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Discover 'The Secret Art of Human Flight'

 November 10, 2023 at 3:24 PM PST

EPISODE 236: The Secret Art of Human Flight

TRT 32:08


CLIP Are you ready to leave this world behind? Are you tired of life as you know it? Welcome…  

BETH ACCOMANDO Yes welcome to a special podcast where you can learn the secret art of human flight…


Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (drums)


BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome back to listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie, I'm Beth Accomando.


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BETH ACCOMANDO I was first introduced to HP Mendoza’s work through the no budget indie delight Colma the Musical. That film was all about contrasts—bright energetic kids stuck in a deadend town; old-fashioned musical conventions butting up against the real world; drab surroundings set to a dynamic score. Now Mendoza invests his new film The Secret Art of Human Flight with a different set of contrasts as he explores grief and loss with unexpected whimsy and humor.



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BETH ACCOMANDO HP Mendoza held the Southern California premiere of The Secret Art of Human Flight at the San Diego Asian Film Festival earlier this month. I attended the screening and was entranced by the film. It was the story of Ben, a young man played by producer actor Grant Rosenmeyer. Ben’s wife has just died and he is consumed by grief. Then he discovers a video of a guru-like man named Mealworm, played by Paul Raci, who claims he can teach him how to fly… without a plane.


Mendoza displays a lightness of touch in tackling this serious topic and delivers an aching sweet story about coping with loss. I need to take one quick break and then I will be back to speak with Mendoza about the film, ghosts on the set, and the challenges of indie filmmaking.



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BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome back to Cinema Junkie. I’m Beth Accomando. HP Mendoza is a young Filipino American filmmaker who in addition to co-directing Colma The Musical has written and directed Fruit Fly, I Am a Ghost and Bitter Melon. The Secret Art of Human Flight is the first film he has directed that he has not written so I began our interview by asking how the project started.



H.P. MENDOZA Well, this script came to me through Richard Wong, who is my oldest collaborator. We work on Coleman the musical together. We've worked on many things together. In fact, we've been collaborating on another film recently. And I think it was because of this collaboration that got us to start talking about our own personal projects, things that we're attached to. And he wanted to run this script past me called the Secret Art of Human Flight with Grant Rosenmeier, who he had directed in come as you are. And I think he came clean and said, listen, I think this is kind of more your thing. And I said, well, what makes you think that? He says, it's very genre. And I didn't know what he meant by that, because you know how most people, when they say genre, they just mean horror? And I read it, and I remember one of my first thoughts was, this is a genre, all right, what even is the genre? I can't really pin what the genre is. And I said, you know what? This is pretty cool. What's your take? He says, dude, I don't have a take. What do you think? Do you think you'd want to direct this? And I'm always looking for outs. When people give me opportunities, I'm always looking for outs for two specific reasons. The first reason being that everyone's busy, right? I'm always looking for free time. But the second is I'm also very insecure because I had never directed anything I hadn't written. I've only ever done cheapy independent films for queer people of color. And here I was getting the chance to direct Grant Rosenmeyer. So I'm looking for. I'm like, oKay, well, you know what I've done, right? What made you want to work with me? And Grant says to me, well, I saw. I am a ghost.


CLIP Now, Emily, repeat after me. I am a ghost. I am a ghost. I am a ghost. I am a ghost. I am a ghost.


H.P. MENDOZA And that he picked that film meant a lot to me because that was my baby. That was my genre. That was a film I did for $7,500 that has achieved a sort of cult status after it's to travel the European film circuit. And that Grant referenced that told me, okay, you've done your homework. And I said, okay, well, I have another out. This is a very quirky film about death and grief and loss. And I had just lost three friends in a row to COVID. This is smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. We were all losing people. I feel like these days, while we're all in lockdown and we're all dealing with all kinds of horrible things that you scroll past during your insomnia at night, I don't know, I just kind of want to lean into authenticity a little bit. Sort of the way that you had a bunch of people wanting some sincere Busby Berkeley numbers during the war. I think right now, I kind of want to make something a little more authentic to how I feel. I knew that I was only allowed to rewrite about 30% of the script. That's what the Writers Guild allowed while giving Jesse Ornshein sole screenwriting credit. And I don't need credit. I've written enough in my life. Yeah, by the time I said yes, we had plans to live with each other. Me, Grant, and producer Tina Carboni were all living in that house that you see on set. And we were just figuring out, okay, so how do we make this film? And we took off from there.


BETH ACCOMANDO Now, this film deals with death and grief and trying to work through that grief, but it's a film that is remarkably funny also. So how do you tackle a film right after the pandemic, right after you yourself have been dealing with deaths of people you knew? How do you tackle a film like this and play with those tonal shifts and make people laugh so much at something that can also be so difficult to deal with?


H.P. MENDOZA Well, I think there's a difference between making a comedy about death and making a movie about death that has comedic elements. I feel like that's where I'm going to allow myself to pat myself on the back because I feel like that's all I've ever done. I made a movie about toxic masculinity and domestic abuse, and I think a lot of people wanted to say, oh, yeah, it's a black comedy about domestic abuse. I'm like, no, it's a movie about domestic abuse that handles the family comedically. That was bitter Melon. And I thought the same thing about the secret art of human flight. I thought, well, we're all going through something right now, but I never want to be the death guy. I don't want to walk into a room and say, hey, everybody, let's commiserate about how horrible the world is. I will always attack everything with humor. And I was also very glad to see that everybody involved with the movie had seen my work, and they wanted to see what would happen if I kind of stamped the movie with my brand of humor. All the jump cuts and all the sort of absurdist takes on anything dark, right? I'm not making fun of anything. I think I'm honoring real feelings, but in that way that, you know, you're going to be okay when you're at a funeral and somebody cracks the first joke. I mean, the movie opens with awake. It opens with a shiva, and within, like, three minutes, people are laughing. And I'm thinking, you know, if people laugh within those first three to five minutes, then we're doing something right. Tell me what you're feeling. Bad. You feel bad. I feel bad. That's good. It's good that you feel bad.


BETH ACCOMANDO And what was it like making this film coming out of the pandemic? I mean, it was hard to kind of get back into filmmaking and to kind of hit that groove again.


H.P. MENDOZA I mean, it still is hard. And maybe that's because we haven't really lifted out of a pandemic, and we were smack dab in the middle of it, so we had to have a COVID officer. We all stayed in this summer camp. We took over all the cabins. So that was our CoviD bubble. The script kind of lent itself to that kind of filmmaking because for as aspirational as the film is, really, there are never really more than two people on screen at one time. And I think what's great about this is we were all kind of pouring our hearts into this. Lucy DeVito was pouring our heart into this. Paul Raci was pouring his heart into this. Speaking of which, by the way, the day before Paul Raci showed up on set, we had just gotten everything into place. And I got a call from my mom, and it was, like, the last thing I expected to hear. My mom calls me, she says, hP, your dad died. And I thought to myself, boy, now I'm the death guy. I don't want to make things heavy. But the great thing about that was when I kind of sat alone, the prop master, Kyle Wallace, came to me, and he says, listen, I know you probably don't want to talk about this, but just know that I'm here. And I went through the same thing. And it dawned on me that that interaction I had with Kyle was the interaction that I had to have with everybody else, because I wasn't the only one going through this. And then I also had to think, when this film comes out, we'll be showing it to people who also were going through something similar. So part of my 30% rewrite was I wanted to have that monolog in there where the lead character says, I just don't know what's happening in the world anymore. That would be a line that could resonate with anybody no matter where they are right now.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, I think one of the things that came up after the screening at the Asian Film Festival was this idea of grief relief.


H.P. MENDOZA Yeah, it's funny because I think I came from a world where, you know, the world being, you know, the world of queer film festivals or Asian American film festivals, where a lot of us are tackling very specific topics head on. Right? Like, I did bitter Melon, and that's very much about toxic masculinity. And I did fruit fly. That was the first film I directed, and that was very much about being a Filipino American finding herself in A world of gay men. That's very specific and secret. Art of human flight is one of those things that's about such basic emotions, sort of in the way that if I start feeling anything that's bringing me down in the world, what do I pop on right now, for example, I know that people would say, well, right now, with what's happening in Gaza, maybe you could work out whatever you're feeling by watching this documentary called Israelism. But sometimes I just want to put Muriel's wedding on. Sometimes I just want to put on the color purple. Sometimes I just want to put on a film that is comfy, and it makes me just want to feel good right in that moment. And I'm not saying that these films are shallow, right? It's the opposite. These are films that lean into their emotions. And I think what I was really excited about and liberated by was the fact that secret art of human flight was that movie. It reminded me of those movies from the 90s that were all about flight. You had, like, Radio Flyer, and there were these stories about flight that really were not about flight. They were about something else. They were all about release. So what's interesting is that Liz Raci, who is Paul Raci's wife, came up with this idea or this phrase that this movie is grief release. We've all been packing it in, and it's been pent up, and we're just looking for excuses to let go.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, and since you brought him up, Paul Raci's character is very interesting. He's kind of ill defined and is left for you to figure out whether he's a con man, a genuine mystic. Who knows? But talk a little bit about his character.


H.P. MENDOZA Well, I love that you said that his character is ill defined. Right. We kept designing him to be that way, like, with every day that passed.


CLIP Are you ready to leave this world behind? Are you tired of life as you know it?


H.P. MENDOZA We need a Paul Raci type because sound of metal had just come out, and he'd just been nominated. I said, we need, like, a Paul Raci type, someone who has that edge but could be a guru, but could also not be someone with gravitas who could pull off this and the humor.


CLIP What you're about to do, what I've already done, defies everything we've been conditioned to believe is possible. But once upon a time, the Earth was flat, the sun orbited around us, and CPR was done with a tobacco enema.


H.P. MENDOZA And one of the things I said is that I would love for this movie to be as ambiguous as possible. I think the obvious and easiest way to make the ambiguous character is to make him someone that vacillates between being evil and benevolent. And then finally, there's three quarter mark in the movie where he becomes completely evil, and then there's the redemption, and that's not. Not this movie. But I thought to myself, well, it has to be a little bit deeper than that. And the way you make it deeper is by removing words. Right. I said, let's make him say less. And I got to rewrite some of, like, the guru speak to be a little more ridiculously Eastern. A lot of it kind of feels like stuff that you don't know if it came from a self help book or a fortune cookie. And I love that Paul can just sell it. So with every day that passed, Paul would say, like, I don't know if I would say it this way or. I don't even know who I am right now. Who is this?


CLIP Think of the book as a recipe complete with ingredients. These tasks are your pots and pans, your oven. Yeah, I get it. Couldn't you just exercise naked to save time? Oh, I don't see why not.


H.P. MENDOZA In the process of him figuring out who Mealworm was, we were also figuring out what mealworm meant to Ben, the lead character. And I think that really did add to the sense of danger. Right. Because I think the one thing that everybody thought was, this will be, like, elf or this will be like any of those movies where you have the straight man whose life is invaded by the wacky guy. And I'm thinking, yeah, he's wacky, but he should also feel threatening because this is a deathly movie. So I like that I got to deal with someone else's work again. I didn't write this. Someone else wrote this. And I got to interpret this. AnD I felt a lot more confident about interpreting this character with a group of people, namely Grant Rosenmeyer and Paul Raci.


BETH ACCOMANDO One of the things that I really liked and something I could really identify with, which is Ben's just lost his wife, and his wife's friend comes over, and her advice to him, you need.


CLIP To find a thing. Something. Anything can be mundane or can be insane, but you just need to find a thing and see it through. Okay? Find a thing and see it through. Find a thing and see it through.


H.P. MENDOZA And what's great is that wasn't actually the line that was written. Maggie Grace showed up on set, and she knew everything that I'd been through, and she knew things that had been happening to people on set because we were all talking about it so openly in just being able to sit with Maggie Grace and talking about this, she was talking about her losses, and we were all talking about our losses, and we were all talking about how the only way out is through. Yeah. The idea that the only way out is through is accepting that there is another side to this. Right. So in the meantime, do something else. And that's when I think, just between me, Maggie Grace and Grant, we were just sitting there on the porch and trying to figure out exactly what should that last line of that scene be, because remember, it's the last line of the scene. So that's how you remember it. And it ended up becoming pick a thing and see it through. Sometimes these things that may seem cliche end up resonating in a viewer's mind maybe decades later. Right. If you are too cool for school, you might watch that scene and say, like, oh, yeah, sure, whatever. That's probably out of some self help book. Oprah probably said that. But when you get there, when you experience your loss and you do pick that thing and you see it through, hopefully it'll resonate.


BETH ACCOMANDO This film also has a San Diego connection in the sense of how you got some funding for this.


H.P. MENDOZA Yeah. In more ways than one, or more people than one. The main person whose presence we were celebrating at the San Diego Asian Film Festival was Steve Alexander, who lives in Coronado. And the other person was Steve Wagner, who's a producer on the film, who's from San Diego. So it was really nice to have him be on stage and address his community, who was all there. That was really nice because Steve Alexander is somebody who always wanted to make a film. One thing he said was, as much as he liked the magic of movies, he knew that he had the resources to make it. So that way he can just give somebody a top hat, a magic wand and a rabbit. Could they make magic? Not necessarily. And he know he couldn't. He knew he couldn't either. So this was his in with his resources to get that hat and that wand and that rabbit. He made it happen. And he showed up on set. A lot of people imagine somebody just kind of like, pushing buttons from far away, remotely responding via email. But he showed up on set and he was on that mountain with us, 3000ft in the air early in the morning, which, by the way, one thing I just want to say, I love, hate that people always come up and say, come on that mountain. That was CG. I love that they think that because they think that it's too beautiful to have been real, but that was real, that we were actually up there and Steve Alexander was with us. So, yeah, we're super grateful that Steve Alexander was one of the people who got to bring this movie to life.


BETH ACCOMANDO Now, in the film, it's not a spoiler to say that the wife passes away, but her presence is felt through a lot of videos that come up because this couple had made some sort of arrangement to shoot these videos that they would play back.


CLIP Hi, Ben. God, it's so weird to call you Ben. I never call you Ben unless I'm, like, mad or trying to prove a point or something. This is so dark. But I agreed to do it, so here we go.


BETH ACCOMANDO But talk about how do you create a character who is kind of who's not actually there in a lot of the scenes, but whose presence is felt? And a lot of this, you said, was shot like on cell phone video.


H.P. MENDOZA Yeah, shot on actual iPhones. And I wanted it to be authentic. So whoever was supposed to have been holding the camera, I made sure that actor was doing it. I think if we made this movie ten years ago, I would have said, let's just shoot it with any old camera. But we all live on TikTok, so we know what phone videos look like and sound like. And I just wanted to make sure they sounded authentic. And the truth is that when I first got the script, Sarah, the wife, wasn't really a character. She was a flashback that sort of existed to show you how happy Ben was. It was a tool to show you what he'd lost. And I know that some of the most popular movies out there are like those Christopher Nolan dead wife films, but I always think to myself when I watch these that I wish I got more of a lens into the relationship. And when I say that, I think what I mean is, I want to know who the woman was, not an object that was lost. And I had been shopping this script around called the Inevitable. It was a horror film that I wrote that was literally about a couple that was so neurotic about losing each other that they would film videos every day to each other, would shoot videos and giving little affirmations and messages. So that way, in the inevitable event that one of them is without the other, the surviving partner would have a bunch of videos to watch for the rest of their days and not be so lonely. But in my horror movie, that happens at the very beginning of the movie, the death happens. And the guy watches all the videos at once. He doesn't watch them one day at a time. And he watches because, of course, it's my horror movie, so there's still some humor in it. So he kind of goes crazy and just watches all of them. And he gets to the one video where the wife says, okay, I've been hiding something from you. There's a demon that's been living in our house, and the rest of the movie is about big supernatural, like Scare Fest, right? And the one thing I did keep saying is, look, if you want a good actor to play the role of Sarah, you're going to want to give them something to chew on. Who wants to just be a slow motion flashback wearing a beige dress in slow motion? Like, we want someone who actually has some tooth, some detail. Yeah. I took the character from the inevitable and said, okay, this script is at the door. This movie is no longer on the table. I'm taking this and I'm putting it to the secret art of human flight. And I'd like to think I'm going to pat myself in the back. I watch this now and I forget the inevitable even existed. I feel like that dynamic and that character just fits the secret art of human flight so well because it doesn't change the process of grieving. It just gives it a lot more detail.


BETH ACCOMANDO And you mentioned that you guys moved into a house to shoot. What was that like to kind of be living on your set?


H.P. MENDOZA Living on set. This is weird because I feel like I don't know if it's any different from what I'm used to. Like, the first time I directed Fruit Fly was like, that entire film takes place in three bars, a nightclub, a smoking patio, and an apartment. And all of those locations were my apartment, and it's where I live now. And I watch that now, and I still marvel at what we got away with. And I am a ghost. Also, we shot that here in San Francisco, just blocks away from my apartment. Everything I've done has been in locations that I've known. The difference now was it was a location. So I think the innovative thing for the team was, hey, isn't that cool that we get to move into this location beforehand? And I'm thinking, yeah, the only difference is that we're paying rent for this now, as opposed to this being my actual apartment. So by living in there, I mean, we were living in there. We were living in that house. We had our own rooms. Me, Tina Carboni, and Grant Rosenmeyer. I was storyboarding and composing music, and I was making animatics. I was animating, just trying to pitch things to Grant, using Grant. Like, I was shooting footage of him, like, saying, hey, what if we did this scene this way the whole time? We're casting the movie, we're raising money, we're raising funds. It didn't feel any different from previous films that I'd done. We're still raising money. There's just, like, ten times more of it. This movie could have funded all of my films twice. But the great thing about that was that Tina Carboni, she just has such a pool of people. She's a litmus test. She's a gut check know. She just has all these good people. She has this motto of good people first, talented People second. And she just kind of introduced me to all these DPs, all these directors of photography, all these cinematographers, who all read my lookbook, they read my director's proposal, and this one, DP, Marcus Menser, just as soon as I got to meet him on Zoom, we just clicked. And I don't know if it's because we're the same age. That could help. We had the same pop culture references, but we also had the same eye. And he said, I'm coming out early. And he moved into the house with us. He came to Massachusetts, and the one thing that was delighting a lot of people was, in their words, they said that as soon as Marcus showed up, we looked like two film school nerds just running around and just laughing and shooting the movie with his iPhone. And so there's this storyboarded version of the film shot on his iPhone where I played all the roles, including Sarah and Gloria. And we're using the locations to figure out exactly how we're going to shoot this. So all these things felt like innovations of the day, but really, it was textbook guerrilla filmmaking.


BETH ACCOMANDO And there was an additional kind of vibe to the house, which is that the owners had recently passed, I think you said. And so there was kind of this sense that everything was clicking together.


H.P. MENDOZA Yeah. The people who were talking to Grant about the house, these two women, these two sisters, were saying that their parents died, and after reading the script, they thought they could think of no better way to honor their parents death. By making a movie about getting over loss. Right. And doing it in a fantastical way, by transforming this house into something that has, like, there's going to be a cloud room. There's going to be this artist's loft or artist's room on the top floor. By the time we hired an art director and I had my ad, we had our crew, we were all living in the house, and we were still in pre production, and there was something really cool about this, knowing that we had some time before we could all move the larger crew to this summer camp, to this Christian summer camp. So we were all in this house. Yeah. Grant would keep coming to us and say, who keeps lighting the candle in the bathroom? And we're like, oh, we didn't even know there was a candle in there. Sorry. I guess you're the only one who needs a candle, so I don't know what you're doing in that bathroom. And he would say, no, seriously, every time, I don't really want to have a candle burning in the bathroom, because it's one more burning thing to keep track of. And we duly noted, sure, don't light the candle, but it kept getting lit. And one thing Grant and Tina said was that they felt that that was probably the spirit or spirits of the couple that lived there before, and that affected a lot of how we handled things, whether you believe in it or not, whether you believe in ghosts or not. And as you know, I already made a ghost movie. So I love being an agnostic atheist who likes to believe in ghosts once in a while because it's fun. I leaned into that. I was like, let's have some spiritual moments in this film. Let's make the film feel kind of ghostly. I love that the cast and crew was down to do that.


BETH ACCOMANDO And how would you describe this film to people because you mentioned the idea of genre, but it's a film that kind of crosses genres, mixes genre, genre bends, whatever you want to call it.


H.P. MENDOZA Right? I mean, oh, boy. What do we say? What do we say? Because we do have to have an answer. The easy thing that we have been saying is, oh, it's a comedy drama fantasy. And I stopped using comps because I think at first, when the script was presented to me, Grant was saying, yeah, it's kind of like safety not guaranteed. I think we leaned away from that. So that's no longer a comp. Because on any given day, as I was shooting a scene, I'm like, okay, so this is the coffin scene. So this should feel like the vanishing. And I'm picking, like, hardcore horror and all the wacky stuff of the intrusive guru I think was seen Will Ferrell coming to James Khan and Elf. And I'm like, no, actually, this should feel like funny games. This should feel like a Michael Hannicky. This is a home invasion film now. But also just saying, like, okay, no, maybe this is a little bit of lovely bones. Maybe now it's a romantic comedy. Maybe now it's a breakup film. Maybe it's dying young. And after a while, when people would say, like, is this a horror film? Is this a comedy? What is this? The answer was just, yes, whatever you think it is in the moment, it's that. Because the truth is, if you just say it's a comedy drama, that's fitting. But there are some supernatural elements to it and there are some really trippy things to it. And I think instead of saying that this is a genre film, I like to saying that it's a comedy drama because there are some people who probably would never watch a genre film that will get introduced to elements like that for the first time.


BETH ACCOMANDO It is hard to find adjectives to describe your film because it feels unique. But there's also something that comedy doesn't quite cover, which is this sense of whimsy. There's something that's indescribable and just kind of surprising also, like, unexpected turns.


H.P. MENDOZA You know, this is actually very timely that you're saying this, because I actually just read a review for Next Goldwyn and somebody. Well, a bunch of people were saying that one thing that they couldn't get past was the fact that it just felt like such a comedy. And some people said it as praise, and some people I talked to were saying it as a pejorative because I think a lot of people were craving light hearted whimsy. But not necessarily comedy, which I now, I hadn't seen it yet, so I didn't know what that meant, but I could gather what that might mean by seeing the trailer. And I think that it's funny because I was just reading all these things from my friends talking about that film. And it's true because the secret art of human flight, I don't think it's a laugh out loud comedy. I think it's funny by saying it's a laugh out loud comedy just means that. It means that you're thinking of comedy beats. I hate comedy beats because they can be so projected. You can almost feel a setup and punch every 30 seconds, which, by the way, I leaned into for my previous films because those were comedies, and you do that there. But in this film, I feel like the whimsy that makes people chuckle or Laugh isn't necessarily comedic. Right. I think a lot of this is, it's a kind of unexpected lightness that you wouldn't expect to feel amongst all that death. So, yeah, I think, yeah, thank you for that. I'm going to take that from you, and I'll attribute it to you, but I think you kind of gave me the language to talk about that now.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, and it also has a real sweetness to it because there's a sadness to, it's like this aching sweetness where you really feel you like these characters so much and there's a real appeal to them, but yet you feel their pain, too.


H.P. MENDOZA Yeah. You know what's funny? That sweetness that you're talking about, I think that's something I've always been trying to imbue into all of my films ever since Coleman the Musical. Because when I did Colm of the musical in 2006, I was working with Rich Wong, who's like one of my oldest friends, and we went to college together. And one thing we always talked about was how irony can be tiresome. Being too cool for school is tiresome. Like, sure. That person that you see who is too cool for school and is impressive for his wry rape, your wit can be exhausting. After a while, you might want to leave the party when you've had enough. And the one thing that I always wanted to make sure is that for as much irony as there was in Coleman the musical, I wanted to make sure there was as much sincerity, too. And from there, I was like, I'm just going to keep on going because I actually think fruit fly happens to be sweeter, even though it's more foul mouth and it's raunchier. I actually think it's also sweeter. Even I am a ghost, which is a very deathly horror film. There's that moment between the ghost and the medium where they're kind of giving each other unfettered praise. Because I like watching scenes in which people praise each other. There's something that someone accused me of being the kind of writer who just will do anything to make you feel good. I'm like, is that so bad? Is that so bad? Then don't watch my movie if you want to feel bad. And I feel like the secret out of human flight already had that baked in. And so what I did was because I gave all the actors, like, free rein to play with lines. I would always ask each actor, I'm like, does that feel right coming out of your mouth? Does that ring? Does that resonate? Does that ring true? And often they'd say it does to an extent. Can I tweak it a bit? And every actor have a chance to tweak it to what they needed to make it feel authentic to who they are. And I thought that the only lens I wanted to give them was I just want to make sure that there's an authentic sweetness to the way people treat each other. Because now I feel like this neighborhood, this story, lends itself to it.


BETH ACCOMANDO All right, well, I want to thank you very much for talking about the secret art of human flight.


H.P. MENDOZA Thank you for having me on.



That was filmmaker HP Mendoza.


That wraps up another edition of KPBS listener supported Cinema Junkie. If you enjoy the podcast then please share it with a friend because your recommendation is the best way to build an addicted audience. You can also help by leaving a review.


Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.





H.P. Mendoza on the set of "The Secret Art of Human Flight" (2023).
H. P. Mendoza
H.P. Mendoza on the set of "The Secret Art of Human Flight" (2023).

H.P. Mendoza's "The Secret Art of Human Flight" may not teach you how to fly without a plane but it might just show you how to soar.

I was first introduced to Mendoza’s work through the no-budget indie delight "Colma the Musical." That film was all about contrasts—bright energetic kids stuck in a dead-end town; old-fashioned musical conventions butting up against the real world; and drab surroundings set to a dynamic score.

Now Mendoza invests his new film, "The Secret Art of Human Flight," with a different set of contrasts as he explores grief and loss with unexpected whimsy and humor.

The Secret Art of Human Flight (Reviews Trailer #1)

Mendoza held the Southern California premiere of "The Secret Art of Human Flight" at the San Diego Asian Film Festival earlier this month. I attended the screening and was entranced by the film. It was the story of Ben, a young man played by producer actor Grant Rosenmeyer. Ben’s wife has just died and he is consumed by grief. Then he discovers a video of a guru-like man named Mealworm (played by Paul Raci) who claims he can teach him how to fly.

Mendoza displays a lightness of touch in tackling this serious topic and delivers an aching sweet story about coping with loss.

Mendoza is a Filipino American filmmaker who in addition to co-directing "Colma The Musical" has written and directed "Fruit Fly," "I Am a Ghost," and "Bitter Melon."

"The Secret Art of Human Flight" is the first film he has directed that he has not written.