Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Are You Anyways? Exploring Multiracial Identity With Jeff Chiba Stearns

One man's story of growing up mixed-Japanese in rural Canada.

It's funny how you can think you know a lot about a subject then all of a sudden something pops into to view that makes you look at things in a completely different way. This is just how I felt when I stumbled across the work of Jeff Chiba Stearns, a Canadian animator using his inimitable talent to explore issues of culture and identity.

His short film Yellow Sticky Notes (2007) seen here, is a reflection of this tunnel vision. When you are slave to your own productivity devices, to-do lists and buckets you become oblvious to the bigger picture. Jeff's classically animated traditional film was hand drawn with black pen on over 2300 yellow sticky notes.

Yellow Sticky Notes is winner of 11 awards including the Prix du Public Labo at the 2009 Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, 2009 Best Animated Short at the Beloit and Victoria Int. Film Festivals, 2008 CAEAA for Best Animated Short Subject, Best Animated Short Film at the Calgary International Film Festival, and Golden Sheaf for Best Animation. The film also qualified for the 2009 Genie Awards under the category of Best Short Animation.

In his directors notes he gives us an insight into the painstaking process of combining fresh illustration and stream-of-conciousness with to-do lists he had compiled over 9 years of trying to get his animation career of the ground. Perhaps unwittingly during that time Jeff has also become a champion for multiracial issues, having lectured around the world on topics of identity, cultural awareness, filmmaking, and animation.

His short film What are you anyways?, winner of the 2006 ELAN for Best Animated Short Subject, expands upon the themes of growing up half Japanese, half Euro Mutt (his words) in rural Canada. As the father of two Hapa (mixed Japanese kids) I was encouraged by the sensitivity and courageous style Jeff employed in telling his story of growing up. When my kids are old enough to be conscious of their differences from other kids his film will be required viewing.

Jeff is now working on a feature length documentary called One Big Hapa Family, about children of mixed Japanese decent and the high Japanese-Canadian interracial marriage rate. On his mother's Japanese side of the family her six sisters married white men, much to his grandfather's chagrin. I expect bigs things from Jeff, and from the comments on his Facebook page I suspect so do his followers.

Do you belong to the One Big Hapa Family? How do you broach these topics of culture and and identity with your kids? Please watch some of Jeff's short films and share how you feel about them in the comments.


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