S. Casper Wong: Activist and Filmmaker
The diagnosis is bad. Louise Nutter’s breast cancer is sudden, it’s severe, and it will most likely be fatal. “This is not over; it just started,” she says expressionlessly to S. Casper Wong, who is holding the video camera. The two friends are sitting across from each other on the floor of Nutter’s living room.
“Do you want me to come here, do you want me to quit school?” Wong asks through tears, while still filming steadily.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Nutter replies, reaching over to help Wong blow her nose. “Either way, it’s gonna be okay.”
Except the story doesn’t end there.
In the following 15 months, Wong and her camera followed Nutter through the trials of a double mastectomy and physical deterioration until her eventual death in 2001. Wong, then a graduate film student, sat on the 60 hours of footage for eight years before starting production to turn it into a documentary. The result, “The LuLu Sessions,” is a raw exploration of life in the face of death, through the eyes of two intimate friends. Wong has been screening the film internationally from France to Taiwan for the past two years, but this October has seen the film’s biggest distribution as she partnered with Susan G. Komen for breast cancer awareness month.
Wong met Nutter, affectionately known as LuLu, right after the former graduated from Columbia with a degree in bio-medical engineering more than two decades ago. The two became fast friends and were at times even more than friends, though they hesitated to put labels on the relationship as distance never really allowed them to be together officially. “We invented our own relationship,” Wong says in the film.
At first, the pair thought that the footage could be used for Nutter to teach others about cancer. “When it got serious, I found myself just hoarding the footage because here’s someone that may not be around,” Wong recalls during our chat in the lobby of a trendy Tribeca hotel. Her voice is naturally soft, and it takes on a lovingly reverential tone when discussing her old friend.
As a child, Wong displayed artistic aptitude, playing clarinet and piano as well as teaching herself to paint and draw. In college, the New York native took a different path, studying pre-med at Columbia University before procuring a degree from New York Law School and becoming an attorney. After seven years as a lawyer, Wong quit to study film at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, a decision strongly advocated by Nutter, who adamantly encouraged her to pursue her artistic passion. “I think it’s very rare that we meet someone in our lives who totally pushes your buttons to a point where you keep looking for what is best for yourself,” Wong says, her large brown eyes glinting at the fond memory. “LuLu actually gave birth to the artist in me.”
As a filmmaker, she had a number of difficult decisions to make about what to include in the documentary. “I realized that I have to be very forthcoming with a lot of things I didn’t think I had to,” she says. Starting out, Wong kept a few hours of footage that she didn’t want anyone to see, not even her editor, but eventually realized the film wouldn’t be complete without some of it. The result includes scenes of Nutter swearing, drinking and chain-smoking — basically just being her lovably ornery self — but is also a moving look into how two people cope with impending death in the face of cancer. “I think I got very lucky in that I experienced this with someone I could talk about death with,” she says. “Together, we made it less scary for ourselves.”
Read the full story about filmmaker S. Casper Wong, a queer Chinese American whose life has changed completely after Lulu passed on, in the Holiday Issue of ALIST.
This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Lulu Sessions, will be available on DVD, VOD, and with special screening events to be held in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In support of women in the field of cancer research, a portion of the proceeds (via its VOD and screenings) will be donated to Women in Cancer Research.
Hailed by LA Weekly as a “Must-See” documentary, Variety claiming, “Asian and LGBT festivals will line up for this audience puller”, the film has received ten international awards, including: Best Documentary Feature and the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival; Special Jury Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival; while S. Casper Wong received the Emerging Director Award at the New York Asian American International Film Festival.