Tag Archives: Arthur Dong

CAMBODIA TOWN FILM FESTIVAL presents Arthur Dong’s THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR, September 16-20

CAMBODIA TOWN FILM FESTIVAL is presenting encore screenings of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, produced and directed by Arthur Dong, September 16-20, 2020.

Showcasing the best in Cambodian cinema from around the world, this year’s festival is a free virtual forum, including films and special events. Filmmaker Arthur Dong will be a featured panelist for Stories We Didn’t Learn in School, streaming September 20, 6:30pm PST.

Click here to order tickets.

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor chronicles the life, times and murder of Dr. Ngor, who remains the only Asian male to have won an Academy Award® for best supporting actor. When the Chinese-Cambodian doctor was forced into labor camps by the Khmer Rouge, little did he know he would escape four years of torture and be called upon to recreate his experiences in a film that propelled him into the glamorous world of Hollywood. And little did anyone know that some twenty years later, Dr. Ngor would be gunned down in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley. How could it be that he would survive the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge, only to be murdered by gang-bangers in America?

Join filmmaker Arthur Dong for the CTFF panel Stories We Didn’t Learn in School, streaming September 20, 6:30pm PST:

Featuring a discussion with filmmakers Chris Lockett (Until They’re Gone), Arthur Dong (The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor), James Taing (Ghost Mountain), and Rithy Hanh (In The Life of Music). Join us as we discuss the stories that weren’t taught in schools. Hosted by Shawna Lesseur.

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.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2020 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

SF Chinatown Community Film Festival has been postponed

Due to new concerns in the Bay Area regarding COVID-19, the  inaugural San Francisco Chinatown Community Film Festival featuring works by Asian American filmmakers at Clarion Performing Arts Center,  scheduled for March 20-22, has been postponed.

The festival was set to screen four of our films along with works by Elaine Mae Woo, Arthur Dong, Rick Quan, Crystal Kwok and Felicia Lowe. We’ll let you know when The Festival has been rescheduled.

Stay safe and healthy.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2020 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

SF Chinatown Community Film Festival To Screen Films by Felicia Lowe, Arthur Dong, Lia Chang, Garth Kravits, Elaine Mae Woo, Rick Quan and Crystal Kwok, March 20-22

Bev’s Girl Films is delighted to be included in the inaugural San Francisco Chinatown Community Film Festival featuring works by Asian American filmmakers at Clarion Performing Arts Center, 2 Waverly Place, San Francisco, CA 94108, from Friday, March 20 – Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Over the course of three days, the filmmakers who will be showcased include Elaine Mae Woo, Arthur Dong, Rick Quan, Crystal Kwok, Lia Chang, Garth Kravits and Felicia Lowe. Q & A’s  with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

Four Bev’s Girl Films shorts will be screened on Sunday, March 22 at 3pm.  I’ll be participating in a Q & A following the screenings with writer/director Garth Kravits, and my castmates Virginia Wing and Jason Ma.

Jo Yang, Garth Kravits, Virginia Wing, Jason Ma and Lia Chang attend Asian American Night of CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on February 9, 2020. Photo by Alex Sanchez

Tickets are $12 at Eventbrite.com. Students $5 at the door. Each ticket is good for the day of the festival. VIP tickets are $200 with two passes for the entire festival.

Below is the full lineup.
Friday, March 20, 2020
5:30 pm
Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

6:00 pm “Anna May Wong ~ Frosted Yellow Willows” Q & A with filmmaker Elaine Mae Woo.

With disarming sensuality and commanding presence, Anna May Wong defined the role of the ‘Dragon Lady’.  Narrated by Nancy Kwan,  “Anna May Wong ~Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend” is a story about the first Chinese American woman who endured many hardships and heartaches to become an international film star. From humble beginnings in a Chinese laundry, she went on to star in pictures such as Technicolorʼs Toll of the Sea (1922),  E.A. Dupontʼs Piccadilly (1929) and Josef von Sternbergʼs Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Never one to rest on her laurels, Anna would utilize her fame to aid her country and the country of her ancestors during times of war. Her body of work in film, radio, stage and television established her as a true pioneer of early cinema and the performing arts both in Hollywood and internationally.

DIRECTOR STATEMENT
In the early 1990s, a well known director at a reception following the screening of a Kurosawa film brought Anna May Wong to Elaine Mae Wooʼs attention. Elaine admitted that she knew nothing about Anna. The director shook his head, said a couple of words and then walked away. It was at this point that Elaine swore that she would learn about Anna before she would ever see this director again. This is how the making of “Anna May Wong ~Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend” and Elaine’s first film began.
Nearly ten years in the making, this biographical documentary film was finally presented its world premiere at Italy’s famous Le Giornate del Cinema Muto – Pordenone Silent Film Festival in late 2007.

7:30 pm
The Chinatown Films of Arthur Dong: “Forbidden City, USA,” “Hollywood Chinese,” “Sewing Woman,” and “Living Music for Golden Mountains.”
Synopsis:
For the past 40 years, San Francisco native Arthur Dong has been a pioneer in the production of groundbreaking documentaries about the history and life in Chinatown, covering topics such as immigration, the bachelor society, sewing factories, Cantonese musical traditions, World War II nightclubs, and Hollywood’s mis-representations and stereotypes. To mark the inaugural Chinatown Community Film Festival, select scenes from his Chinatown-themed films will be screened, to be followed by an intimate on-stage conversation with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and Felicia Lowe. www.deepfocusproductions.com

9:00 pm Welcome wine reception to thank sponsors.

Saturday, March 21, 2020
5:30 pm Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

6:00 pm “Dorothy Toy Story”. Filmmaker, Rick Quan Q & A with Cynthia Yee, dancer.

7:00 pm “The Mistress” Filmmaker Crystal Kwok
Q & A with Crystal Kwok. Mimi Chin will talk about her Experiences as the former owner of Dragon A-GoGo and Gentlemen clubs.

Sunday March 22, 2020
2:30 pm Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

3:00 pm “Hide and Seek” features Lia Chang and Garth Kravits, co-written by Lia Chang and Garth Kravits and executive produced by Lia Chang/Bev’s Girl Films.

Hide and Seek is a short film that speaks to the societal challenge that women, and especially women of color, endure every day. To look in the mirror and to hope to see a face other than your own. One that is closer to what magazines, television and movies define as beautiful or even normal. What face do you see when you look in the mirror?

Rom-Com Gone Wrong is a new comedy short produced by Bev’s Girl Films and Cut & Dry Films. Written and directed by Garth Kravits, the films stars Lia Chang, Eric Elizaga and Brian Kim.

A romantic encounter, ten years in the making.

Official Selection of Disorient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon and 10th Annual Queens World Film Festival.

Bev’s Girl Films presents Belongingness, a new short film starring Isabela Sanchez and Lia Chang.

Written, directed and edited by Cut & Dry Films’ Garth Kravits, Belongingness follows a young girl’s search for identity and a sense of belonging, which comes from an expected source. Original Score by John Tyler Kent. Official Selection of the Asian Film Festival.

Bev’s Girl Films presents WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG, starring Virginia Wing, Jason Ma and Lia Chang. The cast also features Jo Yang, Daniel Dunlow, Michelle Miller and Mark York.

When siblings Benjamin and Audrey return home to confront their Mother’s memory loss, they discover a hidden key to her past.

Jason Ma, Virginia Wing and Lia Chang in WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG. Photo by Garth Kravits

Written and directed by Garth Kravits, the film is Executive Produced by Bev’s Girl Films, with producers Garth Kravits of Cut & Dry Films and Eric Elizaga. Hair and makeup by Dorothy Bhadra.

I’ll be participating in a Q & A following the screenings with writer/director Garth Kravits, and my castmates Virginia Wing and Jason Ma.

Click here for cast and creative team bios.

4:30 pm “Chinatown” Filmmaker Felicia Lowe

Chinatown” takes you inside the tumultuous and inspiring history to witness how the past and present live together inSan Francisco’s oldest neighborhood. Through a vivid mixture of personal recollections, archival photos, poetry and narration, “Chinatown” recalls the days when the neighborhood was shut out from society, a distinct ghetto and a refuge for new immigrants. Winner of EMMY for “Best Cultural Documentary.”

7:00 pm “Chinese Couplets”.  Filmmaker Felicia Lowe

Part memoir, part history, part investigation, the filmmaker’s search for answers about her mother’s emigration to America during the Chinese Exclusion era reveals the often painful price paid by immigrants who abandoned their personal identity, the burden of silence they passed on to their offspring and the intergenerational strife between immigrants and their American born children.
www.chinesecouplets.com
Q & A with Filmmaker Felicia Lowe.

For more information on The Festival, Click on Clarionmusic.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2020 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

San Francisco Chinatown Community Film Festival To Screen Films by Elaine Mae Woo, Arthur Dong, Rick Quan, Crystal Kwok, Lia Chang, Garth Kravits and Felicia Lowe, March 20-22

Bev’s Girl Films is delighted to be included in the inaugural San Francisco Chinatown Community Film Festival featuring works by Asian American filmmakers at Clarion Performing Arts Center, 2 Waverly Place, San Francisco, CA 94108, from Friday, March 20 – Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Over the course of three days, the filmmakers who will be showcased include Elaine Mae Woo, Arthur Dong, Rick Quan, Crystal Kwok, Lia Chang, Garth Kravits and Felicia Lowe. Q & A’s  with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

Four Bev’s Girl Films shorts will be screened on Sunday, March 22 at 3pm.  I’ll be participating in a Q & A following the screenings with writer/director Garth Kravits, and my castmates Virginia Wing and Jason Ma.

Jo Yang, Garth Kravits, Virginia Wing, Jason Ma and Lia Chang attend Asian American Night of CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on February 9, 2020. Photo by Alex Sanchez

Tickets are $12 at Eventbrite.com. Students $5 at the door. Each ticket is good for the day of the festival. VIP tickets are $200 with two passes for the entire festival.

Below is the full lineup.
Friday, March 20, 2020
5:30 pm
Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

6:00 pm “Anna May Wong ~ Frosted Yellow Willows” Q & A with filmmaker Elaine Mae Woo.

With disarming sensuality and commanding presence, Anna May Wong defined the role of the ‘Dragon Lady’.  Narrated by Nancy Kwan,  “Anna May Wong ~Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend” is a story about the first Chinese American woman who endured many hardships and heartaches to become an international film star. From humble beginnings in a Chinese laundry, she went on to star in pictures such as Technicolorʼs Toll of the Sea (1922),  E.A. Dupontʼs Piccadilly (1929) and Josef von Sternbergʼs Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Never one to rest on her laurels, Anna would utilize her fame to aid her country and the country of her ancestors during times of war. Her body of work in film, radio, stage and television established her as a true pioneer of early cinema and the performing arts both in Hollywood and internationally.

DIRECTOR STATEMENT

In the early 1990s, a well known director at a reception following the screening of a Kurosawa film brought Anna May Wong to Elaine Mae Wooʼs attention. Elaine admitted that she knew nothing about Anna. The director shook his head, said a couple of words and then walked away. It was at this point that Elaine swore that she would learn about Anna before she would ever see this director again. This is how the making of “Anna May Wong ~Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend” and Elaine’s first film began.
Nearly ten years in the making, this biographical documentary film was finally presented its world premiere at Italy’s famous Le Giornate del Cinema Muto – Pordenone Silent Film Festival in late 2007.

7:30 pm
The Chinatown Films of Arthur Dong: “Forbidden City, USA,” “Hollywood Chinese,” “Sewing Woman,” and “Living Music for Golden Mountains.”
Synopsis:
For the past 40 years, San Francisco native Arthur Dong has been a pioneer in the production of groundbreaking documentaries about the history and life in Chinatown, covering topics such as immigration, the bachelor society, sewing factories, Cantonese musical traditions, World War II nightclubs, and Hollywood’s mis-representations and stereotypes. To mark the inaugural Chinatown Community Film Festival, select scenes from his Chinatown-themed films will be screened, to be followed by an intimate on-stage conversation with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and Felicia Lowe. www.deepfocusproductions.com

9:00 pm Welcome wine reception to thank sponsors.

Saturday, March 21, 2020
5:30 pm Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

6:00 pm “Dorothy Toy Story”. Filmmaker, Rick Quan Q & A with Cynthia Yee, dancer.

7:00 pm “The Mistress” Filmmaker Crystal Kwok
Q & A with Crystal Kwok. Mimi Chin will talk about her Experiences as the former owner of Dragon A-GoGo and Gentlemen clubs.


Sunday March 22, 2020

2:30 pm Doors Open – Guzheng music during seating

3:00 pm “Hide and Seek” features Lia Chang and Garth Kravits, co-written by Lia Chang and Garth Kravits and executive produced by Lia Chang/Bev’s Girl Films.

Hide and Seek is a short film that speaks to the societal challenge that women, and especially women of color, endure every day. To look in the mirror and to hope to see a face other than your own. One that is closer to what magazines, television and movies define as beautiful or even normal. What face do you see when you look in the mirror?

Rom-Com Gone Wrong is a new comedy short produced by Bev’s Girl Films and Cut & Dry Films. Written and directed by Garth Kravits, the films stars Lia Chang, Eric Elizaga and Brian Kim.

A romantic encounter, ten years in the making.

Official Selection of Disorient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon and 10th Annual Queens World Film Festival.

Bev’s Girl Films presents Belongingness, a new short film starring Isabela Sanchez and Lia Chang.

Written, directed and edited by Cut & Dry Films’ Garth Kravits, Belongingness follows a young girl’s search for identity and a sense of belonging, which comes from an expected source. Original Score by John Tyler Kent. Official Selection of the Asian Film Festival.

Bev’s Girl Films presents WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG, starring Virginia Wing, Jason Ma and Lia Chang. The cast also features Jo Yang, Daniel Dunlow, Michelle Miller and Mark York.

When siblings Benjamin and Audrey return home to confront their Mother’s memory loss, they discover a hidden key to her past.

Jason Ma, Virginia Wing and Lia Chang in WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG. Photo by Garth Kravits

Written and directed by Garth Kravits, the film is Executive Produced by Bev’s Girl Films, with producers Garth Kravits of Cut & Dry Films and Eric Elizaga. Hair and makeup by Dorothy Bhadra.

I’ll be participating in a Q & A following the screenings with writer/director Garth Kravits, and my castmates Virginia Wing and Jason Ma.

Click here for cast and creative team bios.

4:30 pm “Chinatown” Filmmaker Felicia Lowe

Chinatown” takes you inside the tumultuous and inspiring history to witness how the past and present live together inSan Francisco’s oldest neighborhood. Through a vivid mixture of personal recollections, archival photos, poetry and narration, “Chinatown” recalls the days when the neighborhood was shut out from society, a distinct ghetto and a refuge for new immigrants. Winner of EMMY for “Best Cultural Documentary.”

“Chinese Couplets”.  Filmmaker Felicia Lowe

Part memoir, part history, part investigation, the filmmaker’s search for answers about her mother’s emigration to America during the Chinese Exclusion era reveals the often painful price paid by immigrants who abandoned their personal identity, the burden of silence they passed on to their offspring and the intergenerational strife between immigrants and their American born children.
www.chinesecouplets.com
Q & A with Filmmaker Felicia Lowe.

For more information on The Festival, Click on Clarionmusic.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2020 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

PRI.org: Ang Lee and George Takei signed the letter, but here’s who wrote it

Award-winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang
Award-winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang

PRI.org: Ang Lee and George Takei signed the letter, but here’s who wrote it

“The heavily circulated letter was signed by 25 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including director Ang Lee, actors Sandra Oh and George Takei. It was a protest of the tone-deaf Asian jokes at this year’s Oscars ceremony — but it wasn’t meant to be an open letter.

“It was a private message to our friends and our colleagues in the organization,” says Freida Lee Mock, the chair of the Academy’s Documentary Executive Committee, who penned the first draft.

But none of the signatories seem too bothered that it was leaked to the press, first reported by Variety and then rebounding around the Internet earlier this week. It wasn’t until the letter became public that CEO Dawn Hudson issued a swift apology. And it wasn’t until George Takei called the apology “patronizing” and “a bland, corporate response” that Hudson scheduled a future meeting with these 25 members to show them that the Academy leaders were serious about these issues.

This was the first time in recent history that a grassroots collaboration like this amongst Asian Americans has happened within the Academy. The organization is divided into branches based on craft — for actors, directors, executives, etc. — and for the most part, members work within their lanes. Long-time Academy members Mock and documentarian Arthur Dong have been involved in numerous campaigns for documentary films. They successfully lobbied for the documentary branch of the Academy and Mock was voted the first governor. Dong joined her in a leadership position soon after. In the ’90s, when there was an attempt to get rid of the Academy Award for Documentary Short, they helped rally people like Steven Spielberg to get the decision unanimously overturned.

But they’ve never had to band together by ethnicity, because before this year’s Oscars ceremony, there was no need.

Moments after Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the stage to speak about the importance of diversity at this year’s ceremony, Oscars host Chris Rock brought out three Asian American children to make a child labor joke. Later in the night, presenter Sasha Baron Cohen delighted in cracking an Asian penis joke.”

“It hit me in gut,” says Dong, now a film professor at Loyola Marymount University. He was watching the Oscars with his 11-year-old son. “I just thought, ‘This is our organization. We understand the process and how decisions are made, so how could this have happened?'”

Click here to read the full article.

C-SPAN Broadcast: Arthur Dong Receives 2015 American Book Award for “Forbidden City, USA”

Award-winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong received the American Book Award from poet/playwright Genny Lim at the 36th Annual American Book Awards ceremony at the San Francisco Jazz Center on October 25, 2015.

Arthur Dong receives the American Book Award from poet/playwright Genny Lim at the 36th Annual American Book Awards ceremony at the San Francisco Jazz Center on October 25, 2015. Photo by Lorraine Dong
Arthur Dong receives the American Book Award from poet/playwright Genny Lim at the 36th Annual American Book Awards ceremony at the San Francisco Jazz Center on October 25, 2015. Photo by Lorraine Dong

Click to watch the broadcast.

Winner of the 2015 American Book Award, “Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs 1936-1970”,  captures the magic and glamour of the Chinatown nightclub scene, which peaked in San Francisco during World War II. Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong spent thirty years interviewing the entertainers from this era, collecting hundreds of rare images and objects. The result is a sexy and insightful exploration of a time when Asian Americans pushed against exploitation and racism—as well as expectations from within their own community—to pursue their dreams of working in show business. The book is now available in a deluxe hardcover edition. Click here to purchase the book.

Arthur Dong shows off the new hardcover edition of Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970. Photo by Lia ChangArthur Dong shows off the new hardcover edition of Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970. Photo by Lia Chang

Read more and view photo excerpts  of the book here.

Dong’s new documentary The Killings Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor will be featured in the prestigious UCLA Film and Television Archive Documentary Spotlight in March and the CNEX Hong Kong Documentary Tour where it will be programmed along with his other films as part of their Director in Focus series.

Poster_The Killing Fields of Dr Haing S Ngor_HiRez_DeepFocus Productions, Inc

Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the only Asian to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar,for the heartrending role of Cambodian photographer Dith Pran in Roland Joffé’s 1984 film THE KILLING FIELDS. Though he continued acting, Ngor retrained the spotlight on Cambodia, traveling worldwide to speak out against Pol Pot’s regime and the Vietnamese occupation of his country that followed. He became such a powerful voice that specters of conspiracy still haunt his untimely 1996 death. Veteran doc-maker Arthur Dong unspools Ngor’s phenomenal life with original animation, rare archival material and newly shot footage inspired by his autobiography Survival in the Killing Fields. Following the screening, join director Arthur Dong at the Centerpiece Reception.

Arthur Dong. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions
Arthur Dong. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions

In October, Dong was honored as an icon in the Gay community for LGBT History Month, joining 31 other icons whose incredible achievements were highlighted here. He’s also got a  new job as a Distinguished Professor in Film, a newly created position at Loyola Marymount University, one of the top ten film schools in the country.

Below are excerpts of my interview with Dong on his recent trip to the East Coast. We talked about the American Book Award, the new hardcover edition, what it is like to be a father, his “iconic “ status, his new job, his love of teaching documentary filmmaking, showing the film in Cambodia, and his latest projects  – a documentary about master tap dancers from the golden age of tap and a remount of his Forbidden City U.S.A. exhibition, commissioned by the Japanese American National Museum for 2018.

Chang: What does it mean to you to receive The American Book Award for Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970?
Dong: 
Unbeknownst to me, my distributor submitted the book to the American Book Awards. This is an award that is given by other authors. It is from your peers. It looks at the full spectrum of diversity in our country and the writers, and awards books that exemplify that diversity. It is a very coveted award among authors because it is from authors. I wrote the book out of passion. I wrote the book because I wanted to do it. I wanted it out there. I wanted to be able to share all of this memorabilia that I collected, and all these great stories that weren’t in the film, Forbidden City, U.S.A. That was really the purpose. I love the stuff so much; I thought other people might love it too. I got a call one day from one of the board members, Genny Lim, who asked if she could reach me somehow. I worked with her before in the past but hadn’t been in contact with her for a long time. She was contacting me to tell me that they had selected the book for an American Book Award.

ForbiddenCity-Jacket#D67EE9Chang: Why did you choose to publish the book in a hardcover edition?
Dong: 
It was my original vision to have it in hardcover because the story is so glorious and glamorous and magical that I wanted it to be the best it could be. Unfortunately at the time we needed the book and we didn’t have the budget to print a hardcover edition of time the book in America, because it was too expensive. We had an exhibit opening so we needed the books in time for the exhibit. We stuck to an American publisher that was able to deliver paperbacks in time for the exhibit. I was very pleased with the book. People love it. I think it is beautiful in its own way, but there is something about the tangible qualities of a hardcover. It is solid. I’m ecstatic because it is what I wanted from the very beginning. It was my first book and I wanted it to be perfect. I enhanced some of the coloring in the book. There were some issues with the printing here that were not detrimental. 
I was also able to add new items to the book- the only color photo taken of a show in the 1940’s, a shot of choreographer Walt Biggerstaff’s original studio where he taught all of the chorus girls in the 1930’s. I was able to put the award on the cover. The book retails for $35 and can be purchased here.

Chang: How does it feel to be an icon?
Dong: Iconic I guess. October 11th is National Coming Out Day and October is LGBT History Month, which annually celebrates and recognizes the notable achievements of LGBT people throughout time. Every day they designate an icon for the day.
 
It’s not something I’ve ever worked for or strived for or think about. I knew about this a few months ago when they were compiling. The month of October is 31 days, so there are 31 icons. They selected me to be one of the icons and they asked me to send some photos and a bio. I did and forgot about it. The day before, they alerted me that my day was coming up tomorrow. It’s really quite an honor. Some other icons are Angelina Jolie, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a group favoring same-sex marriage in the United States. There are a lot of terrific people on the list so I am honored to be a part of that.

Dong at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Dong at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What drew you to the story of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the subject of your latest documentary?
Dong: The initial draw was an article in 2010. The article was covering the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh. The first witness they called on the stand was Kang Kek Iew, or “Duch”. He was the director of the Tuol Sleng interrogation center, aka the torture center, the big torture center where it is estimated that over 200,000 people were executed there. Out of the blue, on the witness stand at this tribunal which was covered by the international press because he was the first key witness and the first person being put on trial, I am paraphrasing what he said, “Yes, Dr. Ngor was killed because he appeared in The Killing Fields.”

Prior to that, when Dr. Ngor was murdered in ’96 and the Los Angeles murder trial happened in 1998, three hoodlums were convicted of robbery and murder. But then Duch, some eleven years later, makes this statement to the whole wide world. It opened up a lot of questions about the murder. It opened up a lot of questions about the trial. It opened up questions about the Khmer Rouge, even though at that time, they were taken down out of power. I read the article and it reminded me about Dr. Ngor, who I knew about but never met. I knew about him because of his film career. I got intrigued by the story. I picked up his book, Survival in the Killing Fields, which is about 500 pages long. It was a fascinating autobiography where he wrote about his life in context to Cambodia, which is the kind of films that I like. There are always two parallel tracks to the story. There’s the larger political social story, but always embodied within a person’s life, and how a person’s life is carried through these political/social movements. That’s how he wrote his book and that’s what got me started.

Screening of “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” International House, October 22, 2015, New York. (L-R) Wayne Ngor, Dr. Ngor's nephew and narrator of the film, casting director Pat Golden, director Arthur Dong and Sophia Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s niece and film subject. Photo by Lia Chang
Screening of “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” International House, October 22, 2015, New York. (L-R) Wayne Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s nephew and narrator of the film, casting director Pat Golden, director Arthur Dong and Sophia Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s niece and film subject. Photo by Lia Chang

Chang: You had the opportunity to screen the film in Cambodia. Was this your first time there and how did this come about?
Dong:
 It was the second time. The first time I went there was for research for ten days in 2012 before I really began making the film. The US State Department, the US embassy in Phnom Penh heard about this film and felt that it was an important story for the people of Cambodia. It was important for the Embassy’s work in terms of acknowledging the history that occurred there. It also ties in their history with our history through Dr. Ngor’s story, because he came to America and became a citizen here.

They said, “We’ve never done this before, but we’d like to produce a tour of the film, a four city tour in Cambodia.” That’s what happened. It was amazing. They were working in a country, although it was a democracy, that had pretty tight controls over media in Cambodia. We had to create a Khmer version to show in the villages. We were going to do subtitles, which would have been much simpler. If you are going to be showing this in the villages, which we wanted to do, many people can’t read. They are not educated enough to read, so you are going to have to dub the whole film. Luckily, we worked with an organization, Bophana, that went the whole nine yards. They auditioned actors, they got the right voices. They synced it up so it didn’t look too loosey-goosey with their lips. They did a beautiful job. So now I have a Khmer version. Click here for a sneak peek of the Khmer dubbed version of the film, which also has English subtitles.

Salute to the national anthem, at the Cambodia premiere, "The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor," August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Salute to the national anthem, at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What did it feel like to bring your movie to a place where these atrocities occurred?
Dong: I was nervous. The first showing was a gala in the most modern theater in Cambodia. It was semi-formal and they invited dignitaries, artists, and cultural leaders. It was official and supported by the Embassy, the State Department as well as the Cambodian government.

I was nervous because, here I am a non-Cambodian telling a story about their country, their culture and their history. I remember when the film first started showing. I always sit in the back of the audience to try and feel the audience. Some of the historical material started showing and I thought they are going to be really bored because they’ve seen all of this. They know all of this. This is a full audience, they were totally quiet. What I am told they were crying and spellbound.

Outdoor community screening at Haing Ngor Smao Kgney Primary School in Dr. Ngor's hometown, Samrong Yong, Takeo Province. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Outdoor community screening at Haing Ngor Smao Kgney Primary School in Dr. Ngor’s hometown, Samrong Yong, Takeo Province.
Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

What I learned from the tour is that although we here in America may have seen some of this material, know the story or know this history, many people in Cambodia don’t. It is a part of history that the government does not endorse in terms of being taught in schools. It is not taught in schools widely. What might be generally known is people that something bad happened 40 years ago, it was led by somebody called Pol Pot, who was a communist, and a lot of people died. In terms of the nuances of the political situation, it is not widely taught or discussed. For many people who were watching this film in the villages and in the cities, this may have been  the first time they’ve heard about it. And for some of those people who lived through it and survived, the first time they’ve seen their experience on film, and in this way. It was exhilarating. People were really grateful to have this put on screen.

During the Q & A’s, the question I always got was what is your background? Are You Cambodian? In other words, why are you, a non-Cambodian, telling this story?

I’ve been told that the question comes from the doubt that a non-Cambodian would be able to tell their story so authentically. The best compliment I got was when several Cambodian filmmakers and a lot of Cambodians came up to me after the screenings and said they were surprised that I am not Cambodian because it is so sensitive, so real, and so authentic to their voice and story. They were very grateful for that. That is one of the things that I had to be careful about, being an outsider telling the story.

Director Arthur Dong (center) screened The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor and coached film students at Pour un Sourire d'Enfant - Cambodia. PSE educates and houses disadvantaged kids from the dump-site in Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh. Media production is one of their vocational training programs; it's a three year program and the only "film school" in Cambodia. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Dong (center) screened The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor and coached film students at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant – Cambodia. PSE educates and houses disadvantaged kids from the dump-site in Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh. Media production is one of their vocational training programs; it’s a three year program and the only “film school” in Cambodia. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What is your new job?
Dong: My official title is Distinguished Professor in Film, a newly created position at Loyola Marymount University, which is one of the top ten film schools in the country according to the Hollywood Reporter.

I had been teaching documentary film for some 30 years:  weeklong workshops, master classes, or just one-day seminars, because I just love what I do and I love sharing what I’ve learned about what I do. It is a thrill to see people excited about the craft because I’m excited about it. I actually taught at Loyola as an adjunct off-and-on whenever I was able to commit to a full semester, but that kind of commitment is hard to make when I’m out there producing a film. Early this year, they called me for a serious talk. They wanted me to help them with developing an MFA documentary program, a graduate program just for documentaries. What an extraordinary prospect I thought. We spent a few months working out a situation where I can take on this opportunity but also continue my work  as an independent filmmaker, which is of course exactly what they wanted: a working filmmaker. It ended up a win-win situation. So since April, I’ve been visiting universities across the country that have these types of programs and learning from them. How I can take the best from the best and put that into a two-year program at this university that really wants this to happen? Loyola is fully behind it. We have a new president that is excited about it. A dean that is definitely behind it – It’s his priority to have a documentary program in this department. And, there’s funding. The whole thing is not what I ever imagined to be doing in my life. It is quite a challenge, and an honor, to have the privilege to help shape and nurture a new generation.

Arthur Dong and his son Reed Dong-Gee at MoCA in New York on July 25, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang
Dong and his son Reed Dong-Gee at MOCA in New York on July 25, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Chang: Speaking of nurturing, how have you handled being a father to your son, Reed?
Dong: It’s crazy. It’s like no other experience I have ever had. I wouldn’t recommend being a parent to everybody. Especially my filmmaking friends. If there is a place in your life to have a child, there’s no substitution. The relationship that is cultivated by being a parent, and being responsible for another life, is daunting and fulfilling. You hear parents say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world and you get absolutely no training. It’s true. Who get’s trained to be a parent?

Chang: What is your latest filmmaking project?
Dong: 20 years ago, my friend Rusty Frank and I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to interview 30 master tap dancers from the golden age of tap dancing, which is about from the turn of the 20th century up to the 1950’s or so. We traveled around the country with this grant, filming and interviewing tap masters like Ruby Keeler, Ann Miller, Fayard Nicholas and Cholly Atkins, and getting their stories. Talking about how they began tap dancing, how tap dancing began in this country and their role in vaudeville, in film, TV or the Broadway stage. They are wonderful heartfelt stories about being in America in the  beginning of the 20th Century; and what it meant to be a woman; what it meant to be African American; what it meant to be Asian American.

Dorothy Toy, Dancer. Pictured on the right, l-r: Larry Chan, Dorothy Toy, Paul Wing. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions, Inc.
Dorothy Toy, Dancer. Pictured on the right, l-r: Larry Chan, Dorothy Toy, Paul Wing. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions, Inc.

We hear stories from Dorothy Toy and Paul Wing who we also interviewed. Collectively, they told us this really fascinating tapestry of American stories. And because they are tap dancers, they are happy people. They are joyous people. And they’re rhythmic people, and they’re fun people. Rusty and I got these interviews in the can luckily, because soon after, they started leaving us. All but five of them are still with us today. After we got the interviews in the can, both of us got busy. Finally a few months ago, we both said to each other, “I think we have a window of time to start working on this again.” We also got another small grant to start working on it as well. For the past month, Rusty and I have been reliving these interviews. They are hilarious and so fun, but they are also very relevant to issues of today – of gender and equality and racial issues. They still resonate to what’s going on in this country today.

Caption: On the left is a headdress worn by dancer Barbara Yung during the 1940s at Andy Wong's Chinese Sky Room nightclub. Ms Yung is pictured on the right wearing the actual piece during the era. The costume is one of Arthur’s recent acquisitions that will be on display in his 2018 exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of DeepFocus Productions, Inc.
Caption: On the left is a headdress worn by dancer Barbara Yung during the 1940s at Andy Wong’s Chinese Sky Room nightclub. Ms Yung is pictured on the right wearing the actual piece during the era. The costume is one of Arthur’s recent acquisitions that will be on display in his 2018 exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of DeepFocus Productions, Inc.

This year has been pretty special with lots of surprises. The Japanese American National Museum has commissioned me to remount the Forbidden City, U.S.A. exhibition at their museum in 2018. In San Francisco, we had 1500 square feet, which felt really tight, but I am getting 6000 square feet. Dorothy Toy just shipped me about fifteen of her costumes including ballroom shoes, tap shoes, accessories from the 1940’s until her last days in the 1970’s. And Dorothy Toy – is Dorothy Takahashi Toy, so her story specifically resonates in that environment. Although the exhibition is about a Pan Asian experience. For example, you have Koreans and Filipinos as well. Because it is the Japanese American Museum, and Dorothy Toy was one of its biggest stars, its wonderful that we have all these costumes from her career. She shipped them in her original traveling cases that she took on the road. We’ve been gathering other costumes since we have the space now. It is part of a largest series. The first program of that series I’m in is being curated by George Takei. So I’m following George Takei.

Curator/Filmmaker Arthur Dong gives George Takei a private tour of his exhibition Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection, at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles on October 23, 2009. © Lia Chang
Curator/Filmmaker Arthur Dong gives George Takei a private tour of his exhibition Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection, at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles on October 23, 2009. © Lia Chang

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, winner of the BEST DOCUMENTARY AUDIENCE AWARD at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, builds on ARTHUR DONG’S 30-year track record of creating compelling documentaries that focus on personal stories to examine moments of history, social prejudice, and public policy concerns. As a film student at San Francisco State University, Arthur Dong produced Sewing Woman, his Academy Award nominated short documentary in 1984. The film focused on his mother’s immigration to America from China. Instead of finding an outside distributor for the film, Dong then started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, and serves as its producer, director and writer. His trilogy of films that investigate anti-gay prejudice were released in the DVD collection, “Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” and features Family Fundamentals, Licensed to Kill and Coming Out Under Fire. His films about Chinese Americans were released in the follow-up collection, “Stories from Chinese America,” and include Sewing Woman, Forbidden City, U.S.A. and Hollywood Chinese.

His films have screened theatrically in the U.S., selected for festivals worldwide like Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin, and broadcast globally. Arthur’s film awards include an Oscar® nomination, three Sundance awards, the Peabody, five Emmy nominations, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Award, and two GLAAD Media awards. He has been named a Guggenheim Fellow in Film and twice selected for the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. He has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, Outfest, and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress.

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. 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 and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachang.com

Nov. 21: Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs 1936-1970” Book Talk and Signing at CHSA Museum; The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor screens at The International Southeast Asian Film Festival

 

Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang
Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang

Award winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong will be at the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) on Saturday, November 21st at 1:00pm, for a book talk and signing of his hot-off-the-presses deluxe hardcover edition of “Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs 1936-1970”. the Chinese Historical Society of America is located at 965 Clay St, San Francisco, Ca.  There will be a brief Q&A session and light refreshments will be served. Click here to rsvp or for more information. FYI: Advance RSVP’s for the November 21 book talk in SF have sold out! Walk-in’s are welcomed but come early for best seating. Co-presented by Chinese Historical Society of America and Art Deco Society of California.

Special guests: Surviving veteran dancers from the Chinatown Nightclub era: Pat Chin, Ivy Tam, and Cynthia Yee, founding members of the Grant Avenue Follies; and Coby Yee, exotic dancer who eventually ran the Forbidden City nightclub. Co-presented by the Art Deco Society of California.

Arthur Dong receives the American Book Award from poet/playwright Genny Lim at the 36th Annual American Book Awards ceremony at the San Francisco Jazz Center on October 25, 2015. Photo by Lorraine Dong
Arthur Dong receives the American Book Award from poet/playwright Genny Lim at the 36th Annual American Book Awards ceremony at the San Francisco Jazz Center on October 25, 2015. Photo by Lorraine Dong

Winner of the 2015 American Book Award, “Forbidden City, USA” captures the magic and glamour of the Chinatown nightclub scene, which peaked in San Francisco during World War II. Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong spent thirty years interviewing the entertainers from this era, collecting hundreds of rare images and objects. The result is a sexy and insightful exploration of a time when Asian Americans pushed against exploitation and racism—as well as expectations from within their own community—to pursue their dreams of working in show business.

Arthur Dong shows off the new hardcover edition of Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970. Photo by Lia ChangArthur Dong shows off the new hardcover edition of Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970. Photo by Lia Chang

Read more and view photo excerpts here.

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Photo: DeepFocus Productions
The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Photo: DeepFocus Productions

Later that evening, Dong will be at The International Southeast Asian Film Festival screening of his new documentary The Killings Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, which will unspool at 8:00pm at the NEW PEOPLE, 1746 Post St, San Francisco, California 94115.  Click here for tickets.

Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the only Asian to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar,for the heartrending role of Cambodian photographer Dith Pran in Roland Joffé’s 1984 film THE KILLING FIELDS. Though he continued acting, Ngor retrained the spotlight on Cambodia, traveling worldwide to speak out against Pol Pot’s regime and the Vietnamese occupation of his country that followed. He became such a powerful voice that specters of conspiracy still haunt his untimely 1996 death. Veteran doc-maker Arthur Dong unspools Ngor’s phenomenal life with original animation, rare archival material and newly shot footage inspired by his autobiography Survival in the Killing Fields. Following the screening, join director Arthur Dong at the Centerpiece Reception.

Arthur Dong. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions
Arthur Dong. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions

Last month, Dong was honored as an icon in the Gay community for LGBT History Month, joining 31 other icons whose incredible achievements were highlighted here. He’s also got a  new job as a Distinguished Professor in Film, a newly created position at Loyola Marymount University, one of the top ten film schools in the country.

Below are excerpts of my interview with Dong on his recent trip to the East Coast. We talked about the American Book Award, the new hardcover edition, what it is like to be a father, his “iconic “ status, his new job, his love of teaching documentary filmmaking, showing the film in Cambodia, and his latest projects  – a documentary about master tap dancers from the golden age of tap and a remount of his Forbidden City U.S.A. exhibition, commissioned by the Japanese American National Museum for 2018.

Chang: What does it mean to you to receive The American Book Award for Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970?
Dong: 
Unbeknownst to me, my distributor submitted the book to the American Book Awards. This is an award that is given by other authors. It is from your peers. It looks at the full spectrum of diversity in our country and the writers, and awards books that exemplify that diversity. It is a very coveted award among authors because it is from authors. I wrote the book out of passion. I wrote the book because I wanted to do it. I wanted it out there. I wanted to be able to share all of this memorabilia that I collected, and all these great stories that weren’t in the film, Forbidden City, U.S.A. That was really the purpose. I love the stuff so much; I thought other people might love it too. I got a call one day from one of the board members, Genny Lim, who asked if she could reach me somehow. I worked with her before in the past but hadn’t been in contact with her for a long time. She was contacting me to tell me that they had selected the book for an American Book Award.

ForbiddenCity-Jacket#D67EE9Chang: Why did you choose to publish the book in a hardcover edition?
Dong: 
It was my original vision to have it in hardcover because the story is so glorious and glamorous and magical that I wanted it to be the best it could be. Unfortunately at the time we needed the book and we didn’t have the budget to print a hardcover edition of time the book in America, because it was too expensive. We had an exhibit opening so we needed the books in time for the exhibit. We stuck to an American publisher that was able to deliver paperbacks in time for the exhibit. I was very pleased with the book. People love it. I think it is beautiful in its own way, but there is something about the tangible qualities of a hardcover. It is solid. I’m ecstatic because it is what I wanted from the very beginning. It was my first book and I wanted it to be perfect. I enhanced some of the coloring in the book. There were some issues with the printing here that were not detrimental. 
I was also able to add new items to the book- the only color photo taken of a show in the 1940’s, a shot of choreographer Walt Biggerstaff’s original studio where he taught all of the chorus girls in the 1930’s. I was able to put the award on the cover. The book retails for $35 and can be purchased here.

Chang: How does it feel to be an icon?
Dong: Iconic I guess. October 11th is National Coming Out Day and October is LGBT History Month, which annually celebrates and recognizes the notable achievements of LGBT people throughout time. Every day they designate an icon for the day.
 
It’s not something I’ve ever worked for or strived for or think about. I knew about this a few months ago when they were compiling. The month of October is 31 days, so there are 31 icons. They selected me to be one of the icons and they asked me to send some photos and a bio. I did and forgot about it. The day before, they alerted me that my day was coming up tomorrow. It’s really quite an honor. Some other icons are Angelina Jolie, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a group favoring same-sex marriage in the United States. There are a lot of terrific people on the list so I am honored to be a part of that.

Dong at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Dong at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What drew you to the story of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the subject of your latest documentary?
Dong: The initial draw was an article in 2010. The article was covering the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh. The first witness they called on the stand was Kang Kek Iew, or “Duch”. He was the director of the Tuol Sleng interrogation center, aka the torture center, the big torture center where it is estimated that over 200,000 people were executed there. Out of the blue, on the witness stand at this tribunal which was covered by the international press because he was the first key witness and the first person being put on trial, I am paraphrasing what he said, “Yes, Dr. Ngor was killed because he appeared in The Killing Fields.”

Prior to that, when Dr. Ngor was murdered in ’96 and the Los Angeles murder trial happened in 1998, three hoodlums were convicted of robbery and murder. But then Duch, some eleven years later, makes this statement to the whole wide world. It opened up a lot of questions about the murder. It opened up a lot of questions about the trial. It opened up questions about the Khmer Rouge, even though at that time, they were taken down out of power. I read the article and it reminded me about Dr. Ngor, who I knew about but never met. I knew about him because of his film career. I got intrigued by the story. I picked up his book, Survival in the Killing Fields, which is about 500 pages long. It was a fascinating autobiography where he wrote about his life in context to Cambodia, which is the kind of films that I like. There are always two parallel tracks to the story. There’s the larger political social story, but always embodied within a person’s life, and how a person’s life is carried through these political/social movements. That’s how he wrote his book and that’s what got me started.

Screening of “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” International House, October 22, 2015, New York. (L-R) Wayne Ngor, Dr. Ngor's nephew and narrator of the film, casting director Pat Golden, director Arthur Dong and Sophia Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s niece and film subject. Photo by Lia Chang
Screening of “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” International House, October 22, 2015, New York. (L-R) Wayne Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s nephew and narrator of the film, casting director Pat Golden, director Arthur Dong and Sophia Ngor, Dr. Ngor’s niece and film subject. Photo by Lia Chang

Chang: You had the opportunity to screen the film in Cambodia. Was this your first time there and how did this come about?
Dong:
 It was the second time. The first time I went there was for research for ten days in 2012 before I really began making the film. The US State Department, the US embassy in Phnom Penh heard about this film and felt that it was an important story for the people of Cambodia. It was important for the Embassy’s work in terms of acknowledging the history that occurred there. It also ties in their history with our history through Dr. Ngor’s story, because he came to America and became a citizen here.

They said, “We’ve never done this before, but we’d like to produce a tour of the film, a four city tour in Cambodia.” That’s what happened. It was amazing. They were working in a country, although it was a democracy, that had pretty tight controls over media in Cambodia. We had to create a Khmer version to show in the villages. We were going to do subtitles, which would have been much simpler. If you are going to be showing this in the villages, which we wanted to do, many people can’t read. They are not educated enough to read, so you are going to have to dub the whole film. Luckily, we worked with an organization, Bophana, that went the whole nine yards. They auditioned actors, they got the right voices. They synced it up so it didn’t look too loosey-goosey with their lips. They did a beautiful job. So now I have a Khmer version.

Salute to the national anthem, at the Cambodia premiere, "The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor," August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Salute to the national anthem, at the Cambodia premiere, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, August 21, 2015, Major Cineplex Phnom Penh. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What did it feel like to bring your movie to a place where these atrocities occurred?
Dong: I was nervous. The first showing was a gala in the most modern theater in Cambodia. It was semi-formal and they invited dignitaries, artists, and cultural leaders. It was official and supported by the Embassy, the State Department as well as the Cambodian government.

I was nervous because, here I am a non-Cambodian telling a story about their country, their culture and their history. I remember when the film first started showing. I always sit in the back of the audience to try and feel the audience. Some of the historical material started showing and I thought they are going to be really bored because they’ve seen all of this. They know all of this. This is a full audience, they were totally quiet. What I am told they were crying and spellbound.

Outdoor community screening at Haing Ngor Smao Kgney Primary School in Dr. Ngor's hometown, Samrong Yong, Takeo Province. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Outdoor community screening at Haing Ngor Smao Kgney Primary School in Dr. Ngor’s hometown, Samrong Yong, Takeo Province.
Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

What I learned from the tour is that although we here in America may have seen some of this material, know the story or know this history, many people in Cambodia don’t. It is a part of history that the government does not endorse in terms of being taught in schools. It is not taught in schools widely. What might be generally known is people that something bad happened 40 years ago, it was led by somebody called Pol Pot, who was a communist, and a lot of people died. In terms of the nuances of the political situation, it is not widely taught or discussed. For many people who were watching this film in the villages and in the cities, this may have been  the first time they’ve heard about it. And for some of those people who lived through it and survived, the first time they’ve seen their experience on film, and in this way. It was exhilarating. People were really grateful to have this put on screen.

During the Q & A’s, the question I always got was what is your background? Are You Cambodian? In other words, why are you, a non-Cambodian, telling this story?

I’ve been told that the question comes from the doubt that a non-Cambodian would be able to tell their story so authentically. The best compliment I got was when several Cambodian filmmakers and a lot of Cambodians came up to me after the screenings and said they were surprised that I am not Cambodian because it is so sensitive, so real, and so authentic to their voice and story. They were very grateful for that. That is one of the things that I had to be careful about, being an outsider telling the story.

Director Arthur Dong (center) screened The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor and coached film students at Pour un Sourire d'Enfant - Cambodia. PSE educates and houses disadvantaged kids from the dump-site in Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh. Media production is one of their vocational training programs; it's a three year program and the only "film school" in Cambodia. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh
Dong (center) screened The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor and coached film students at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant – Cambodia. PSE educates and houses disadvantaged kids from the dump-site in Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh. Media production is one of their vocational training programs; it’s a three year program and the only “film school” in Cambodia. Facebook/HaingNgorDocumentary Photo courtesy of US Embassy Phnom Penh

Chang: What is your new job?
Dong: My official title is Distinguished Professor in Film, a newly created position at Loyola Marymount University, which is one of the top ten film schools in the country according to the Hollywood Reporter.

I had been teaching documentary film for some 30 years:  weeklong workshops, master classes, or just one-day seminars, because I just love what I do and I love sharing what I’ve learned about what I do. It is a thrill to see people excited about the craft because I’m excited about it. I actually taught at Loyola as an adjunct off-and-on whenever I was able to commit to a full semester, but that kind of commitment is hard to make when I’m out there producing a film. Early this year, they called me for a serious talk. They wanted me to help them with developing an MFA documentary program, a graduate program just for documentaries. What an extraordinary prospect I thought. We spent a few months working out a situation where I can take on this opportunity but also continue my work  as an independent filmmaker, which is of course exactly what they wanted: a working filmmaker. It ended up a win-win situation. So since April, I’ve been visiting universities across the country that have these types of programs and learning from them. How I can take the best from the best and put that into a two-year program at this university that really wants this to happen? Loyola is fully behind it. We have a new president that is excited about it. A dean that is definitely behind it – It’s his priority to have a documentary program in this department. And, there’s funding. The whole thing is not what I ever imagined to be doing in my life. It is quite a challenge, and an honor, to have the privilege to help shape and nurture a new generation.

Arthur Dong and his son Reed Dong-Gee at MoCA in New York on July 25, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang
Dong and his son Reed Dong-Gee at MOCA in New York on July 25, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Chang: Speaking of nurturing, how have you handled being a father to your son, Reed?
Dong: It’s crazy. It’s like no other experience I have ever had. I wouldn’t recommend being a parent to everybody. Especially my filmmaking friends. If there is a place in your life to have a child, there’s no substitution. The relationship that is cultivated by being a parent, and being responsible for another life, is daunting and fulfilling. You hear parents say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world and you get absolutely no training. It’s true. Who get’s trained to be a parent

Chang: What is your latest filmmaking project?
Dong: 20 years ago, my friend Rusty Frank and I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to interview 30 master tap dancers from the golden age of tap dancing, which is about from the turn of the 20th century up to the 1950’s or so. We traveled around the country with this grant, filming and interviewing tap masters like Ruby Keeler, Ann Miller, Fayard Nicholas and Cholly Atkins, and getting their stories. Talking about how they began tap dancing, how tap dancing began in this country and their role in vaudeville, in film, TV or the Broadway stage. They are wonderful heartfelt stories about being in America in the  beginning of the 20th Century; and what it meant to be a woman; what it meant to be African American; what it meant to be Asian American.

Dorothy Toy, Dancer. Pictured on the right, l-r: Larry Chan, Dorothy Toy, Paul Wing. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions, Inc.
Dorothy Toy, Dancer. Pictured on the right, l-r: Larry Chan, Dorothy Toy, Paul Wing. Photo courtesy of Deepfocus Productions, Inc.

We hear stories from Dorothy Toy and Paul Wing who we also interviewed. Collectively, they told us this really fascinating tapestry of American stories. And because they are tap dancers, they are happy people. They are joyous people. And they’re rhythmic people, and they’re fun people. Rusty and I got these interviews in the can luckily, because soon after, they started leaving us. All but five of them are still with us today. After we got the interviews in the can, both of us got busy. Finally a few months ago, we both said to each other, “I think we have a window of time to start working on this again.” We also got another small grant to start working on it as well. For the past month, Rusty and I have been reliving these interviews. They are hilarious and so fun, but they are also very relevant to issues of today – of gender and equality and racial issues. They still resonate to what’s going on in this country today.

Caption: On the left is a headdress worn by dancer Barbara Yung during the 1940s at Andy Wong's Chinese Sky Room nightclub. Ms Yung is pictured on the right wearing the actual piece during the era. The costume is one of Arthur’s recent acquisitions that will be on display in his 2018 exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of DeepFocus Productions, Inc.
Caption: On the left is a headdress worn by dancer Barbara Yung during the 1940s at Andy Wong’s Chinese Sky Room nightclub. Ms Yung is pictured on the right wearing the actual piece during the era. The costume is one of Arthur’s recent acquisitions that will be on display in his 2018 exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of DeepFocus Productions, Inc.

This year has been pretty special with lots of surprises. The Japanese American National Museum has commissioned me to remount the Forbidden City, U.S.A. exhibition at their museum in 2018. In San Francisco, we had 1500 square feet, which felt really tight, but I am getting 6000 square feet. Dorothy Toy just shipped me about fifteen of her costumes including ballroom shoes, tap shoes, accessories from the 1940’s until her last days in the 1970’s. And Dorothy Toy – is Dorothy Takahashi Toy, so her story specifically resonates in that environment. Although the exhibition is about a Pan Asian experience. For example, you have Koreans and Filipinos as well. Because it is the Japanese American Museum, and Dorothy Toy was one of its biggest stars, its wonderful that we have all these costumes from her career. She shipped them in her original traveling cases that she took on the road. We’ve been gathering other costumes since we have the space now. It is part of a largest series. The first program of that series I’m in is being curated by George Takei. So I’m following George Takei.

Curator/Filmmaker Arthur Dong gives George Takei a private tour of his exhibition Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection, at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles on October 23, 2009. © Lia Chang
Curator/Filmmaker Arthur Dong gives George Takei a private tour of his exhibition Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection, at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles on October 23, 2009. © Lia Chang

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, winner of the BEST DOCUMENTARY AUDIENCE AWARD at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, builds on ARTHUR DONG’S 30-year track record of creating compelling documentaries that focus on personal stories to examine moments of history, social prejudice, and public policy concerns. As a film student at San Francisco State University, Arthur Dong produced Sewing Woman, his Academy Award nominated short documentary in 1984. The film focused on his mother’s immigration to America from China. Instead of finding an outside distributor for the film, Dong then started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, and serves as its producer, director and writer. His trilogy of films that investigate anti-gay prejudice were released in the DVD collection, “Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” and features Family Fundamentals, Licensed to Kill and Coming Out Under Fire. His films about Chinese Americans were released in the follow-up collection, “Stories from Chinese America,” and include Sewing Woman, Forbidden City, U.S.A. and Hollywood Chinese.

His films have screened theatrically in the U.S., selected for festivals worldwide like Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin, and broadcast globally. Arthur’s film awards include an Oscar® nomination, three Sundance awards, the Peabody, five Emmy nominations, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Award, and two GLAAD Media awards. He has been named a Guggenheim Fellow in Film and twice selected for the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. He has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, Outfest, and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress.

Lia Chang
Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. 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 and Hide and Seek, which will screen at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival on November 21st. She is profiled in Examiner.com, FebOne1960.com BlogJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachangphotography.com

Arthur Dong’s The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor Screens as the Centerpiece film of the Boston Asian American Film Festival on October 24

logo-muddy-photo-lrArthur Dong’s award-winning documentary The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor is the Centerpiece film of the Boston Asian American Film Festival on Saturday, October 24, 2015, and will screen at the Paramount Theater in the Bright Family Screening Room, 559 Washington Street in Boston, MA. at 6:15pm. Dong will be in attendance for a Q & A after the screening.

Regular tickets: $10; AARW/ArtsEmerson Members: $7.50, accessed via Promo Code, Student/Children: $5, must present ID at box office when picking up, Seniors: $7.50, and can be purchased by clicking here.

(T: Park Street, Downtown Crossing, or Boylston)

Set against the backdrop of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge reign of terror, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor chronicles a powerful journey of love, loss and reconciliation. The years encapsulating this horrific period are seen through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experiences in The Killing Fields, winning an Oscar® for his first film. He became the de facto worldwide ambassador for truth and justice in his homeland, only to be gunned down in an alley in Chinatown Los Angeles – a case still surrounded by transnational conspiracy theories.

Click here for future screenings of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.

Check out my new interview with Arthur Dong.
 Q & A with Arthur Dong, Award-winning Filmmaker and Author, Gay Icon, Distinguished Professor of Film

Award-winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang
Award-winning author and filmmaker Arthur Dong. Photo by Lia Chang

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, winner of the BEST DOCUMENTARY AUDIENCE AWARD at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, builds on ARTHUR DONG’S 30-year track record of creating compelling documentaries that focus on personal stories to examine moments of history, social prejudice, and public policy concerns. As a film student at San Francisco State University, Arthur Dong produced Sewing Woman, his Academy Award nominated short documentary in 1984. The film focused on his mother’s immigration to America from China. Instead of finding an outside distributor for the film, Dong then started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, and serves as its producer, director and writer. His trilogy of films that investigate anti-gay prejudice were released in the DVD collection, “Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” and features Family Fundamentals, Licensed to Kill and Coming Out Under Fire. His films about Chinese Americans were released in the follow-up collection, “Stories from Chinese America,” and include Sewing Woman, Forbidden City, U.S.A. and Hollywood Chinese.

Filmmaker Arthur Dong _in vest) with (L-R) Wayne Ngor, nephew of the late Dr. Ngor, casting director Pat Golden who cast Dr. Ngor in The Killing Fields, and Sophia Ngor, niece of the late Dr. Ngor, at a screening of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor at the International House in New York on October 22, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang
Filmmaker Arthur Dong _in vest) with (L-R) Wayne Ngor, nephew of the late Dr. Ngor, casting director Pat Golden who cast Dr. Ngor in The Killing Fields, and Sophia Ngor, niece of the late Dr. Ngor, at a screening of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor at the International House in New York on October 22, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

His films have screened theatrically in the U.S., selected for festivals worldwide like Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin, and broadcast globally. Arthur’s film awards include an Oscar® nomination, three Sundance awards, the Peabody, five Emmy nominations, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Award, and two GLAAD Media awards. He has been named a Guggenheim Fellow in Film and twice selected for the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. He has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, Outfest, and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress.

Arthur Dong will receive the 2015 American Book Award for Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 on October 25, 2015 in San Francisco. Photo Lia Chang
Arthur Dong will receive the 2015 American Book Award for Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 on October 25, 2015 in San Francisco. Photo Lia Chang

Arthur Dong’s new book Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 is among this year’s winners of the Thirty-Sixth Annual American Book Awards, presented by the Before Columbus Foundation. The 2015 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Sunday, October 25th from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at the SF Jazz Center, Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin Street (at Fell), San Francisco, CA. This event is open to the public.

The book was launched in coordination with his exhibit of the same name at the San Francisco Main Library. It has just been released in a glorious edition and can be purchased here.

AsAmNews.com: Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 wins American Book Award

Lia Chang
Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. 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 and Hide and Seek, which will screen at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival on November 21st. She is profiled in FebOne1960.com Blog, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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April 23-30: The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) Lineup includes EVERYTHING BEFORE US, KTOWN COWBOYS, Shonali Bose’s MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW, Jennifer Phang’s ADVANTAGEOUS, Arthur Dong’s FORBIDDEN CITY, U.S.A. and THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR
Click here for other film articles.
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com