Tenacity, resilience, and a strong will to break the mold are just some of the great things that describe Asians in general. As AAPI month comes to a close, we saved the best for last.
Introducing Kerri Pang, Director of No Place Like Kasama, a short documentary that follows the journey of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon as they open up their restaurant Kasama, in the middle of the pandemic back in 2020. Kerri showcased the tenacity of the couple, she was able to document what it was like for the two to start something during a time when there was too much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kerri was drawn to the two chefs after having read their story on the Block Club Chicago.
Wondering why the two, who were considered already by most to be at the height of their career, would leave such stability. The Chefs Tim and Genie left a two-Michelin-starred restaurant which they initially helped start and eventually succeeded, to be able to go after opening their very first concept restaurant together. On top of it all, they started Kasama right around the time when the pandemic was just starting. It was considered to be a very delicate time as the future was unknown to most of the businesses since various shops and restaurants were shutting down left and right due to the lockdowns and numerous safety protocols. The strength and the perseverance of the two chefs to pursue their dreams despite the stacking odds inspired Kerri Pang. There’s a story to tell and as an artist, she knew in her very core to pursue it.
What was initially supposed to be a very short 5-10 minute film ended up becoming something more. Now the 37-minute documentary depicts the process and the emotions of all the people involved, most especially Tim and Genie. As Kerri shares, the film started when there was very little knowledge on COVID or what the proper measures citizens have to take moving forward. This shifted Kerri’s expectations. “None of us knew how anything would pan out. I knew I had to keep following their story, so we ended up filming for a whole year, throughout 2020.” she shares. Solidarity remained true throughout the entire film and it consistently illustrated the love for family, community, and of course food. All of which are familiar themes that are relatable to the Asian American community. Kerri notes that her film in some way was “a love letter to [the] Asian American community” sharing the fact that the final edits of the documentary were done when Asian Hate related violence was rampant throughout the country.
Kerri shares that having been exposed to multiple cultures gave her a different perspective and has molded her to be more observant and critical rather than just taking things for what they normally are. “That has made me into a more empathetic and creative filmmaker. Where I’d love to grow is my skills in impact producing – making sure that the stories I tell and the films I create have actual impact in the community.” she quips. Despite the conditions of the world at that time, and with so much grief and negativity, Kerri wanted No Place Like Kasama to remind the viewers of “the resilience, joy, and strong foundations in the family” that the AAPI community possesses. “I wanted people to feel seen, and celebrated. Beyond the Asian American community, I also hoped that folks would walk away feeling inspired to dream big, and know that pursuing what they want is so much more worth it than not doing it at all,” she imparts.
At the moment, the director shares that she is “focused on building her team” as she recently started a “full-time role leading the Short Form Productions team at Exposure Labs, which so happens to be the filmmaking team behind the documentaries "Chasing Ice," Chasing Coral," and most recently, "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix”. Despite her busy schedule, her short documentary No Place Like Kasama is still very much making its way around some film festivals. She invites viewers to “Start growing a consciousness for what kinds of media you consume”.
As a director, Kerri Pang hopes for people to find strength in her film, saying: “Amidst a capitalistic society that grinds us to death, I just want people to feel something. To know that they matter, to feel seen, and to let go of the fear that’s keeping them from radical dreaming.” With a film boldly created during such a difficult time, the director has shown how it is to dream radically.
Indeed, to truly live is to risk, and to leap is to look far.
Kasama Restaurant IG: @kasamachicago
No Place Like Kasama IG: @kasamathefilm