Though he currently lives in Los Angeles, Zeke Anders hails from Dearborn. But before he called the Michigan suburb home, he came from South Korea, where he was found abandoned as an infant in an alley by police. Anders's adopted parents were white, and growing up in a mostly white community in Michigan led him to create "American Seoul" this summer, a vlog that recounts his experiences with adoption. (A quick lesson in semantics: A vlog would be a "video blog." A blog, of course, is short for "weblog," or an online journal. Got it? Good.)
His work caught the attention of the Detroit Institute of Arts, who invited the filmmaker (Anders gets gigs around L.A. directing commercials and other videos) to give a lecture on vlogging on Thursday, Nov. 6. Before he returned to Michigan, we caught Anders by phone to talk about "American Seoul" and what it means to vlog.
Metro Times: Do you have a lot of experience vlogging?
Zeke Anders: No, that was actually one of the motivations to make "American Seoul," because I'd never made a vlog before. I wanted to, and I thought, "Well, I'll do it, but what can I do it on?" I was scratching my head, and I just thought I'll just do it on myself — talk about what you know. I thought I'll just talk about my experience as an adoptee growing up in Detroit.
MT: Was it painful to talk about this stuff?
Anders: Not for me. When [people] find out that I'm adopted, they're always surprised or somewhat amazed. They're curious. Growing up, I guess I just got used to opening up to people and sharing my story. I just thought I'll talk about that, throw it up on YouTube, and see what kind of reaction it gets.
MT: Would you say that your vlog was successful in terms of getting a reaction?
Anders: For me, it is successful. Obviously, you can go on YouTube and see other vlogs, and they have, you know, a gazillion hits, and 500,000 comments. Mine's nowhere near that. But I think the concentration of the views and comments are very successful. It's going out to a very niche type of audience. People who are adopted or people who have adopted children are mostly going to be the ones watching and responding to this. It's gotten quite a bit of response — mostly positive, but some that are not necessarily negative but maybe a little more critical. I think that's great. With vlogging, and just the fact that you're putting it out there, you want that sort of interaction.
As a filmmaker, I'm always looking for stories and to tell stories. Vlogging, for me, was this sort of untapped territory. It's a sort of undefined medium, and that's pretty exciting. We, right now, are in the time that we can actually define it and sculpt it and make it what we want it to be.
MT: "American Seoul" seems to have a higher production value than most vlogs, even though it's pretty minimal with just black-and-white footage. Most seem to be kids using their MacBook Pro cameras or something, though.
Anders: I can't escape what I do, I guess! I think for anybody, this is sort of the beauty of what vlogging is. It doesn't require the best camera or all the lights in the world. It really just requires you and your story and your narrative. The production values, in my opinion, are secondary. In other mediums, like commercials, for example, production value is almost everything. It's almost the better it looks, the better the commercial. Oftentimes the production value or the effects can sometimes overshadow the narrative. I think in vlogging, it truly is the personal story or the subject that really does come first. You don't have to be a filmmaker; you don't have to be a professional videographer to have a successful vlog.
MT: In your vlog you mention attending "Korean camp" as a child. What's that?
Anders: It's exactly what it sounds like. I think it was around Higgins Lake, and it was called Camp Sae Jong. When I was young, my parents sent me for a week for a few summers in a row to interact and sort of find my culture and heritage with other Koreans. I think growing up in an interracial family, where my parents are white, and I'm growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Detroit, I think that was very important that they did send me there. I was probably around 10. It opened my eyes, and brought me face-to-face with other Koreans — which really was my first experience.
It's just like any kind of summer camp. You have your outdoor activities. You have the games and all that. But it was like Korean culture school. We would learn some words, some traditional activities, little history lessons. At the camp, I took tae kwon do as one of the activities. Then I came home and I broke all my parents lamps in the house. At that age, you're like a sponge, and you're just soaking up information and you're soaking up what's around you. That was an important time for me to be introduced to Asian and Korean culture.
MT: A discussion on race factors into your vlog, though it's more about the experience of being adopted in general. What can you say about talking about race in America?
Anders: Growing up, I knew I'm Asian. I can look at myself in the mirror and see that. But psychologically, mentally, and emotionally, I felt very white. I grew up in a white context. That kind of created the sort of dual self-identity. I act and I feel very white and Americanized, but when I look in the mirror, I see a very different thing, and outwardly, people who don't know me will make assumptions. Like, "Oh, he's Asian, he's off the boat." Of course, my friends and family obviously knew otherwise. In the '80s and the '90s, it was maybe hard to talk about. It's not necessarily like it's any easier today, but I think there's more of a global sense. You know, the world is a lot smaller now. Cities are more diverse. I think society's mindset is more open. With things like YouTube and social media, I think things like that are more on the forefront. Even though it might not be easy, there are more outlets for discussions [like that].
MT: What's planned for the DIA event?
Anders: It's a lecture and a curation. I'm showing showing a ton of vlogs from all over the world. I've spent the last few months going through the bowels of YouTube, finding the best of the best and curating them into compilation. So the show is going to be cut up and compilations of different vlogs. There's well over 130 vlogs represented in the show from more than 25 different countries.
It's an event for all ages. Vlogging has a connotation of being just for the young kids. I'm trying to encompass a wide audience. It's not a "how to vlog" thing. It's more about the advent and the social phenomenon of vlogging, and [analyzing] why we do it, and looking at it as an art form. — mt
You can watch Zeke's American Seoul series at http://zekeanders.com/american-seoul-series/.
"Vlogzilla: The Art of the Vlog" starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6 at the DIA's Detroit Film Theatre Auditorium, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900; dia.org. Admission is $8.50, or $6.50 for DIA members.