Pamela Tom’s path to filmmaking

Director Pamela Tom speaks with Boston Asian American Film Festival director Susan Chinsen on Oct. 20 at the Brattle Theatre. (Image courtesy of Ellen Duong.)

Director Pamela Tom speaks with Boston Asian American Film Festival director Susan Chinsen on Oct. 20 at the Brattle Theatre. (Image courtesy of Ellen Duong.)

Pamela Tom is the director of “Tyrus,” a feature-length documentary film that premiered at the eighth annual Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) on Oct. 20.

Tom was born in Los Angeles and is a fifth-generation Chinese American. As a child, she was interested in filmmaking and watching films. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Third World studies from Brown University in 1981, Tom moved to Boston where she worked in Boston’s Chinatown and volunteered with the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), BAAFF’s parent organization. It was there that Tom bridged her interests in filmmaking and politics by creating her first film, which focused on the intergenerational struggles of Asian Americans.

Tom’s positive experiences as a filmmaker at AARW inspired her to pursue a master’s of fine arts at UCLA Film School. After graduating in 1990, she worked as a writing fellow at Walt Disney/ABC Entertainment. Her experience there taught her about the many challenges in filmmaking, including raising funds and garnering support for the stories that she wanted to tell. After she left Disney, Tom became the director of diversity at Film Independent, leading the diversity talent program Project: Involve.

Tom was inspired to create a documentary about pioneering Chinese-born American artist Tyrus Wong after learning about his artistic contributions to Disney’s “Bambi.” Similar to Tom’s experience, Wong is Chinese American and he had worked at Disney, so his story really resonated with her.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase Asian American life and struggles through the eyes of an artist and to break certain stereotypes about Asian Americans,” Tom said. “I’m interested in telling stories about the Asian American experience, and that was deepened through my experience working at AARW.”

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