Jess dela Merced, Bay Area native and one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” is on the move. Speaking over the phone last week, it became apparent this wasn’t just a figure of speech. Dela Merced was literally on the move, driving through the streets of Los Angeles as we talked.
There simply isn’t time to slow down -- she’s in preproduction on her first feature-length film, Chickenshit, for which she just just received a $25,000 “packaging” grant from the San Francisco Film Society and Kenneth Rainin Foundation.
“We’re hoping to shoot next summer,” dela Merced says. “We’re just getting the script ready and trying to find the right collaborators and financing.”
Part of what’s drawing support to dela Merced’s newest project is her award-winning work in short films. Her graduate thesis film from NYU, Hypebeasts -- now available online courtesy of Film School Shorts -- skillfully balances the youthful excitement with simmering racial tension as two Filipino-American siblings and their Korean-American friend join a line of die-hard sneaker fans. When that tension explodes into a riotous mob, dela Merced (who also stars in the short) spares no one from either physical violence or the shaky remorse that follows.
Hypebeasts is inspired in part by a racist incident at a Chik-fil-A near UC Irvine, where dela Merced went to college. When the fast food joint provided receipts to two Asian students, the customers were identified as “Ching” and “Chong,” despite never being asked for their names.
“I had never been affected by any racist event ever,” dela Merced says. “It shocked me so much that that could happen in such a safe space.” She was long gone from Irvine by the time the Chick-fil-A story broke in 2011, but it stuck with her.