FORTITUDE: Devin Fei-Fan Tau | Climb every mountain (and enjoy your cupcakes)
I first met Devin Tau in a very long line outside the Hollywood Theater. It was January 22, 2018. It was OMPA’s Annual Meeting. And it was very cold.
If you were there, you’ll remember: shivering, hands stuffed in tight jean pockets, breathing steam, not wearing coats (real Portlanders never wear coats in the winter), and wishing we had already redeemed our OMPA discount at the Columbia Sportswear Employee Outlet — as the line moved ever-so-slowly because so many people had shown up for the annual meeting. Kudos, OMPA!
Anyway, in this kind of situation, I’m the kind of guy that usually makes eye-contact and smiles at the person in line behind me, maybe saying, “How you doin’?” But Devin is the kind of person who just says, “Hi. I’m Devin. What’s your story?”
What I mean is, Devin creates conversation — both in life and in his films. Think about this:
Devin is on his third career.
When he realized the corporate life (first finance, then fashion) wasn’t cutting it, he decided to become a filmmaker. Wait, what? Why? He told me, ”As a gay Asian immigrant, I had stories to tell and it was time to tell them.” I asked him, “But wait, you’re pushing forty and you decide to make movies?” He said, “It was a midlife crisis, I admit. But I check multiple boxes. I grew up in a dual culture that never allowed me to focus my creative talents on social justice, to aim my own special lens on the struggles I’ve lived through. Directing films seemed like the way to go.”
Yep. All that.
So, when film newbie Devin was told he should make ten short films before he made his first feature, that’s exactly what he did — in three years no less! Most of those films made it into festivals. All of them created conversations — like “Unicorn,” a short film about a single father who deals with the balance of raising his daughter and navigating his newly out gay dating life. “Unicorn” made it into 11 film festivals. See the trailer below.
Devin would never say this about himself (I’ve never heard him boast), but allow me to say it: the man has big talent, grit, perseverance and fortitude. But I also think he would say this out loud: “My determination was honed by my BIPOC life in an America governed by white privilege.” (my words)
So, what happened next?
Last year, Devin made his first feature: the doc, “Who’s on Top?,” slated for release in 2021. The project received a variety of funding support from the state, including ROPIF and LOPIF (formerly iOPIF)—written and passed by OMPA; and grants awarded by RACC and Portland Film Office. Narrated by Star Trek legend George Takei, “Who’s on Top?” is the emotional story of members of the LGBTQ community who challenge stereotypes about gender and sexuality and demonstrate their diverse journeys in overcoming physical and figurative mountains.
Talk about a “conversation.”
Which brings me to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” — the show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music.” We all know it:
Climb every mountain
Search high and low
Follow every byway
Every path you know
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
‘Till you find your dream
A dream that will need
All the love you can give
Every day of your life
For as long as you live1
The irony is, of course, it was written in 1959 when few of the people involved in its creation probably had any clue of their white privilege, even though the film was known to be anti-Nazi. The thing is, Devin Tau climbs mountains. And that’s a blessing for all of us. I asked him what he would say to encourage us during these crazy times. He said, “I continue to be inspired by the Portland filmmaker community, how we support each other, showing up and doing our work.” Oh, and the cupcakes. Trapped by COVID limitations, Devin and his talented DP Justin Rapp recently decided to explore some new technology — the Probe wide angle macro lens — shooting a sweet (pun intended) little short involving cupcakes called “Happy Birthday.” It makes for a happy ending. Enjoy!
1 Neway, Patricia. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The Sound of Music, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1959. Lyrics, lyrics.com.
FORTITUDE is OMPA’s column about the trials, tribulations, successes and victories of our members during these strange times — stories of true grit, creativity and resilience, written by David Poulshock and contributing guest writers.
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