The entertainment industry is one of the toughest businesses and living on a small island can hinder one’s chance at global stardom. Chamorros with big dreams fly off to L.A. or New York for a chance at fame. Steven Lefever moved to California after graduating from Southern High, but he wanted to do something more after finishing college. Today, Lefever is a freelance videographer in Tokyo.
Lefever found more opportunities in the Japanese city, where he wrote and directed Gaikokujin, a short film about foreigners trying to make it in Japan.
“I wanted a story about foreigners in Tokyo going through different stages in their lives, like finding themselves or maybe already found themselves and being successful,” said Lefever. “I wanted to make a film that had characters intertwining like Love Actually or Crash, but in my own setting.”
Gaikokujin attempts to tell a story of 12 lives in only 25 minutes. Lefever acknowledges that his movie feels rushed and unfinished.
“There’s a lot in the film that isn’t told, so the audience has to fill in the gaps. What’s shown is a slice of life of how [the characters] are connected,” said the director. With what is already in Gaikokujin, Lefever hopes to give it more depth in the future.
“It’s just the surface, because this film could be a pilot to a Netflix or Amazon Prime series—if I get this film in the right hands and I get a budget. I had no budget for this film. Everyone who helped did it for passion and to get better in creating. We weren’t trying to make a perfect film and this isn’t a perfect film. We wanted to hone our craft. For the most part, I wanted to fine tune what it means to be a producer, director and writer.”
As Lefever follows his dreams in Japan, he also knows to stay humble and down to earth. “My wife Chisato and my son Airi and my new son are my motivation,” Lefever said. “I have to be creative in making money while also doing my art. When I make my films, it’s to be recognized and to grow my body of work, not really for making money. I must motivate myself to work hard enough to provide as well as creating art.”
Though Lefever’s passion is filmmaking, he appreciates all forms of storytelling. “All forms of art are connected to storytelling,” the director said. “I wrote two books and they mean a lot to me. My second book, Marianas Sky, is on Kindle as its first version. I want to go back to it and fine tune it to be more professional as a paperback. Writing is a lonely process—sitting down and researching and focusing on what’s next in the story.”
His first book took him 16 months to write; second book, four years.
“Making a film is very collective. It’s good having some camaraderie by talking to those involved and getting input,” Lefever said.
Although Lefever has relocated out of Guam, he still holds his home island close to heart. This is apparent in his first work, Hayi Gaitano Este, about a diaspora Chamorro telling his brother that leaving home doesn’t make him love Guam any less.
“As a multicultural person from Guam and always returning to Guam, I learn more of the world when visiting the different parts of the world. I always find what feels true to me,” he said. “My stories won’t connect to everyone, because different people are living different stages of their lives, but others can find themselves in my stories. Hopefully those who enjoy my stories can find ways to enjoy life and find peace. It’s great for creators to look at the world in their own eyes as opposed as being heavily influenced by other people or organizations. You should take something from everything, but don’t take the whole thing. Take what you believe in.”
Lefever returned to Guam for the screening of Gaikokujin at the Guam International Film Festival in October. “GIFF created a platform that has never existed on Guam. They’ve blazed trails in Guam for people to compete with each other. It’s not about being the best. It’s about being hand to hand in creating in a competitive manner. You can’t think you’re the best on island, because what does that mean? We have to think worldly now, with technology and the internet it’s easier to put stuff out there and gain a following.”
Anyone who wants to be serious about filmmaking must love creating and being creative for the sake of being creative. “Yes, money and having a job is important, but what are you doing besides that?” he asked.
Young aspiring filmmakers on Guam are lucky to have GIFF as a platform for their creativity, Lefever said. Doing a play in the sixth grade was the closest he could get to performance art. “I could’ve started doing films on my own, but there wasn’t anyone else on Guam doing it,” he said. “Now there’s a collective of filmmakers supporting GIFF, young people need to take advantage of it and create and find people to build relationships and skills.”
Steve Lefever with wife Chisato and son Airi.
Photo by Johanna Salinas