Interview with Director David Ngo of The Queen from Virginia
David Ngo Received “Best Documentary” Award
for “Queen of Virginia”
1. Can you describe your movie to us?
The Queen from Virginia: The Jackie Bong Wright Story profiles the journey of Jackie Bong Wright as she competes in the week-long Ms. Senior America national pageant. Created in 1972, Ms. Senior America is a beauty pageant for women over 60 that “searches for the gracious lady who best exemplifies the dignity, maturity, and inner beauty of all senior Americans.” This documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at Jackie’s experience as she competes in this unique pageant. From the first rehearsal to the final coronation, we hope that the film reveals the strength and spirit of a woman who has rebuilt her life in America after surviving personal tragedies suffered from the Vietnam War. In the film, Jackie Bong Wright enters Ms. Senior America as the first Vietnamese-American to ever compete in this pageant. Additionally, with interviews from family members, other contestants, and pageant organizers, this documentary also provides exclusive insight into the world of senior pageantry.
2. Why did you choose to make this film?
When I found out that Jackie Bong Wright was competing in the Ms. Senior America pageant, I was instantly intrigued. I had never heard about a beauty pageant for senior women before, let alone an Asian American woman that was competing in it. Often times, you don’t hear about Asian American women being active in the public eye, and there is a pervasive stereotype that Asian American women are passive and quiet. However, Jackie Bong Wright’s participation in this pageant proves otherwise, and this completely fascinated me. I’m not sure what came over me, but I just knew that I had to figure out a way to tell this story. Once we began filming, I also discovered that Jackie Bong Wright has an amazing life story as a Vietnam War survivor, refugee, and social activist. Along with the compelling stories of the other contestants, this beauty pageant had a lot of richness to it. Seeing these women celebrate, live, and enjoy life made for a great story and I’m grateful that I was able to pursue this project. I wanted to share this story with as many people as possible.
3. What is the audience for your documentary?
I think our film appeals to a diverse and wide audience of people because everyone has that matriarch figure in their families. Most of the women in the film are mothers and grandmothers, and we all have someone like that in our families. Sometimes we take these matriarch figures for granted and forget that they have very compelling lives to share with us. They’re more than just mothers and grandmothers, and Jackie Bong Wright is an example of this. As far as specific niche audiences that might identify with this documentary, I think our film has a direct appeal to seniors, women, Asian Americans, or any combination of the three. These groups probably can identify the closeness to the women of the Ms. Senior America pageant.
4. What film festivals has your documentary appeared in?
The Queen from Virginia played in the VC Filmfest: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, where it was awarded the Best Documentary Feature Jury Prize. That was a tremendous honor and the first film festival we screened at. Our film has also screened at the Dallas VPS Film Festival and the DC APA Film Festival, which were both great experiences. We’re so honored that our film has been so well-received by audiences at each of these festivals. We’ve played in three different cities in three different parts of the country, and we’ve gotten the same great reviews everywhere we’ve been. We are so humbled by the response and appreciate the support a lot. It gives us more confidence that we made a great film that appeals to a lot of different people.
5. What was the selection process for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, where your film was honored as the Best Documentary Feature?
Basically, we submitted the film as part of a general application process in December 2005 alongside several hundred other films. I’m not sure what the selection criteria was for the festival, but I do know that the festival committee had to go through a grueling process of watching and reviewing several hundred movies. However, I am sure that the committee was looking for quality films that best fit the mantra of the festival. In April 2006, our film was selected was one of only 16 feature films to screen in the entire festival in May. This was a tremendous honor for us, and receiving the Best Documentary Feature Jury Prize was just icing on the cake. We were happy to just be in the festival, so we were simply ecstatic to receive an award as well. It was icing on the cake.
6. What did you want to accomplish with this film?
We’ve taken this entire film one goal at a time. After I got the idea for the film, I wanted to find a great producer for this project. Luckily, I was able to recruit producer Katy Chen onto this project, whom I had known from her days as a producer at E! Entertainment Television. She was the first person that came on-board this project, and I am so grateful for that because she has done an amazing job of producing this film. With Katy, we had the next goal of assembling the most talented crew possible. We pulled our resources together and formed an awesome production team, which is led by our unsung heroes cinematographer Gavin Wynn and editor Stacy Halbach. With our team secured, our next goal was to raise enough money to shoot our film. We were able to accomplish this through lots of grassroots fundraising where we asked friends and family for project donations. We also raised money through a raffle and silent auction. After shooting the film, we needed to raise enough money to edit the film, which we did through more donations and another silent auction. Our goal after editing was to submit the documentary to various film festivals for consideration. Fortunately, we have been able to screen at three major Asian American film festivals this year. Now, we’re working to secure distribution for a 2007 release on home video. This is the final challenge we have left to achieve. It has been a long and challenging process, but we hope to find a distributor that best understands and supports our film. It’s been a great ride so far and a major learning experience for me personally.
7. What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started this process?
I wish I had known how difficult and expensive music licensing is for independent films. This process is really long, hard, and demanding. If any of you plan to make an independent movie that has commercial music in it, start the music licensing process as early as possible and set aside money in your budget. I knew the music licensing process was a challenge, but I didn’t realize that it would be as difficult as it is. It’s a really tough thing to do through in independent film.
8. Do you plan to sell copies of your film?
Yes. Currently, we are working on securing home video distribution for our documentary, and we hope to release the film nationally for sale sometime in 2007. We definitely hope that our film appeals to everyone. We want to share this story with as many people as possible.
9. How can people stay updated on this film?
We have a website for our film at www.doubleohthree.com and also at www.myspace.com/queenfromvirginia, which has the most up-to-date information regarding the progress of our documentary. We also have a mailing list, which supporters and friends can sign up for by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Do you have any plans for future films?
Yes, I’m definitely going to continue making films. Right now, I am working on writing a new comedy script that I hope to make into a feature film. Writing is one of my strengths as a filmmaker, and I’m hoping to further develop and advance this skill. I want to continue to improve and grow as an artist. As far as documentaries go, if another great subject comes along, I’ll probably try to figure out a way to film it. Documentaries are great, and I really enjoy the capturing of real life on film.