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Archive for October, 2012

A national day of programming on China

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Steve Orlins, President of NCUSCR

The National Committee on US China Relations (NCUSCR) held its 6th CHINA Town Hall, a national day of programming on China, with 60 venues across the United States on Monday, Oct. 29. Ambassador Gary Locke talked to each venue via a live webcast from Beijing, China.

I attended the venue at DePaul University in Chicago, co-hosted by the Chinese Studies Program at DePaul. The featured local speaker was Amy Celico, Senior Vice President at Albright Stonebridge Group. Celico is former Director for China Affairs at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and was scheduled to give a talk on the challenges and opportunities in America’s economic relationship with China. Hurricane Sandy prevented her from flying out of Washington D.C., and Phillip Stalley, Assistant Professor of the Political Science Department at DePaul University and a member of NCUSCR, gave a talk on China’s environmental challenges instead. Stalley did a wonderful job in recognizing China’s efforts and investments in green energy and pointing out the challenges China faces, due to its “size,” “speed of development,” and “scarcity of resources.”

Steve Orlins, President of NCUSCR, monitored the webcast. He reiterated that “the U.S.-China relations is the defining relationship of the 21st century,” a statement he emphasized at last year’s CHINA Town Hall.

Official portrait of United States Secretary o...

Official portrait of United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ambassador Locke addressed a wide range of issues related to the U.S.-China relations, pointing out the differences and opportunities of cooperation between the two countries.

“We have a shared interest in working together not only for the good of our own people, but the people of the entire Pacific Region, and indeed all the people in the world,” Locke said.

He also emphasized that “the conflicts between an arising power and an establishing power were not inevitable and the U.S. and China must forge our relations based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.”

When addressing the job situation in the U.S., Locke stated that exports from the U.S. to China had increased six folds from 2000, supporting 750,000 jobs in the U.S., while imports from China increased four folds during the same period.

“I found Ambassador Locke’s talk very informative,” Cynthia Martin, a Chicagoan working in public relations, commented.

Stalley said: “Ambassador Locke covered many important issues tonight. He talked about areas where the U.S. and China can cooperate that many people may not know, such as military cooperation, cooperation on climate changes, and joint testing on bio fuels.”

Phillip Stalley talking about China’s Environmental Challenges at CHINA Town Hall, venue at DePaul University

Stalley commented that controversial issues between the U.S. and China usually got a lot of headlines, but in reality, there were many areas of cooperation between the two countries.

The Chicago venue was well attended, and the webcast was open to the public. Other venues included Yale University, Cornell University, and Columbia University. The content of last year’s CHINA Town Hall is available at http://www.ncuscr.org/cth, including the entire webcast with Dr. Zbingiew Brzezinski and the content of talks given by “China hands” at all the venues (about 50). I believe this year’s CHINA Town Hall will be posted on its website as well.

CHINA Town Hall, organized by NCUSCR, was established to offer “an opportunity to learn about and reflect on critical areas in the U.S.-China relationship with the assistance of leading China experts.”

“Tonight’s event is wonderful,” said Li Jin, Assistant Professor and Director of Chinese Studies Program at DePaul University. “There is a trend of increased interest in China among our students. We’d love to bring the event back next year,” she continued.

Indeed, we need more venues like this to forge understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Nice job.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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At the Chicago International Film Festival

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Two more days left for the two-week long Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). Hope those of you living in Chicago have watched a few film like I did. If not, tomorrow is the “Best of the Fest”, showing films that have either won awards or have been returned by popular demand.

Al Pacino at CIFF

Partially due to the fact that I have been covering CIFF for Xinhua, I attended more screenings and events than I had ever done before. The privilege of a Gold Press pass that allows me to walk into all the screenings at the last minute with a reserved seat certainly makes it an easier and more enjoyable experience.

I must say I’m quite impressed by CIFF, not only the quality of the films that I have seen, but also the scale and organization of the festival. Because of my film Mulberry Child, I had attended several film festivals around the country over the past twelve months. CIFF, with all the screenings shown at multiple theaters in one location (AMC River East), the appearance of big stars such as Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Joan Allen, Helen Hunt, and Viola Davis, and the various types of films selected (a total of 175 from 50 countries), is truly a wonderful event that enriches the cultural life of Chicago.

A scene in A Royal Affair

Among the films I attended, I enjoyed The Last Sentence, a Sweden film, the best (Great film, well made and performed). Next in line is A Royal Affair, a Danish film (such a historical tragedy, wonderfully staged). Hometown Boy and Full Circle, two films from China, each presents a glimpse of today’s life in the country, with the former slow-moving and the latter very dramatized and predicable. Shun Li and the Poet, an Italian film on the subtle friendship between a Chinese woman and an older fisherman from Slovakia, which was cut short by prejudice and interference of the “Chinese mafia”, was subtle and depressing. The disappointment was Empire Builder, an American film, and Mekong Hotel from Thailand (walked out of the latter, so it may not be a fair view.) I also watched Dreams for Sale, a Japanese film. It’s 134 minutes and I had to leave before finishing it. No idea how the film ended with the young couple’s game of alluring women to give the husband money to open a dream restaurant.

A scene in Shun Li and the Poet

Didn’t get a chance to watch the big Hollywood production Stand Up Guys, but did watch The Sessions starring Helen Hunt and John Hawks. A unique story. Still feel unsettled by the excessive nudity and puzzled by the conversion to Judaism of the “sex therapist” played by Hunt.

Go check out the films today and tomorrow for yourself.

Check out the listing from the link below:

http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/festival_guide/updates/

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jackqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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A Visit to Obama’s Campaign Headquarters

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008

My offices are in the same building as the Obama campaign headquarters, and since I am a supporter of the President, and know one of the senior members of his campaign team, I was able to arrange a visit for myself and some of my colleagues. At its peak the campaign employed 700 staffers, many of whom are now out in the field as the campaign nears its conclusion. The office floor resembles a war room with lines of desks with computers, and wires running anywhere and everywhere, campaign slogans, state flags and posters and even a table tennis table.

Rows and rows of young people, some with headphones, their eyes locked to their computers are diligently working away.  Casual clothes are the look of the day and some staffers add their individual touch to their cramped desk space. The whole floor is separated into different operations. There is an area of phone banks where people are making calls to supporters, donors and volunteers, and an area where a group of staffers are engaged in fundraising. There is an area that is scheduling and rescheduling the President’s campaign visits and logistics. There is a TV area where members of the staff and perhaps even David Axelrod are interviewed, and immediately fed into their networks blogs and websites.

Another area had staffers engaged in research, finding out facts and figures to be included in campaign literature, email communications, Facebook, Twitter, etc. And then there are the lawyers, continually checking up on the Republican actions, on voter discrimination and efforts to curtail the voting rights of many members of the public. This in itself takes an enormous amount of effort and money. When the election takes place these lawyers will be scattered around the country at polling stations in all states, to make sure that voters rights are retained and not abused. Many recent cases seem to be breaking in the Democrats favor as the courts have thrown out one claim after another from the Republicans to restrict the voting rights of citizens.

So this vast area of young people diligently working long hours in their respective areas of responsibility is a war room, fighting a war on the air waves, battling Super Pacs and their negative TV ads, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court Case, which gave unlimited and non-disclosable freedom for corporations and wealthy individuals to pour millions upon millions of dollars into TV advertising through different campaign groups of special interests. This presidential campaign will cost nearly $2 billion. What a waste! Is this really American democracy?  Do we have to go through lies and counter lies, the vicious misuse of facts, misleading the public, manipulating the public, denying the public’s rights? Is this democracy? I have begun to doubt it. This long drawn-out process is surely not the way to elect the president of the free world.

And what will be the result? Who knows whether the Super Pacs funding will make that much of a difference to the Romney campaign. Will we elect a president who has given no specifics on his multi-trillion dollar tax plans?

The American people, who the politicians always claim to represent, but of course don’t, for the most part are still ignorant of what is going on.  We know that negative advertising works, and the public’s response to the television, repeating and believing the words of the ads even though they are often blatant lies from one side or the other.  But the American people do have a choice. Will they use it or will they continue to sit at home watching TV, devoting more time and attention to reality shows than the decisions that are going to shape their future for years to come?

The Polls are swinging backwards and forwards. Undoubtedly Obama’s performance in the first debate was extremely harmful to his chances. Whether he can bounce back from that, remains to be seen. Personally I believe it will not be until the last few days that the Polls will make a realistic analysis of what’s likely to happen on the big day – November 6th.  Each candidate ends their speeches with “God Bless America.”  My plea is “God Help America.”

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Joan Allen at CIFF

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Joan Allen on red carpet at CIFF on Oct. 14

The red carpet rolled out for Joan Allen at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) for the recognition of her noteworthy accomplishments and contributions to the arts last night at the AMC Theatre at River East.

I had the pleasure to attend the ceremony as a journalist for Xinhua News and interviewed Allen briefly.

She arrived on time and dressed in a pair of tight black pants, a loose black top, and a pair of black boots, looking more like a next-door neighbor than a big star. She posed for photos and answered all the questions by the journalists present in a very down to earth and friendly manner. I took a liking of her immediately.

Michael Phillips and Joan Allen discussing about Allen’s career achievements at CIFF

“You worked with both Ang Lee ( The Ice Storm) and John Woo (Face/Off),” I said to her. “How was your experience collaborating with them?” I asked. “Do you have plans to work with any other Chinese directors?” I added.

She gave a big smile. “Wow,” she said. “I’d say working with them was extraordinary. They are both incredibly smart and articulate.”

She said she had no plans of working with a Chinese director at the moment but would love to work with Lee or Woo “at any day.”

She also said she would like to go visit China and meet with her fans there.

Michael Kutza, Founder and Creative Director of CIFF, presented the Silver Hugo Award to her. “You are the one,” Kutza said. “You are the star on stage and on screen,” he continued, acknowledging that Allen’s performance was “stunning”.

Joan Allen with her Silver Hugo Award

Allen accepted the Award in the midst of applauses from the audience. Helen Hunt and Viola Davis are the other two recipients of the Silver Hugo Award at CIFF this year.

Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune conducted an in-depth discussion with Allen about her career accomplishments and called her “Illinois’ very own.”

Allen was born in a small town near Chicago in 1956 and started her acting career at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Phillips showed many astonishing clippings of her films during the discussion. All very impressive.

“Is it true that you didn’t make the cut to join your school’s cheerleading team?” Phillips asked.

Allen laughed.

“It was true that I couldn’t get into the cheerleading team, so I turned to act in a play,” she said. “I wanted to get boys’ attention.”

She fell in love with acting as a result. Her start-up at the Steppenwolf Theatre eventually led her to her career at Broadway and major roles in film and television.

Over the years, she has won a Tony Award for a Broadway show (Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This”) and has been nominated for Oscar Award three times (“Nixon”, “The Crucible” and “The Contender”).

She talked about her upbringing in the Midwest, saying its strong work ethics attributed to her career success. She shared experience of doing tons of research before taking on high-profile roles so she could “learn about them, their lives, and their struggles” and bring their characters to life on screen. She also shared anecdotes of working with different directors.

It was an evening of delight.

It was also my first experience of interviewing a big Hollywood star. Quite fun.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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“Like Someone in Love”

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I finally got to see Like Someone in Love at CIFF yesterday.

The film, by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, was set in Japan and highly rated since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. I went to the media prescreening last Wednesday and watched the film in Japanese for about ten minutes with a dozen or so journalists when the staff at CIFF  and/or  the AMC Theatre struggled to get the English subtitle out. In the end, they apologized and we all left in disbelief.

The English subtitle was clear and telling yesterday to a packed audience. Like the opening scene that I had the chance to watch twice, the pace of the film was slow but poetic. It revealed an unlikely relationship between a retired professor and a young beautiful call girl who, a student at college, was hiding her sidekick job from her boyfriend. In the end, it was the hotheaded boyfriend, who claimed of wanting to protect the girl from this “dangerous jungle” of the world, turned violent toward her, and the girl seeking refuge and protection from the fragile, old professor, who, in turn, showed a grandfatherly care and tenderness, and perhaps love.

The ending of the film was vague and sudden, leaving me wonder the complication of cross-generational relationships between unlikely characters, in film or reality. In that, the slow-paced film is very provocative, in its quiet and seemingly tranquil way.

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.

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48th Chicago International Film Festival (Oct. 11 -25)

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Cast of Stand Up Guys on stage at CIFF‘s opening night

The 48 Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) rolled out its red carpet to film stars and directors with an opening night gala at the Harris Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 11.

I had the pleasure of covering the event as a journalist and watched Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin walk the red carpet within close range. Bon Jovi, who contributed two songs to the soundtrack of Stand Up Guys (the opening night’s featured film), was also side by side with these super stars.

Christopher Walken walking the red carpet

The opening night generated a buzz with all the Hollywood power and a short 2-minute show capturing the history of CIFF.

Fisher Stevens personally introduced the cast of Stand Up Guys on stage and stated that “There isn’t a better place than Chicago to have the world premiere of the film.”

A total of 175 films from over 50 countries across the world are selected for the 48th CIFF. The competitive programs were divided into different categories of competition, including the main international competition, new directors competition, dark/horror competition, documentaries, and shorts.

This year’s “Spotlight” program is focused on Middle East (last year was on Southeast Asia and next year will be on Africa.)

Jian Ping (right) and Wei Zhang (left) covering CIFF’s opening event, photo courtesy of Steve Starr

A selection of “Best of the Fest” will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Several Asian films entered the Festival, including Full Circle (Fei Yue Lao Ren Yuan) by Zhang Yang from mainland China, Dragon (Wu Xia) by Peter Chan from Hong Kong, and Hometown Boy (Gin Chen Xiao Ze) by Hung-I Yao from Taiwan.

For those in Chicago, hope you will find time to watch a few films at the Festival, which will last till Oct. 25. I certainly will.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. For more information, visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com.

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The Woman in White

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

My reading group has selected The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) for our next discussion. The novel is regarded as one of the first in the genre of “sensation novels“. Coincidentally, the Lifeline Theater in Chicago had adopted the novel into a play and was performing it on stage. So we quickly coordinated a time and went to see the show together.

I had only read a few pages of the novel before going to the theatre, and was pleasantly surprised by the use of dialogue in the first scene, which was very true to the novel. (Amy, a member of our group who had finished reading the novel, confirmed later on that many of the dialogues in the play were directly plugged from the novel. I liked it and was impressed how well the dialogue worked out.)

I was drawn to the narrative as the story unfolded on stage. The suspense, or rather, detective structure of the story was nicely waved together, especially in the first act. As the plot got more complicated in the second act, I got lost in a couple twists, so was John, another member of our group. But we were able to connect the dots, and were eager to read the novel to solve our puzzles.

A scene from the play

Overall, the adoption was done wonderfully. With devices such as letter reading, different perspectives of the characters were revealed, moving the story forward. The performance of all the characters was quite impressive, with many playing multiple roles. My favorite two were Marian Halcombe played by Lucy Carapetyan and Count Fosco by Christopher Walsh. The Lifeline Theatre is a small venue, but the play is superbly done.

We gathered at an Indian restaurant on Devon after the show and discussed about the play over a table of delicious food. A very lovely and entertaining evening.

The play will continue to be shown until October 28. Go attend it if you are in the vicinity. You won’t be disappointed.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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