COURTESY ERIC BYLER
Eric Byler and Kimberly-Rose Wolter wrote "Tre," which also featured Wolter in a lead role.
Hapa romance on DVD
The DVD version of "Tre" is shorter and more polished than the rough cut that debuted here in 2005
» Same medium, new message
A young Japanese-American is secretly in love with his best friend, but meeting a mysterious, free-spirited woman makes him question those longings.
"Tre" (Cinema Libre Studio, $24.95)|
A man and a woman, both hapa, try to find a less tempestuous common ground. He's emotionally messed up; she's engaged to his best friend but doesn't know whether the marriage will work. How close can she let him get without losing herself?
These are the stories, told in Eric Byler's two movies, that brought Asian-American independent film to a new emotional sophistication.
Byler's first feature, 2002's "Charlotte Sometimes," put the local-born filmmaker on the map. Noted film critic Roger Ebert championed the film, and it received two Independent Spirit Award nominations.
Three years later, "Tre" was a more provocative psychodrama, co-written by Byler and actress Kimberly-Rose Wolter, about the rocky relationship between Kakela (Wolter) and the title character (Daniel Cariaga).
"Tre" debuted in rough-cut form at the Hawaii International Film Festival in fall 2005, played the festival and indie house circuit and was recently released on DVD.
In hindsight, Byler said it would've been best not to have screened "Tre" when it was still a work in progress, "but Kimberly-Rose and I were anxious to share our work with family and friends," he said. Plus, Roger Ebert was attending that year, and Byler wanted his feedback in light of his earlier support for "Charlotte."
COURTESY CINEMA LIBRE STUDIO
"He liked the film, as I recall, but his wife ... didn't like it at all. ... And when the film was finally finished, I didn't feel right about asking him to review my little film when it was all he could do to keep up with his normal job" due to his battle with thyroid cancer.
But by all accounts, "Tre" is now a better film.
"The final version is 25 minutes shorter," Byler said. "Also, some clever scene-swapping changed the order of events in a way that made Kakela's character more likable."
Actors Wolter and Cariaga identified personally with the film's underlying theme -- what Byler calls the unspoken bond of "the hapa tribe," those of mixed ethnicity who share an understanding of the gray area they exist in culturally.
Cariaga, who is Filipino-Spanish-Caucasian, said he grew up in Southern California "looking Mexican. Now I look Iranian because I've lost some hair," he joked. "But I still occasionally meet people who question, 'What are you?' It seems they still want to put you in black and white, and they can't deal with gray and need to classify me somehow. It's gotten better, although there's still a problem of dealing with other people's perceptions of mixed-race couples."
Wolter said that "99 percent of my best friends are hapa, and when I moved to L.A., some people would want to categorize me as either white or a Latina."
At home in Hawaii, she said, she thought her ethnicity would not be an issue as she sought funding for a documentary, "Growing Up Hawaiian." But at one organization, "one of the comments I got (was) that I was 'an outsider' and suggested I get a native Hawaiian producer. Wow, things have changed!"
Her documentary, she said, would focus on the experience of being native Hawaiian today, compared with past generations, through lives of different island families. "Being Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, French, German and Hungarian, that speaks to me more fervently to make the documentary."