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The 50th Chicago International Film Festival

October 14th, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 1The 50th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) opened on Oct. 9, the day I rushed back from a 10-day trip to China. I cherished the hope of making it on time to cover the Red Carpet opening at the Harris Theater for Xinhua News, and had arranged for a colleague to pick up my badge. Although my flight arrived shortly after 4 p.m. and I cleared custom in record time, I found myself still in traffic on my way to the city at 6 p.m. when the celebration was supposed to kick off.

At 50, CIFF is the oldest film festival in the U.S., definitely something to be proud of. Over the years, the Festival featured many emerging directors who are now well known, with Liv Ullmann, who made her debut as director at the Festival, bringing her latest film Miss Julie to the opening evening. Kathleen Turner is here, too, presiding over the international film competition jury.

photo 2This year’s festival features more than 150 films from over 50 countries, among them, eight films from Asia. Most of the films are shown at River East AMC, with multiple screenings running simultaneously. The Festival will continue till Wednesday, October 22. In addition to showcasing a variety of films, the Festival also offers panels on filmmaking and distribution. Columbia College, the key presenter of the Festival, also offers a “Master Class,” accompanied with a film screening, in the afternoon of Wed., Oct 15.

I’ve been to the Festival almost everyday, attending panel discussions and talking with filmmakers after the screenings of their films. That’s one of the best benefit of attending film festivals—you have a chance to meet and talk with the people behind the scene. Grace McPhillips was one I

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

particularly enjoyed talking with. She is Executive Producer of The Other One, a locally made feature film. She readily shared information on the film’s budget, grassroots fundraising, and forms of in-kind donation that made the production of the film possible. I raised questions to her as a filmmaker, not a journalist, and was impressed by her openness and generosity. “Here is my card,” she said as we parted our way. “We can talk over coffee if you have more questions.” That shows so much of the spirit of the film festival.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was shown on national PBS in May 2014.

Appreciating life

September 23rd, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 1Chicago’s lakefront trail is most dynamic on Saturday mornings from spring through the fall. If you are up early and get to the trail, you will feel the pulse of the city right there. I have seen and participated in various activities in one form or another many times, yet I find myself deeply moved each time I am back on the trail, and feel very fortunate to be part of it—living, embracing, and appreciating life to the fullest.

On a Saturday a few weeks ago when the weather was still very warm, I rode my bike north on the trail after my early morning swim. I encountered many people running along the trail, some in groups, and others solo. Perspiration dripped from their back and arms, giving their skin a healthy and radiant glow.  As I passed them, admiring their strength and spirit, I noticed a young father pushing a baby stroller ahead of him as he ran. Despite the extra weight, he was going at a good pace. I raised my thumb on the handlebar.

photo 3I was happy to see more people were using the blue Divvy bikes, the Chicago bike sharing system, on the trail. The front and back lights on the bikes flashed in white and red as if to render a friendly greeting.

The trail got more crowded as I moved north. Once I passed Grand Avenue, the mile-long swimming section along the raised concrete sidewalk came into view. There were quite a few people in the water swimming long distance, with the majority wearing wetsuits.  I slowed down, watching their arms alternating in and out of the water and admiring the power and speed of these strong swimmers, both men and women.

photo 5As I turned the curve and headed toward the Oak Street underpass, I saw many people playing sand volleyball. They all looked young, nicely tanned by the summer sun, and healthy. Right off the sandy beach, children and adults were enjoying themselves on the beach.

Everywhere I looked, I saw the joy of activities and movements. It was the beauty of life at its best.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014

Vitus, an entertaining and enlightening film

August 21st, 2014 by Jian Ping

VitusVitus, a Swedish film by director Fredi M. Murel, is very sweet, entertaining, yet enlightening film. The film was released in 2006 and shown at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) the same year and won the Audience Choice Award. Vitus, a young piano prodigy, and genius in many other areas, wants to be “normal” and control his own growing up path, vs. being dictated by his well-meaning parents. There is no villain in the film, and no tragic ending, despite the accidental death of Vitus’ grandfather.

The film was shown at the Chicago’s Cultural Center last night to a packed audience, followed by a nice discussion led by Ron Falzone, professor of film at Columbia College. It was part of CIFF’s Annual International Screenings Program.

I like the film because of the multiple levels of relationship presented—Vitus with his parents, and the real connection he has with his grandfather, his disconnect with his peers as a talent child, and his clever way of out-smart his controlling mother. Unlike many films that present “dis-functioning” families, Vitus’ parents love each other and love him, he loves them. His faked fall from their apartment building not only manipulated his way out of his mother’s tight grip, but also the perception of the audience. It was not because he didn’t want to practice piano, but practice the way he sees fit.

Vitus (film)

Vitus (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, Vitus lets go of his cover and performs brilliantly with a first rate symphony orchestra, to the fullest satisfaction any parents could have. That, along with the surreal happenings in which that he helps his grandfather realizing his pilot dream and helps his father restores his dignity and company position. But what lingers in my mind most is the relationship between his nurturing grandfather and him. Very sweet and touching. Highly recommend it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

Fear

August 14th, 2014 by Jian Ping
The following is the author's description of t...

The following is the author’s description of the photograph quoted directly from the photograph’s Flickr page. “Blue Chicago ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After one day of a perfect calm surface for swimming, choppy waves flared up at my favorite beach in Lake Michigan again this morning. I measured the length and strength of the waves with my eyes when I arrived at the beach and decided to give it a try. After all, I was already there.

It was not the first time I toyed with the waves. Last week, three out of the seven days I encountered choppy water, though didn’t feel threatened (I did go to a more sheltered beach to swim one day.) I knew and fully respect the formidable power of the Lake and swam closer to shore. I was prepared to reach land with one strong kick if I got chocked with a strong tide. While I concentrated on my strokes and speed during calm days, I focused on the ups and downs of the waves in times like this. Occasionally I’d swallowed a mouthful of murky water. However, if I stayed calm—not let the fear of being crushed by a sudden wave overwhelm me, I could maneuver my way quite well.

“You are an hero,” an older man said, raising his thumb at me when he walked by the shower facility on shore where I was rinsing.

I laughed, telling him I’m an idiot flirting with the power of nature. I certainly had no intention to be an hero.

I knew the rest of the day I’d feel the motion of ups and downs as if I were still in the water. But I had no regret.

The season of swimming in the Lake is so short in Chicago, and the water has finally turned warm and comfortable. The joy of being in this body of live water and the energy I feel it gives to me make it worthwhile to keep at it every day.

Of course, there is always a sense of fear lurking in the back of my mind. Today, for some reason, that feeling was gnawing at me all the time.

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across the lake to the Chicago skyline. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chickened out by turning back half way across the beach area. With a buffer from an infrastructure on one end, the waves at the north half of the beach appeared less choppy. I did four half rounds, conscious of the power of water trashing me up and down. I changed to breaststroke from time to time to get a better bearing of my location. As if to make matters worse, I noticed a couple of seagulls looming above, sometimes hanging dangerously low over me as if ready to attach me as their prey. Through my blurred goggles I could see their opened beaks. I turned to freestyle and made huge arm swings in an effort to keep them off.

Eventually the fear of waves and the birds made me retreat to a small, sheltered enclave. The water was much calmer here, but I had to make back and forth turns frequently as if in the confines of a pool.

I managed to do a total of 45 minutes. As I was riding my bike home on the sidewalk by Columbus Ave., I encounter a family of bikers coming my way. I moved to the right side and slowed down. A little girl, probably about 5 or 6, was riding beautifully in a straight line before she saw me. She panicked and zigzagged toward me when she found me moving toward her direction. I had to brake hard and jump off my bike to avoid her. I waved to calm her as she waggled by. I knew it was the same sense of fear that made her lose balance.

I had swum in more choppy waves in the Lake before. I was careful but not so fearful. Today I returned feeling somewhat defeated because I allowed that fear to dictate me.

How many times we don’t accomplish things we are capable of doing because we allow the external threat to compound with our inner fear? Confidence is certainly a major factor in success, whatever the undertaking.

Hope I’ll do better tomorrow, with or without the choppy waves.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

 

 

 

Bicycle culture

August 7th, 2014 by Jian Ping

bike racks and bikersDuring my recent vacation in Europe, one striking impression was the popular use of bicycles as a means of transportation by people young and old.

Double-layered bicycle racks in Amsterdam and Leiden, as shown here, are common scenes, so are small children following their parents, or taking a free ride with the help of an adult’s hand.

a well loved bikeI like those heavy-duty bikes. Apparently such feeling is not mine alone. I saw several bikes with decorative flowers. This one is at the train station in Enkhuizen, a small town about an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam. All the sidewalks and streets are paved with red bricks in this ancient town, but the bumpy road didn’t prevent bikers, mostly silver-haired elders, from their bikes. While in Leiden, a college town, I noticed that most of the bikers are young men and women.

Vienna imprea well loved bikessed me not only by its beautiful historical buildings, magnificent churches, and rich cultural life, but also the well-connected bike lanes, most of them are next to the pedestrian path. I was very pleased to see so many people on their bikes in this large city.

In Frankfurt, Germany, our last stop, after a pleasant trip to several cities in Romania, I saw many bikers on the streets as well, sometimes, the entire family in a group. I felt vindicated for riding my bike to most of the places I need to go in Chicago.

Bike riding is fun and good forelder bikers taking a break our health and environment. I do hope, with the promotion and support from the City of Chicago and the allocation of more bike lanes in city streets, more people will feel comfortable to get on their bikes in the metropolitan area, especially in the beautiful summer season as we are in right now. If you haven’t tried, get on a Divvy bike and take a ride, at least on the lakefront trail. I guarantee that you will love the experience. It would be great that we pitch in and create our own cycling culture.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

Summer in Chicago

July 8th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Lakefront trail

Lakefront trail

Summer is always my most favorite season in Chicago. Besides all the outdoor concerts, sports venues, and other events, what I like to do most is biking along the lakefront trail or swimming in the Lake.

Biking always starts earlier. This year, I was out on the trail since late April when the air was still chilly and patches of snow were still blocking some segments of the trail. In less than a month, I watched the trees turn color, the leaves emerge, and all of a sudden, the budding flowers cover the entire trees with brilliant yellow, red, white, or pink. The long trail was filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance. Depending on the weather, I either rode my Trek hybrid, which has thicker tires, or my Cannondale road bike, light and fast.

Flowers in early spring

Flowers in early spring

I started noticing swimmers with wetsuits in the Lake in early June, at a stretch between Grand and Chicago Avenue. Despite the extra protection, I bet their exposed limbs and face would feel the bite of the icy water, like being stung by jellyfish. I admired and envied them, but stayed away. Then one day in mid June, I saw two men swimming in their regular swim trunks. “Yeah!” I hailed as I sped by on my bike.

I didn’t plunge in until late June. To my pleasant surprise, the water was not as cold as I expected, and I was able to swim for 45 minutes. I felt like kicking myself for not getting into the water earlier. But the warm water didn’t stay for long. The next day when I went back, I felt the change of temperature the moment I stepped in. It must be below 60 degrees. I managed to swim for 30 minutes and rushed back to take a long, hot shower. But I went to swim in the lake every day, enjoying the amazing energy the live water was able to give me. It is definitely worth the challenge of the cold.

For those of you who haven’t tried swimming in the lake, I strongly recommend taking a plunge. It’s magically refreshing and energizing. I hope you’ll love the experience as much as I. So blessed to have the vast lake nearby.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May, 2014.

 

A Visit to the Museum of Science and Industry

July 2nd, 2014 by Jian Ping
Underside of U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Sc...

Underside of U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited the Museum of Science and Industry on my birthday last week. It’s been quite a few years since I was there. Probably because it is close by and I feel I can go there anytime I want to, the visit keeps getting postponed. I took the visit as a treat that day.

I must say I was totally impressed. A treat indeed.

There were many children in the museum that day since schools are off during the summer. Different from the Field Museum I had visited the day before, the atmosphere here was so lively and dynamic, as many people, especially the young, were so engaged in various interactive activities.

It was my first time to visit the Exhibit U-505 Submarine. I was taken back by its enormous size, all housed in door, and the bravery of U.S. heroes who risked their lives capturing it during the WWII.

The Museum of Science and Industry building on...

The Museum of Science and Industry building once housed the Field Museum of Natural History. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also watched the film “D-Day Normandy: 1944″ at the theater. The large dome made the experience almost felt like three-dimensional. The entire theatre was packed, and the applause was long and loud at the end of the show. (The film will be shown till May 2015. Strongly recommend it.)

There are a number of other exhibits and films at the museum. I browsed a few more sections, including the exhibit of bicycles, the Transportation Gallery, and You! The Experience. All amazingly done. I left the museum three hours later, wowing for a return sometime very soon.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was broadcast on national PBS in May 2014.

Inspiring cultural programs in Chicago

June 9th, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 2What is more amazing with the start of the summer season, however, is the variety of cultural programs this wonderful metropolis has to offer. Last Wednesday, the free weekly film series presented by the 50th Chicago Int’l Film Festival officially kicked off at the Cultural Center. Grill Point, an award-winning German film directed by Andres Dresen, started the series, to a packed audience. The film focuses on the relationship between two married couples and is presented with a super realistic touch, but not without humor, even though the subject matter is quite serious. Simply a jewel. A talk back after the screening led by a professor made the experience complete.

photo 1From now to October 1, a total of 17 films from different countries will be shown at the Claudia Cassidy Theatre at 6:30 every Wednesday. Strongly recommended.

Of course, the Millennium Park‘s 10th Summer Anniversary brings an array of wonderful programs as well, with its official start at the beginning of June and ending at the end of September. Last night, I enjoyed a beautiful performance by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The Blue Man Group joined them at the end of the show, adding a comic and innovative touch to the classic music repertoire. The large crowd gathered at the Pavilion and on the lawn in the back stayed all the way to the end. An amazing sight. I had the privilege of interviewing the music director and executive director in back stage before the show for a Xinhua coverage. Eighty-four members of CYSO, aged 14 to 18, will participate in a “Tour to China” performing trip departing this Thursday. They’ll give concerts in Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. The performance at Millennium Park was their “send-off” party!

photo 1As if these were not enough, the weekend also presented the Printers Row Book Fest. Many literary events took place simultaneously at the Harold Washington Library, the University Center, Jones College Prep, etc., in addition to all the tents and vendor booths that were lined up along several blocks in the center of Printers Row district. I attended a couple of panels and browsed the streets that were literally filled with new and used books. It was book feast.

photo 4Did I mention I also watched Ask Aunt Susan, a play at the Goodman Theatre (till June 22) over the weekend as well?

You get the idea. There are so many programs at various venues offering mind and body nourishment in this beautiful city in the summer. Get yourself out there and enjoy!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: a memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was broadcast on national PBS in May 2014.

 

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My Asian Mom

May 27th, 2014 by Jian Ping

Asian mom 1

No mother is perfect. The fierce love and care a mother gives, especially an Asian mother in the midst of American culture, can be cause for conflicts with her American-raised children. “Are you my mother?” the prologue that starts the My Asian Mom, a series of “tug of wars” between “Asian mothers” and their children, reveals the love and resentment between them.

This is the second year that I’ve attended the show “My Asian Mom.” Despite certain anticipation of the “typical” conflicts between Asian mothers and their children, which I can testify with my own experience, these episodes present issues that are familiar yet with a personal touch and refreshing look. Via laughter, one can resonate, to different levels according to their connection or understanding of the Asian culture.

I laughed when a Chinese “son” can no longer stand the plastic covers on sofas, tables, and even a lamp shade that his mother places. He finally rips them off during a visit home from college, creating havoc. Perhaps, it’s because of the heavy dust in the air that so many Chinese families cover their furniture with plastics in China; or perhaps it’s out of frugality so the furniture can be preserved forever, in a brand new shape when the cover is lifted; or perhaps out of convenience for cleaning. Whatever the reason, despite the discomfort (the sofa and chair slippery) and unappealing sight (the fine furniture appear cheap), the customs get carried over to the U.S. I have seen them in more than one Chinese home over the years. But the son in the play eventually comes to appreciate his mother’s intention.

Asian mom 2Other episodes show different aspects of confrontations between Asian mother and her son/daughter, including an arranged marriage that aims to build family alliance, a look into why we mistreat “our Korean mothers,” and in many cases, reconciliations in the end between mothers and their Americanized children. The entire show is consisted of eight unrelated stories from different Asian backgrounds. Quite entertaining and refreshing.

The performance, with Cary Shoda as curator and lead director, and Hope Kim and Joe Yao as producers, will open for one more weekend, from Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1 at the Chicago Dramatists theatre. Check it out. You won’t regret. Visit a-stw.org for more information.

By Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film is on PBS nationwide in May 2014. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com.

 

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Mulberry Child on PBS

May 17th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Jian Ping, Ellis Goodman & Lisa Xia greeting attendees

Jian Ping, Ellis Goodman & Lisa Xia greeting attendees

It feels unreal to watch my life story on television. In Chicago, WTTW (Channel 11), the local PBS station, broadcast Mulberry Child three times. I watched it twice. The first time, half of the film, and the second, in its entirety. I tried to watch the film from an “objective” perspective, as if I were watching someone else’s story. It worked at certain parts, but at some very strong personal moments, such as scenes in which Lisa and I get into an argument, images of my father waving gently, a few days before his passing, and my mother, pushing open a door to look out, as if expecting her grown up children to come back, tears still welled up in my eyes.

What touches me most is the outpouring of emotion and support that I’ve received from viewers and friends, and they are still arriving in my email on a daily basis since the broadcast of the film and online streaming on PBS.org started on May 1. The flash page of Mulberry Child on PBS doesn’t have my email address. Many people went out of their way to locate it from my book or film website to send me their thoughts and comments. I received many emails before, mostly from friends and viewers in Chicago where the film had more than twenty screenings at different venues, including a weeklong engagement to the public at the Gene Siskel Film Center. But it feels so differently when the emails come from strangers throughout the country.

At reception

At reception

The broadcast of Mulberry Child, which started on May 1 on PBS, will continue nationwide through the month. Each PBS station has its own schedule, and in addition, the World Channel, an affiliation of PBS, scheduled multiple screenings in many cities. The first email I received was on the first of broadcasting, from a woman named Sanviki. “I just watched Mulberry Child on PBS,” she started. “It is difficult to express my exact response—thoughts and feelings at this time; all I can say at this time is that the movie had a profound affect upon me… I felt compiled to write to you, I needed to let you know that your work is important and that I bid you the inspiration to continue in your journey of awareness, self-expression and truth—especially as it relate to deepening the development of love for yourself, your daughter and others.”

Many more followed.

Lisa chatting with attendees

Lisa chatting with attendees

 

“I wanted to personally thank you for sharing your profound life story of resilience and hope.”

“I watched your movie and my heart went out. I would love learn more and see more.”

“My wife and I just watched Mulberry Child. It moved and reminded us emotionally to appreciate the gifts and sacrifices by our parents.”

“I watched Mulberry Child documentary on PBS this morning and was moved to tears more than once. Watching you with your daughter made me miss my mother terribly so I cried for that loss. I also cried for the trials of your family and for those of all the Chinese people during that terrible time.”

Jian with Grace and He

Jian with Grace and He

I don’t know where these viewers live or who they are beside their names, but their resonance with Mulberry Child and their sharing of emotion touched me deeply. I made sure to respond to everyone’s email personally.

When WTTW in Chicago premiered at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, we held a reception and screening at Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, celebrating the milestone with appetizers, wine, and Tsingtao Beer. About 150 people attended the event. Once again, I was touched that quite a few friends who had seen the film more than once, including a recent screening at the Harold Washington Library Center on May 1, came again to show support.

I was thrilled that my daughter Lisa, who had moved to work in Frankfurt, Germany since March, happened to be back in Chicago and was able to join me at the reception and conduct the 40-minute long discussion after the screening with me. People connected with our story in different ways, based on their background and experience. But the outpour of emotion was so moving. Several viewers in the audience paused to chock back tears when they made comments and raised questions. Lisa shed tears, too, and I had to exert more control to suppress mine.

Moments like this made me realize that it’s certainly worthwhile to throw our personal life on to the screen. I feel so fortune that our story is inspiring others on their personal journey and relationships, not to mention that the process of making and showing the film has brought Lisa and I much closer!

My heart-felt thanks to you all.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The movie is shown on PBS nationwide in May, 2014. Visit PBS.org for more information.

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