Watch Variety Studio Interview: Amy Tan Reflects on Creative Collaboration for ‘Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir’

“Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” is an Official Selection of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and will premiere on February 2nd.  Producer Karen Pritzker and author and subject of the film Amy Tan discussed the chance circumstances that led to the film’s creation.

Author Amy Tan in a still from the documentary feature Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. The film was made by James Redford, son of cinema legend Robert, who died from cancer before it was finished. Photo: Courtesy of KPJR Films

At Sundance Film Festival’s Variety studio presented by AT&T TV, Pritzker and Tan, author of the beloved “The Joy Luck Club” and lead singer in the literary rock garage band The Rock Bottom Remainders, remembered the doc’s late director and reflected on its unique cinematography.

Tan said the documentary , which will appear on “American Masters,” didn’t initially appeal to her. It was director James Redford, who died last October at the age of 58 from cancer, who had to convince her to agree to the film.

Tan takes a moment to herself in a scene from the documentary feature Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. Photo: Courtesy of KPJR Films

“I was trying to wind down my public life and become a private person and not do things anymore, let alone a whole documentary so but it’s testament to how persuasive Jamie is without appearing to be persuasive,” Tan said. “It was a lot about trust … the more we talked I realized that this was an amazing opportunity already to talk to somebody about very deeply personal matters and I don’t think I could have done that with very many other people, certainly not other filmmakers.”

Amy Tan and her mother, Daisy, in a still from the documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. Photo: Courtesy of Jim McHugh

Amy Tan has firmly established herself as one of America’s most respected literary voices. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, it would be decades before the author of The Joy Luck Club would fully understand the inherited trauma rooted in the legacies of women who survived the Chinese tradition of concubinage.

A still from the documentary feature Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. Photo: Courtesy of KPJR Films
Tan (left) and her mother in a still from the documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. Photo: Courtesy of Robert Foothorap

In 1989, Amy Tan’s first novel, The Joy Luck Club, was published to great commercial and critical success. With the blockbuster film adaption that followed as well as additional best-selling novels, librettos, short stories and memoirs, Ms. Tan has firmly established herself as one of the most prominent and respected American literary voices working today. Born to Chinese immigrant parents into 1950’s America, it would be decades before Ms. Tan would come to fully understand how her mother’s battle with suicidal tendencies was rooted in a legacy of suffering common to women who survived the ancient Chinese tradition of concubinage. This very legacy, however, has provided Ms. Tan an inexhaustible well of inspiration from which to work her literary magic. An interweaving of archival imagery, artful animation and live performance from Ms. Tan form the basis for this documentary that allows the audience to journey through Ms. Tan’s life and career in vivid, living colors.

Amy Tan and her mother. Photo: Courtesy of Amy Tan

This, the late James Redford’s final film, epitomizes his filmmaking talent, treading with great empathy into the life story of another and leaving telltale signs of a directorial vision both crystalline and warm. Perfectly implementing the generative listening Tan highlights so deliberately, Redford is responsive and engaged in this dimensional portrait of one of the most important writers in contemporary fiction. Produced by Karen Pritzker. 

Amy Tan (left) and her family. Photo: Courtesy of Amy Tan

See the film: 







Variety Studio presented by AT&T TV at Sundance Film Festival

Amy Tan: An Unintended Memoir Film Animation by Xaviera López


James Redford, director of Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

James Redford 1962 – 2020

Always a voice for the vulnerable, James spent a lifetime leading with kindness and amplifying solutions that provide hope for generations to come.

James Redford was an award-winning director, writer, producer for film and television. In collaboration with Karen Pritzker, he formed KPJR FILMS to produce groundbreaking social issue documentaries that impact change in communities around the world, including The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, Paper Tigers, Resilience: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope, Playing For Keeps, and Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir.

He and his father, Robert Redford, co-founded The Redford Center, a non-profit media entity that engages people through inspiring stories that galvanize environmental action. Among many of its functions, the center’s documentary film projects include Watershed, Fighting Goliath, and The Art of Activism, as well as HBO films HAPPENING: A Clean Energy Revolution, Toxic Hot Seat, Mann v. Ford, and The Kindness of Strangers.

James received the 2016 Distinguished Service and Excellence in Film Award and 2016 Partnership with Children Anne Vanderbilt Award. His other awards include the 2014 Wild Care Environmental Award and in 2015, he was named a filmmaker envoy for USC/US State Department’s American Film Showcase as well as inducted into the leadership circle for the United Nation’s second annual Media for Social Impact Summit.

James was committed to storytelling and passionate about his filmmaking. Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir is his last completed film and shows him at the height of his powers.

Amy Tan: An Unintended Memoir Film Animation by Xaviera López


“I had suggested to Jamie that we interview his friend, Amy Tan, for our film Playing for Keeps about the need for adults to cultivate play and fun into their lives. I had seen Amy Tan perform as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band comprised of best-selling authors, who I imagined each spent many days alone in their rooms staring at a blank computer screen. Amy’s performance as the lead singer was so much the opposite of the introspective and serious writer I had encountered through her beautiful books.

Jamie’s interview was brilliant. Not only did Amy say everything I hoped she would say about the need for play, but her discussions about how she activated so many parts of her imagination and creativity was a revelation. At that moment, Jamie and I realized that we had to make a film about Amy Tan. Jamie’s thoughtful, comfortable and curious style of interviewing unearthed so many layers of her character. As he was struggling with his own mortality and failing health, he directed this film that literally makes me cry each time I view it. We see Amy’s bravery and humanity in dealing with the many losses, traumas, and joys that she has faced, while still managing to emerge from her personal struggles with work that speaks to everyone and has been healing for her to produce.

I am so glad to be able to share this film with the world and am only sorry that Jamie can’t share the experience of seeing the world’s reaction.” – Karen Pritzker

The WNET Group’s American Masters Pictures Brings Documentaries on Rita Moreno, Amy Tan, Alvin Ailey and Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio to 2021 Sundance Film Festival 

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

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