November 2015 volunteer in the spotlight: Sasha Khokha

Our November volunteer in the spotlight is Filmworks advisory board member Sasha Khokha, pictured here with husband Karl Kaku and a pair of fake Oscars. Sasha recently won a real-life Emmy Award for her reporting work for KQED.
Our November volunteer in the spotlight is Filmworks advisory board member Sasha Khokha, pictured here with husband Karl Kaku and a pair of fake Oscars. Sasha recently won a real-life Emmy Award for her reporting work for KQED.

Occupation: Sasha writes about the Central Valley as a journalist for The California Report, a statewide public radio program produced by KQED Public Radio. KQED is the NPR station for the Bay Area, and The California Report is their flagship program that airs on more than 30 public radio stations all over the state, including Valley Public Radio here in Fresno.

“It’s my job to translate the Central Valley to the rest of California,” Sasha says. “Basically, I’m telling the stories of this place, helping people to understand that this region is more than just farmland or drive-through country on I-5 when you’re headed to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Also, to understand and translate the cultural richness of this place.”

Sasha is a former member of the Filmworks Board of Directors, where she volunteered her work on programming in the earliest years of the Fresno Film Festival and also worked with visiting filmmakers. She currently serves on the Filmworks advisory board.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

“I like to spend time with my two young kids [ages 3 and 5], cross-country ski, ride my bike, travel. I pull my kids on a two-seater bike trailer to and from our house in the Tower District, to Fresno City College where they go to preschool, and to The California Report office in the Fresno High neighborhood. I also have a road bike that I ride for exercise, with a group of women faculty from Fresno City. We ride out on the farm roads, out by the Kings River, the Blossom Trail, and in the country.”

“Pre-kids, I loved traveling to Thailand. It’s an incredible place. They have spectacular beaches, amazing food, really interesting and complex culture. Post-kids, just making it down to L.A. to see my mom and hang out is a big accomplishment.”

What are some of your favorite movies?

“I love Nuevo Cine Mexicano. Anything with Gael García Bernal. I love the work of [Spanish filmmaker] Pedro Almodóvar. I’ll see any movie by him. … I have a background in documentary filmmaking, so I really like to watch good docs that are done well. I love Errol Morris. He’s a genius of the craft. Like “The Thin Blue Line.” The storytelling, the unpeeling of the onion, it’s amazing.”

“One of the benefits of being a part of AFTRA for my job, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is that I’m also a voting member of the Screen Actors Guild. I get to watch, every time around new year’s, a slew of films that are up for consideration for awards. Last year, I was impressed with Eddie Redmayne in the Stephen Hawking movie. But generally, I go for the more arty, foreign films.”

“To be honest, since I’ve had children, it’s almost impossible to make it through a full movie! Unless of course we get a sitter and go to Filmworks. Filmworks is my lifeline!”

What’s your favorite film you’ve seen at Filmworks?

“You know, I loved that really funny Belgian movie, “L’iceberg.” [It played at the 2007 Fresno Film Festival.] I love it when satire is done well. There was an Argentine film, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” about corruption and repression in the government. And this past summer, the Argentine film “Wild Tales.” I love things that are format-breaking in terms of storytelling. In “Wild Tales,” I loved the vignettes. They broke apart our expectations of the medium.”

What’s in your Netflix queue right now?

“We only have the bandwidth to watch something like 30 or 40 minutes long, because of the kids. So I feel like we are really behind the curve. We’re just getting through “Breaking Bad” right now. “Weeds” was a good length for a tired set of parents. We’ve also been watching the Oscar-nominated animated short films. “Room on the Broom,” “The Gruffalo,” anything under 30 minutes.”

How did you first get involved with Filmworks?

“When I first moved in Fresno in 2004, my friend Juliana Barbassa was the Associated Press correspondent in town. She had a Filmworks schedule on her bulletin board. I thought it was so cool. I thought that the board members were rock stars. John Moses, Catherine Campbell, Dixie Salazar. I didn’t think I’d ever be cool enough to hang out with them! My husband, Karl Kaku, had been one of John’s students at Fresno City. I was honored when they invited me to be on the board.”

“Actually, John first invited me to show my short film, “Calcutta Calling,” at Fresno City. [The film, part of Sasha’s graduate work at UC Berkeley, first aired on the PBS Frontline/World Rough Cut series.] It was a real honor for me to screen it there. At that point, Filmworks as an organization was very small, so it was good to be part of it.”

How are you still involved with filmmaking in your current job as a public radio reporter?

“I have been involved in a couple of longform documentary TV projects as part of my work with KQED, where I’ve been able to combine radio reporting with filmmaking. My goal as a journalist and as a filmmaker is always to help amplify voices that we wouldn’t otherwise hear.”

“With “Calcutta Calling,” that was children adopted from India trying to figure out their idea of themselves, growing up in Minnesota. With “Hunger in the Valley of Plenty,” [which won an Emmy Award] that was a farmworker mom struggling to get food on the table for her kids. Most recently, we just finished up a PBS Frontline doc, “Rape on the Night Shift,” on the sexual abuse of janitors. It tells of the hidden risks that people who clean the buildings we occupy by day are facing at night.”

“I do a lot of work around serious topics. I definitely enjoy watching them and feel they’re important, as a viewer. But honestly, to relax, I need to laugh more.”

After you left the Board of Directors, what has been your typical volunteer experience with Filmworks?

“The only reason I left the board was because I had new commitments with my kids. But Filmworks is like a refuge for me. It’s a place where literally everybody who I want to see in Fresno is coming together in one place. With my job and my family, it’s fantastic to come and hang out with folks who are so involved in the arts and academia and poetry and culture. It’s re-invigorating to still be a part of it in whatever small way I can, even if it’s taking tickets or making the popcorn or whatever. It’s part of being part of an organization that I believe in.”

“Filmworks also needs financial support. It’s an all-volunteer effort. I know how shoestring the operation can be, to rent the theater, the projector, to pay for the films. Many times, it’s a real thin line, and definitely not a for-profit venture. That’s why my husband and I support Filmworks as members each year. I really believe in having the public space, like at The Tower Theatre, where we can celebrate film together.”

What’s one of your most memorable board or volunteer experiences with Filmworks?

“Some of it has been seeing the reactions of filmmakers who come here. Filmworks takes really good care of them. We have them stay in a suite at the San Joaquin Hotel, a nice local place, or even with board members. We share with them the good Armenian food and Mexican food of Fresno. And the audiences are truly excited they are here. It makes them feel really good, to make them feel part of a festival or a screening that’s intimate.”

What do you think is the best part of the Filmworks experience?

“I don’t think people realize how hard the board and the volunteers work to make the magic happen. It’s a lot of effort. It’s creating the magic of movies from scratch in a way that’s personal, intimate. And, it’s a uniquely Fresno experience. In the Bay Area or in L.A., people take art house films for granted. In Fresno, if we want to see that movie, we have to come together and put on the production ourselves. Everyone’s there on the same night. We have a collective experience. It’s so hard, but it’s so worth it.”

Filmworks thanks all of our November 2015 volunteers:

Avigdar Adams, Hazel Antaramian-Hofman, Sanzari Aranyak, Cleo Bauer, Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Rita Dias, Frank Dougherty, John Dunning, Richard Flores, Trin Gibney, Megan Ginise, Satch Gonzales, Karen Hammer, Michele Hansen, Rebecca Horwitz, Neal Howard, Carl Johnsen, Kathryn Johnsen, Andy Julian, Sasha Khokha, Jasmine Leiva, Yvette Mancilla (intern), Richard Markley, Monica Marks-Rea, Hagop Ohanessian, Dominic Papagni, Angad Puniani, Andrew Ranta, Gene Richards, Bill Rovin, Justin Secor, Richard Stone, Sky Sweet, Jon Veinberg, Suzanne Watkins.


To meet our past volunteers in the spotlight, and to find out how you can volunteer with Filmworks, visit our volunteer page.