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Spencer Nakasako collaborating with the Vietnamese Youth Development Center

Award: $35,000 Media Arts Grant awarded in 2003

Completed: 2004

Filmmaker Spencer Nakasako collaborated with the Vietnamese Youth Development Center (VYDC) and Southeast Asian youth–setting out to create What Does It Mean to be American?, a new work to be filmed from the point of view of young Southeast Asians growing up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.  The project shifted direction as they worked together and, instead, the artist and youth compiled a DVD of videos created over Nakasako’s many years of working with Tenderloin youth. For both Nakasako and the young media artists, the resulting Tenderloin Stories: Youth Produced Videos 1989-2004 was their first experience with creating a DVD.

Through prior collaborations with VYDC and other youth agencies, Spencer Nakasako pioneered an approach to working with young people that became a model for other programs. In these projects, youth would conduct interviews on the Tenderloin’s streets and combine that documentation with their individual perspectives collected in personal video diaries shot in their homes. Nakasako wrote, “My approach to creating documentaries in the Tenderloin allows youth to reflect back what is important to them in a way they could not talk about if asked directly.”

Spencer Nakasako brought to this project two decades of experience as an independent film and video producer, with credits for a wide variety of community-based videos, documentaries, and dramatic features, including Kelly Loves Tony, and, with VYDC student Sokly Ny, a.k.a. Don Bonus.

VYDC, founded in 1979 by Vietnamese refugees, provides an array of social service, artistic, and educational programs to a diverse population of immigrant youth from Southeast Asia.  The agency’s mission supports and values young people, promotes their strengths and values, and reinforces the worth of culture, tradition, and diversity.