In Overland Park, Kansas, in the 1970s, there weren't many Asian-Americans around. But Abraham Lim, whose parents immigrated from Korea in the 50s, didn't feel threatened by racism until 1984, when he got a summer job with a local road crew in order to "figure out what it was like to work for a living--really work."
There was one African-American man on the job, Daryl, and Lim was assigned to his crew. The two became friends. "The only time I'd get flak was in the lounge before or after work," Lim says. "I'd hear 'ah-so' or some 'ching-chong' saying that generically stupid white guys do." But Daryl was regularly called derogatory names and was the target of racist literature and other forms of harassment.
"It really was an entirely different world," Lim says. "Violence is a very real and occurring thing there. So is racism and misogyny. It's everything you think everyone's grown out of--only they haven't."
Later, after he went away to NYU, that world was the inspiration for his first feature film, Roads and Bridges, which focuses on the relationship between Lyndon Johnson Lee (played by Lim, whose middle name is Lincoln) and Daryl Logan, the only nonwhite men on a Kansas road crew.
Production on the film took six years, and Lim and his skeleton crew made dozens of trips from New York to Kansas. Over the years the actor playing Daryl, Gregory Sullivan, gained 20 pounds and Lim went through three directors of photography.
Just when he thought he'd reached the end of his rope, his mentor, Robert Altman, stepped in. Altman had been impressed by Lim's NYU thesis film, Fly, and in 1997 had hired Lim to edit Cookie's Fortune. When Lim showed a rough cut of Roads and Bridges to Altman he agreed to sign on as executive producer.
Though he says he hates schmoozing, Lim's trying to pitch the film--which won the top prize at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival last year--as a western. "It's about two people who are trying to stake claims and make homes for themselves and their families, and forces around them are trying to prevent them from doing this," he says. "It's the western archetype--the only difference is that race, not land ownership or cattle rustling, is the motivating factor for the people who want them out."
Roads and Bridges will be shown Saturday at 8 as part of the Asian American Showcase (for more information and complete listings see Section Two). It's at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson; Lim will be available for a Q & A after the screening. Tickets are $7 (312-443-3733).
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.