Where Are You Really From?

MAY 2, 2023
USA | 5 minutes | 2021

Experimental, animated, documentary short film directed by Steven Lee

Where Are You Really From?

A visual, surrealist exploration on the absurdity and inconclusive nature of living in a double culture, personally from a Taiwanese-American lens.


CineAsian Films (CAF): What inspired you to make Where Are You Really From??
Steven Lee:
I knew at the beginning of my senior thesis process that I wanted to make something experimental, unique and abstract. I’ve seen so many animated short films following the classic Pixar-short story structure with a nicely resolved ending, and not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I knew I just wanted to create something purely expressive rather than a rounded story. While I wanted the visual style to be somewhat abstract and surreal, I needed the film to relate to me and my identity somehow, so I thought of what the most confusing aspects of my identity were, and it was definitely the constant weaving of being Asian and American. I thought about the wide range of Asian American experiences, and while there are many similarities, we all cope in different ways, and the discovery of our own cultural identities is never-ending. So, instead of making one smooth storyline through the film, I thought it’d be best to separate each idea into a series of vignettes.

CAF: What was the process like behind animating this film and how long did it take?
Our animation senior program at Chapman is three semesters worth of classes, so it was about a year and a half building and creating this concept. A lot of the techniques I implemented in my film were the first time I’ve done them- it was really intimidating jumping into new skills, but I knew I had to make whatever was in my head possible. 

I pulled a billion references from Instagram and Pinterest, a lot of them surrealist and ironic imagery (sunny-side egg as blankets, cactus inside banana…). I am also a full-time freelance photographer, and my style is very color-block-y, vibrant and eccentric, so I wanted to make sure to merge my film and animation mediums with my photography style. One thing I loved about animating my film is that I didn’t have to induce any headaches modeling and rigging any characters. 

CAF: What do you hope people can take away from watching your film?
I’m hoping that people have many different interpretations of the film. Especially for those who aren’t Asian American. I know everyone experiences double-identity in some way outside of culture. If I’m answering what my exact intended message is for this film, I would want people to realize that living in a double-cultured identity is just a simply confusing life. There is no quick solution to understanding it, no sudden point in your life when you find perfect harmony between your American upbringing and immigrant parents’ values. I was given a lot of pressure from professors to pinpoint exactly how I felt about being Asian American, but the point of the film is that there are many ways to feel, and I cycle between all of them through my life.

I really enjoy people asking me specifics of each vignette, because each one speaks about a personal feeling from me about my identity. It shows people are really thinking about it, and dissecting their own confusion. Confusion from this film is a good thing.

CAF: Are you working on anything new right now?
I’m currently a CG Artist at Frame48, based in Culver City, and also a full-time freelance fashion and commercial photographer, so there’s always a ton of projects, both client and passion, coming into fruition. I’m looking to create more CG stills of interiors, humorous imagery and integrating it with my portrait photography. I did a lot of introspection in 2021, evaluating my art and re-envisioning what kind of artist I want to be. I think the bulk of my career was driven by imagery that I made to garner the most exposure and attention, but now I just want to make anything I’d like to make- release the need to fulfill others’ expectations of my work. You can find my CG and illustration work here and my photography work here.

Where Are You Really From? is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your project.


Director: Steven Lee

Follow and Support the Filmmaker
@artist.syl | @stevenoclock | website