Public (1970) was based on a poem written by filmmaker Arthur Dong and marks his debut as an artist whose work continues to delve into the politics and human tragedy of social injustice. This raw, animated film combines words from Dong’s poem with pixilated images to dramatize a child’s explosive reactions to social mores and the Viet Nam War.

Produced, directed, written, edited, and photographed in by the teen-aged filmmaker on the bedroom floor of his San Francisco Chinatown home, Public was an outcome of a pilot program to introduce film production to students at Galileo High School (now the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology). The five-minute film would go on to earn first prize at the California High School Film Festival.

A decade later, Public found new audiences. The San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival programmed the film twice, in 1981 and 1983, calling it “a powerful new-wave indictment of the current social send up”. The 1982 Poetry Film Festival’s director Herman Berlandt wrote: “This is the best Super-8 poetry film I’ve received in all the seven Poetry Film Festivals and the first to receive top prize”. The following year, the Humboldt International Film Festival honored the film with a Judges Award.

Ultimately, Public is a disturbing commentary on the normalization of oppression and the state of violence in America — a theme Dong revisits in his 1997 film on murderers of gay men, Licensed to Kill.

Note: This film is currently not available for general release.

Producer, Director, Editor, Writer, Animator
Arthur Dong