Not Dressed to Impress

Did I sound bitter in my last post? I can’t decide.

On Friday night, I was invited to attend a Hmong International Filmmakers Organization party in Brooklyn Park. I wasn’t sure what it entailed, exactly, because the call came on Thursday morning inviting us but there were some communication issues. What I understood from my conversation with an organization member was that the party was the next day and that they were pretty excited to have me attend (why the short notice, I never figured out). I received an e-mail with the address and an agenda for the evening. I noted that I was added as an agenda item (I was to be introduced at 8:53 p.m.)

This is an unusual request for me to fulfill. I am not the head of our organization and I tend to shy away from events like this, more due to anxiety than anything else. But everyone else was in L.A. so…

OK, I thought, I can do this. I was encouraged to invite my family and told that a V.I.P. table would be reserved for me. Huh, that sounded a little odd. On Friday I received another e-mail checking to see if I was still planning on attending. I started to feel a little bit like Guffman in Waiting For Guffman.

My husband, Keith, offered to go with me. I think the reasoning was a little bit along the lines of, “You don’t know anything about this group or who the people are. I can’t send you off by yourself to Brooklyn Park.” We tend to act as if Brooklyn Park is in another state. I think he joked about “packing a lunch” as a way of saying, “It’s super far away.”

When we arrived at the party (held at a banquet hall) there were guys standing around out front smoking wearing suits. Uh oh. Keith and I were both in jeans. I kind of forgot to even fix my hair before I left the house. I was struggling with a heavy box filled with promo items and t-shirts.

There was immediate confusion at the door. I tried to ask the people at the front desk if it was the meeting for HIFO but they didn’t understand me. Not a huge deal but their hired muscle for the night smelled a chance to do something other than stand around looking bored and stepped up to tower over us.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m looking for the HIFO party or meeting,” I said “Is this it?”

He didn’t know. He was strictly there to keep peace although he didn’t seem to know whose peace he was keeping. Eventually some organization members came forward. I tried to show them the stuff I brought, suggesting that maybe they would want to add the t-shirts to their raffle giveaways.

“Uh… You put under table?”

They shoved my boxes out of sight under their check-in table. They weren’t into the t-shirts and I don’t blame them because once I got my first good look around, I realized that we weren’t just at a party but a gala. Women wore full-length gowns and the men were all in suits and ties. Oops.

I hate being under-dressed. Somehow I didn’t get the signals that this was a formal event, which is unusual for me. I immediately wanted to run back to my car. I’m the person who still prattles on about a church wedding I attended 9 years ago where people showed up to the ceremony in jeans and shorts, as if they had just been out in the yard playing ball when they suddenly realized they were supposed to be at the wedding.

I apologized to the party organizers. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I didn’t realize it was formal attire.”

“No big deal,” they said. “There’s going to be dancing and music and you can dance in anything.” I think they were being extremely kind.

They showed us to our table – an enormous round with at least 10 chairs just for the two of us. Granted, the sign did say, “Rebecca Collins and staff,” so they probably thought more of us were coming. We were right in front of the dance floor and stage. Yes, dance floor and stage, upon which a woman was singing her heart out.

Immediately, I was interviewed for by a reporter from Hmong Today. Then I was interviewed on-camera for a Hmong news show on cable. All in my stupid t-shirt and jeans. I towered over my beautifully coiffed interviewer while Keith took pictures of the debacle with his cell phone.

We grabbed some drinks and settled in for the program. All the speeches were in Hmong, as would be expected. We really had no idea what was happening, which is why I didn’t realize until today that this was the launch party for the group, which just formed. But then I heard my name being called. I was being summoned to the stage to make a speech.

I have no idea what I said. Keith said it was good, although I think I shocked the audience with my brevity. Most other speakers took up at least 10 minutes; I wrapped it up in under two. Then I did my solo walk across the dance floor back to our table. Seriously, this was a big deal for me. I get nervous speaking at board meetings, let alone up on a stage.

There was more singing, followed by a program of clips from Hmong-made films. I had thought the group was a bunch of young filmmakers trying to make stuff in Minnesota. And it is, but it’s also much bigger and sophisticated than that. The organization is in California and Minnesota, two states with the largest Hmong populations, with some of their films made in Thailand. All are made for Hmong audiences, filling in the gap that exists for entertainment that reflects their culture and values and that tells the kind of stories they want to see.

I love this spirit and want to incorporate it into my own life. If you aren’t seeing the kind of stuff you want to watch, make it yourself (and/or write it yourself if you can’t find a novel or screenplay you enjoy). Their organization has a great mission – to develop, improve and enhance the quality of Hmong films. They want to train their crews, create jobs for young filmmakers and actors (St. Paul resident and actor Bee Vang, featured in the Clint Eastwood drama Gran Torino, got a lot of attention this year for appearing in a major motion picture), and start a Hmong film festival. The group recognizes the need for better sound, lighting and story-telling and are striving to get there. They want a Hmong filmmaker to make a movie that goes to the mainstream market in the next decade.

Then it was time for more singers to take to the stage. One of the songs was dedicated to me (and the members present from the U.S. military). I was encouraged to come forward with my “partner” to lead off the dancing. Keith and I took to the floor and started the slow swaying back and forth that qualifies as dancing. Many other couples filled the floor. Keith and I rarely dance together, so it was funny to me that the HIFO party is what it took to get him out there (although truth be told, this style of slow back-and-forth bobbing is really the extent of his dancing talent unless you count a “Prospector” dance he’s fond of).

And then we were off, heading back to our car, although the party would continue on with more singers and a band. “Are you leaving already?” a man outside asked us. Yes, I said. But I’d go back next time, only wearing a killer gown and heels.

One thought on “Not Dressed to Impress

  1. What an interesting experience you had…It sounds like it was hastily put together but it seems you still enjoyed it.

    This is the first time I’ve heard of a formal effort to develop best practices and improve the Hmong film industry. It’s a much needed effort and I’m glad to see that the community is moving in this direction.

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