching films you wouldn’t have thought to watch, travel, and create.

Educate yourself, be curious, and dissect the greatest works like a scientist, and create.

And believe in yourself, no matter what, believe in yourself and your dreams.

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