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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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Crafting a Career

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

Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival Announces 8th Annual Festival Lineup; Kicks Off With Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching on Nov. 12

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Seoul Searching (dir. Benson Lee)
Seoul Searching (dir. Benson Lee)

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The 2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival presented by Comcast NBC10 Telemundo62 Comcast Spectator today announced their full slate of films for the 2015 edition of this Philadelphia cultural treasure. For the 8th edition, the festival will open with the Philadelphia premiere of Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching, starring Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-Pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, and Esteban Ahn, screening at the International House’s Ibrahim Theater. Director Lee will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. The screening will be followed by the PAAFF’15 Opening Night Reception featuring a 1980s dance music and costume contest (free to all ticket and badge holders).

This year’s festival is comprised of 23 features and over 30 shorts from 17 countries spread over 4 continents and of these, 5 are East Coast premieres and 14 Philadelphia premieres, with a special presentation of Center for Asian American Media’s Muslim Youth Voices project featuring world premieres of short films produced by local Muslim youth.

Lia Chang in Hide and Seek
Lia Chang in Hide and Seek

Bev’s Girl Films’ Hide and Seek starring Lia Chang and Garth Kravits, will have its Philadelphia premiere as an Official Selection at The 2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF15) on Saturday, November 21, 2015 in the Women’s Shorts Program at Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 at 2:15pm. Two of six PAAFF’15 shorts in the Women’s Shorts program are produced by local filmmakers; Romaine by Eiko Fan and How is How by Pheng Tang. Romaine (12 mins.) is a short doc about Romaine Samworth who, despite being blind for over 85 years, uses vibrant colors to tell personal stories through sculpture. How is How (7 mins.) examines the life of a single Chinese immigrant mother, who becomes out of sorts with her life while going through a career transition.

Split End | Eddie Shieh
Romaine | Eiko Fan
Hide and Seek | Garth Kravits
How is How | Pheng Tang
When Mom Visits | Chiung-wen Chang
America 1979 | Lila Yomtoob

Each of the films in this FREE program of shorts was either produced by women, star women in central roles, or deal with women’s issues. Garth and I will be in attendance for the Q & A. Click here to RSVP.

“The 2015 festival is our biggest festival yet and promises to be one of the most dynamic,” says Festival Director Rob Buscher. “With our new programs and expanded community engagement, we are looking forward to enjoying a richer experience for audiences and filmmakers alike.”

Special events include: community screening series with free films in neighborhood-based cultural centers; panel discussions “Asian Americans in Television” on November 13 and “Girls Make Better Ninjas (Or I Can’t Be Angry, I’m Asian): An Exploratory Workshop on AAPI Feminism” on November 21; centerpiece event “Strength in Numbers,” featuring music videos, live performances and a panel discussion guest curated by Scott CHOPS Jung on November 14; and the Closing Reception on November 22.

The main PAAFF’15 venues are International House in University City (3701 Chestnut Street) and Asian Arts Initiative in Chinatown North/Callowhill (1219 Vine Street). The complete feature lineup (in alphabetical order) is as follows.

View the online program with full details at http://tiny.cc/paaff15

Aroma From Heaven (dir. Budi Kurniawan, Indonesia) – Featuring interviews with farmers, scientists, philosophers, academics, anthropologists, and business owners – this film explores 300 years of coffee production in Indonesia.

Changing Season (dir. Jim Choi, USA) – Famed farmer, slow food advocate, and sansei David “Mas” Masumoto faces health challenges as his queer progressive daughter Nikiko, returns to the family farm with the intention of stepping into her father’s work boots. EAST COAST PREMIERE.

Crush the Skull (dir. Viet Nguyen, USA) – A pair of professional burglars find themselves having to pull one last job and find themselves in a sadistic torture den where they now have to fight for their lives. Adapted from Nguyen’s YouTube short of the same title. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Dukhtar (dir. Afia Nathaniel, Pakistan) – A mother kidnaps her ten-year-old daughter to save her from the fate of a child bride. Their daring escape triggers a relentless hunt and a cynical truck driver proves to be an unlikely ally. The trio embarks on an epic journey, where the quest for love and freedom comes with a price.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten (dir. John Pirozzi, Cambodia) – This compelling documentary uncovers the forgotten history of the Cambodian music scene during the Vietnam War era, which blended Western rock and roll with local traditions, and was suppressed by the Khmer Rouge.

For Here or to Go? (dir. Rucha Humnabadkar, USA) – Set against the backdrop of the 2008 recession, this dramatic comedy examines the many personal battles faced by immigrants living in America. Set in Silicon Valley, a software professional loses a plum position with a startup due to visa issues. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

In Football We Trust (dirs. Tony Vainku & Erika Cohn, USA) – This film is an insightful documentary exploring the so-called ‘Polynesian Pipeline’ to the NFL in the tightly-knit Polynesian community in Salt Lake City, through four young men striving to overcome gang violence and near poverty through the promise of American football. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Jalal’s Story (dir. Abu Shahed Emon, Bangladesh) – This film follows an infant, rescued from a river and adopted, later abandoned, who becomes a gangster in adolescence. Recently chosen as the Official Selection to represent Bangladesh in the Foreign-Language Category of the 88th Academy Awards. EAST COAST PREMIERE.

Jasmine (dir. Dax Phelan, Hong Kong) – A gripping and chilling psychological thriller about a man struggling to come to terms with his wife’s unsolved murder, who eventually decides to take justice into his own hands and things take a startling turn toward the unexpected. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Journey from the Fall (dir. Ham Tran, Vietnam) – Inspired by the true stories of Vietnamese refugees who fled their land after the fall of Saigon, and those who were forced to stay behind, this film follows one family’s escape by boat as its patriarch is imprisoned in a Communist re-education camp.

Live From UB (dir. Lauren Knapp, Mongolia) – This film follows the story of one of Mongolia’s most promising independent bands, Mohanik, as they create a new sound for their country, combining traditional instrumentation with Western rock, and discover what it means to be Mongolian today. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Love Arcadia (dir. Lawrence Gan, USA) – This contemporary romance is set in a small town where a charming goofball becomes emotionally entangled with an ambitious executive and as tensions escalate between their families’ businesses, their relationship is threatened. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Miss India America (dir. Ravi Kapoor, USA) – When an overachieving Orange County high school senior discovers her boyfriend has fallen in love with the reigning Miss India National, she decides she must pursue the crown in order to win him and the life she planned for herself back. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

My Voice, My Life (dir. Ruby Yang, Hong Kong) – This film follows an unlikely group of misfit students from four of Hong Kong’s underprivileged middle and high schools who are cast in an after-school musical theater program and where each of them confronts unique personal challenges in the process of developing character. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Off the Menu (dir. Grace Lee, USA) – Grappling with how family, tradition, faith, and geography shape our relationships to food, this film uses our obsession with food as a launching point to delve into a wealth of stories, traditions, and unexpected characters that help nourish this nation of immigrants. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Oh, Saigon (dir. Doan Hoàng, Vietnam) – Hoàng’s family was on the last civilian helicopter out of Vietnam at the end of the war. Twenty-five years later, her family returns and reunites with the family they left behind, confronting their political differences and attempting to reconnect.

Right Footed (dir. Nick Spark, USA) – This film follows Jessica Cox, a Filipina American born without arms, who became the first person licensed to pilot an airplane with her feet, as she transforms from a motivational speaker to a mentor, and eventually into a leading advocate for people with disabilities. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

The Roots Remain (dirs. Jean-Sebastien Francoeur & Andrew Marchand-Boddy, Cambodia/Canada) – This film follows the story of Canadian-raised Cambodian French graffiti artist FONKi, as he reunites with his family, explores Cambodia’s Hip Hop community, and dedicates a mural to his relatives in Phnom Penh who disappeared during the war. EAST COAST PREMIERE.

Seoul Searching (dir. Benson Lee, South Korea) – Set against the backdrop of 1980s Seoul and inspired by a summer exchange program that Lee attended in the summer of 1986, this John Hughes-esque teen comedy tells a universal coming-of-age story chock full of pop culture tropes, teen hijinks, and first love. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Someone Else (dir. Nelson Kim, USA) – A surreal drama about the clash of wills between two Korean-American cousins in New York City. A shy young law student hungry for a more vivid, risk-taking existence, visits his wealthy playboy cousin and attempts to sheds his old identity, but spirals out of control. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

The Vancouver Asahi (dir. Yuya Ishii, Canada/Japan) – This tale of sports miracles and glory is based on the true story of a legendary baseball team in 1930s Vancouver examining the harsh realities of poverty and discrimination among 2nd generation Japanese Canadians. PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE.

Waiting for John (dir. Jessica Sherry, Vanuatu) – This film explores the John Frum Movement, now considered the last surviving Cargo Cult, from the perspective of the last village of believers, as they struggle to preserve their culture in the modern world. EAST COAST PREMIERE.

Winning Girl (dir. Kimberlee Bassford, USA) – follows the four-year journey of a part-Polynesian female teenage judo and wrestling phenomenon from Hawai‘i, and in doing so tells the dynamic story of an elite athlete on her ascent, a girl facing the challenges of growing up and an entire family dedicated to a single dream. EAST COAST PREMIERE.

The 2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival is presented by Comcast NBC10 Telemundo62 Comcast Spectator; and made possible through the generosity of Premier Sponsor Aetna; Founding Sponsor HBO; Partner Sponsors Wells Fargo, PHLDiversity, Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs, and Samuel S. Fels Fund; and Prime Sponsors PECO, Jefferson Health, Pacific Islanders in Communications, Greater Philadelphia Asian Studies Consortium, and Hepatitis B Foundation.

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
PAAFF is the first and only event of its kind in Philadelphia, bringing in audience members from all over the region and Asian American filmmakers, actors, and leaders, from around the world. The festival also hosts numerous screenings year-round independently and in partnership with regional arts and community organizations. PAAFF’s parent organization, Philadelphia Asian American Film & Filmmakers, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 to showcase films by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans for the city of Philadelphia and Greater Philadelphia region. They aim to present captivating programs that engage, inspire, and connect our community both to one another and the non-Asian mainstream.

For more information about PAAFF’15 visit phillyasianfilmfest.org and follow on social media @paaff or #PAAFF15.

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.

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

2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, Nov. 12 -22

12003897_10153271828958402_5082001515792647253_nComcast NBC10 Telemundo72 Comcast Spectator is presenting the 8th Annual Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival from November 12 to November 22, 2015. In under a decade, PAAFF has emerged as the premier Asian American film festival on the East Coast. The festival will feature over 60 films, intimate discussions with filmmakers, special programs on food, music, and culture, including featured guests spoken word artist Michelle Meyers and Peter Shinkoda (Nobu on Netflix’s Daredevil).

Seoul Searching
Seoul Searching

The festival kicks off with the Philadelphia premiere of SEOUL SEARCHING, a John Hughes-esque teen comedy set in South Korea, on Thursday, November 12th at 7PM with director Benson Lee in person at I-House; followed by an Opening Night Reception featuring 1980s dance music and a costume contest. Click here for tickets.

The centerpiece of the festival is a special music event with producer and emcee Scott “CHOPS” Jung of Philly’s legendary Mountain Brothers, whose producing credits include Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. This multimedia program on Saturday, November 14th at 9:00PM,  will explore the Asian American Hip Hop movement through music videos and live performances by artists included in the seminal compilation album, Strength in Numbers. It will also feature a Q&A with CHOPS and special guests. Click here for tickets and more information.

RIGHT FOOTED, a documentary about Filipina American Jessica Cox, who was born without arms and went on to become the first person licensed to pilot an airplane with her feet, will close the festival on Sunday, November 22nd at 6:30pm, followed by the closing reception. Cox and her husband Patrick will be in attendance. Click here for tickets.

This year’s selection of films will address a range of issues from immigration policy to teen angst. There is no official theme, however the year 2015 carries with it several numerological associations, which informed some of the programming:
• The number 8 is associated luck and good fortune in Chinese numerology;
• 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a time of rampant anti-Asian racism in which over 120,000 Japanese American families were interned in camps throughout the United States;
• 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which took important steps to prohibit racial discrimination in voting, impacting communities of color throughout the country;
• 40 years have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, which was a direct catalyst for mass migration of Southeast Asians to the US (of which Philadelphia is a large hub).

The 8th annual festival takes place at International House (3701 Chestnut Street, University City) from November 12-15 and moves to Asian Arts Initiative (1219 Vine Street, Chinatown North) from November 20-22. There will be a Free Community Screening Series from November 16-19 at multiple venues in South Philly.

Special Programs include:
• PAAFF Eats – A food centric program section that centers around culinary arts on screen and in person.
• PAAFF Pride – A program section showcasing LGBTQ content that demonstrates our commitment to including all of members of our community.
• PAAFF Pulse – A music-based section that explores the ris¬ing numbers of APAs working in the music industry.
• Pacific Islanders Showcase presented by PBS affiliate Pacific Islanders in Communications – A collection of feature films that explore a multitude of Pacific Islander American experiences including those from Samoa, Tonga, Hawai’i, and Vanuatu.
• Community Screening Series – Remembering the End of the Vietnam War 40 Years Later – A series of free screenings at community centers in South Philadelphia.

Click here for the PAAFF Program and here to purchase tickets.

The 2015 Festival is presented by Comcast NBC10 Telemundo72 Comcast Spectator; and made possible through the generosity of Premier Sponsor Aetna; Founding Sponsor HBO; Partner Sponsors Wells Fargo, PHLDiversity, Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs, and Samuel S. Fels Fund; and Prime Sponsors PECO, Jefferson Health, Pacific Islanders in Communications, Greater Philadelphia Asian Studies Consortium, Allstate, and Hepatitis B Foundation.

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF) is the first and only event of its kind in Philadelphia, bringing in audience members from all over the region and Asian American filmmakers, actors, and leaders, from around the world. The festival also hosts numerous screenings year-round independently and in partnership with regional arts and community organizations.

PAAFF’s parent organization, Philadelphia Asian American Film & Filmmakers, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 to showcase films by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans for the city of Philadelphia and Greater Philadelphia region. They aim to present captivating programs that engage, inspire, and connect our community both to one another and the non-Asian mainstream.

For more information about PAAFF’15 visit phillyasianfilmfest.org and follow on social media @paaff or #PAAFF15. 

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.

Other Articles:
Hide and Seek starring Lia Chang and Garth Kravits screens at the 2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF15) in Women’s Shorts Program at Asian Arts Initiative on Nov. 21
World Premiere of PALI ROAD at 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) on Nov. 16 & 21st
AsAmNews.com: Actor Tzi Ma Rides ‘Hell On Wheels’ to New Heights
Q and A with Jason Tobin, star of Dax Phelan’s JASMINE
Q & A with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang; New Film MY VOICE, MY LIFE screens at #PAAFF15 on Nov. 22 at Asian Arts Initiative
Ed Moy’s Animated Short UP IN THE CLOUDS has East Coast premiere screening at PAAFF15 on Nov. 20
Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival Announces 8th Annual Festival Lineup
Gotta Dance Star André De Shields receives 2015 Award for Excellence in the Arts from The Theatre School at DePaul University
AsAmNews.com: Partying with George Takei, Lea Salonga, Telly Leung, Michael K. Lee and the cast of ‘Allegiance’ on opening night
George Takei, Lea Salonga, Telly Leung, Michael K. Lee and more at the first preview of Broadway’s Allegiance; opens Nov. 8
GOTTA DANCE stars André De Shields, Stefanie Powers, Lori Tan Chinn, Lillias White step out for ON YOUR FEET!
Tiger Morse by Mark Shaw: Jet Set Style Quest, 1962, on view at The Liz O’Brien Gallery through Dec. 18
Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, Rufus Sewell, DJ Qualls and More at ‘The Man in The High Castle’ New York Series Premiere
Darren Criss, Jenna Ushkowitz, Ann Harada, Kristin Chenoweth, Karen Ziemba, Jon Cryer and More celebrate Great Writers at Dramatists Guild Fund’s 2015 Gala
Greg Watanabe makes Broadway Debut as Mike Masaoka in ‘Allegiance’ 
AsAmNews.com: Q & A with Arthur Dong, Award-winning Filmmaker and Author, Gay Icon, Distinguished Professor of Film
Film Lab Screening of ‪#‎72HrSO‬ Films at Time Warner Theater & Panel Discussion of Mass Media Constructions of Beauty 
AsAmNews.com: Creating an Asian American presence on Wikipedia, one WikiAPA Edit-a-thon at a time 
AsAmNews.com: The King and I’s Special Performance Benefits The Actors Fund 
Playbill.com: Hugs, Laughs and Photobombs By Tony Winners! Go Backstage at the Special Actors Fund Performance of The King and I
Broadwayworld.com: Photo Flash: Phylicia Rashad, Andre De Shields & More Original Cast Members from THE WIZ Reunite in Central Park! 
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA Cast Reunion featured in BLACK BELT MAGAZINE August/September 2015
Drumhead Magazine: Living Colour Drummer Will Calhoun, Photos by Lia Chang 
AsAmNews.com: AAPI Heritage Month: My Grandmother’s Detention on Angel Island 
Crafting a Career

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

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.