Richard received an MFA in Film directing at the California Institute of the Arts as well as a B.A. in Philosophy at University of California, Berkeley. He thinks that majoring in philosophy changed the way he looks at things. It taught him not to take the most obvious facts as given and how to allege strong arguments. Apart from that he does not use much of his education in philosophy in his filmmaking. The director remembers: “One of my early films was a brain-in-the-vat (thought experiments intended to draw out certain features of human conceptions) science fiction drama, but that's the only one—at least for now!”
Richard believes that enrolling in CalArts was one of the best things he did for his directing career. It changed the way he looks at cinema and it introduced Richard to the wonderful people he plans making films with for the rest of his life. Film school was a great place to make experiments and take risks. Aside from fictional pieces that were shown at festivals, Richard also made a good number of documentary projects that led to an expansion of the topics he made films about. He says: “One of my favorites was an essay film I made out of my family's collection of Hi-8 camera films. I still need to expand on that project.”
Richard Van also has a few other hobbies, photography being one of them. Still, it comes second to filmmaking. For the director, photography is a good practice for the eye. He comments: “It puts me out in the world and forces me to find the shot with what is present. It is always valuable for me to know what really matters in an image and what an image communicates viscerally and conceptually.”
Richard’s favorite topic to make films about
One of Richard’s favorite topics which he very much likes to deal with in his films is family relationships. The director comments: “Family is such a complicated thing. It's not like friendship, where people who are not working on the development of their relations could simply fade away. You're stuck with your family—for better or for worse.”
In Richard’s film Audition, for example, a young African-American actress is forced to drag her small son to her audition because there is nobody to sit with him. The child is disobedient and behaves naughtily, disturbing his mom during a very important audition so that she is likely to fail it. The director says: “Your children will always be your children; your mother will always be your mother; the same counts for your father and other relatives no matter what happens or how they behave.” In other words, it is impossible to choose those who we have blood relations with. Furthermore, the director thinks that relationships don't fade when people start living far from each other or someone dies. Family is therefore intrinsically full of conflict that needs to be resolved or which can maybe never be resolved... who knows?
How cultural differences can lead to quarrels in families
Richard Van comments: “Cultural differences within a family seem to be one of the largest areas of conflict of immigrant parents and their American-raised children. In fact, we often speak different languages—literally. Let’s take the example of Ngoc, the main character of Hieu, and her son who prefers speaking English instead of his mother tongue Vietnamese.” As children, Richard and his friends always wondered why their parents were stricter than parents in other cultures. That is a reason why Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (the book written by Amy Chua telling about harsh methods of child rearing in a Chinese family) didn't surprise any Asian-Americans.
There are of course different expectations immigrant parents and their children have on life in a foreign country. So, many of Richard’s mum’s friends complain about how selfish their adult children are. Immigrant parents sacrificed so much to give their children decent lives and often expect the children to return the favor as they age. The director says: “This never seems to work out; children are always so oblivious to the suffering of their parents. The same problems exist in cross-cultural romantic relationships. Oftentimes, both people expect different things from a relationship. It gets even more complicated when you have to meet your partner's parents. As if it wasn't hard enough within your own culture!”
Richard Van wishes he knew the best ways to avoid disagreements. He supposes that every relationship has its own communication system. The director thinks that just learning how to communicate with the people around you can help to build strong relations with them. However, what works for one relationship might not work for another, so it is unwise to suppose that everyone is the same.