“Daly City” is an autobiographical story that examines themes of exoticism, assimilation and the model minority myth, through a clever and playful tale about an Indonesian boy and his mother who pretend that Chinese takeout is actually a traditional family dish at a potluck in order to impress the largely white church community. The boy’s mother teaches him how to "play the game" - how to maneuver, perform and captivate in order to gain acceptance. But later that night, after witnessing his father getting ridiculed and bullied by his co-workers, the boy learns that this behavior can come at a cost; you can end up losing your culture, your sense of worth and even your very name.
"Daly City" is a story about the cost of assimilation. As a child, I watched in awe as the pastor surprised my mother on stage with an award for "best dish" at the potluck. She had successfully impressed all the church-goers by making them think the Chinese takeout she had brought was actually homemade Indonesian food. She taught me that sometimes as immigrants it's necessary to use people's preconceptions of us to our own advantage. But later that night, I remember fuming in anger as I watched my father get ridiculed and bullied by his co-workers, laughing off jokes meant to cut him down. It was only as an adult, that I realized both my parents were doing the same thing that night; they were embodying the "model minority" in order to assimilate and survive in this new country. I want to tell this story for the new generation of immigrants, so that we can both understand our parents' sacrifices but also transcend them and realize that our sense of worth should not be defined by others but by us alone.
If there is a common thread in my writing, it's characters that are suffused with heart and humanity. In my experience, this quality can only be achieved by drawing from my own personal experiences. From the old church ladies manning the buffet tables to the used car lot my father worked at, every character and location in "Daly City" actually exists and is enriched by my memories from growing up there.
Capturing the ever-present Daly City fog will create a stunning cinematic landscape - picture street lights glowing in the night sky like dandelions and the warm orange light of a house window contrasting the dark foggy night, representing this family’s love and determination despite a world they struggle to find acceptance in.
Although "Daly City" examines weighty themes, it is first and foremost a movie about food. Whether it’s the Chinese takeout the mother pawns off as Indonesian contrasting the classic Americana dishes at the buffet, the leftover donuts the father saves for his son at work, a child's surreal and climactic durian fantasy or the comforting Indonesian meal the family shares together late at night, the food adds conflict, satire and poetry in an absolutely mouth watering way.
Nick Hartanto is an Indonesian-American filmmaker based in New York. His short film “The Dishwasher,” which he co-directed, was awarded a Special Jury Mention at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and later acquired by HBO. His latest short film “Atrophy,” a genre bending story about his mother’s fight to recover from a stroke, had its International Premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival and stars Irene Tsu, whose powerhouse performance has won multiple Best Actress awards. Hartanto, also a skilled cinematographer, shot the Adult Swim series “Hot Package." His commercial clients include Condé Nast Traveler, Netflix, FiveThirtyEight and Wieden+Kennedy. He is currently developing his next film “Daly City,” which explores subject matter that recurs frequently within his work: food, exoticism and the immigrant experience.