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A mysterious and great photographer: Vivian Maier

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
Maier in one of several self-portraits she too...

Maier in one of several self-portraits she took on the streets of Chicago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier at the Landmark Century Cinema last week and was mesmerized by the mystery and talent of Vivian Maier.

Maier was a nanny who took more than 100,000 photographs, including many self-portraits, in her life. She was born in New York in 1926 and settled in Chicago in the 1950s until her death in 2009, alone and unknown, even to those who knew her. In the film (directed by Charlie Siskel and John Maloof), we followed the footsteps of the filmmaker to find who she was and through the interviews with those who hired her or were taken care of by her, we came to know her as someone who was eccentric, faked a French accent, and remained single and secretive all her life. No one seemed to know her background or the reason why she took so many photos yet didn’t get them out, or even develop them. Her works were hidden in storage lockers.

John Maloof, doing research on Chicago history, bought a box of her negatives at an auction, was intrigued by her works, therefore, started the search journey and eventually helped “discover” Maier as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, yet as an individual, she remained a mystery to us all.

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows (Photo credit: wordsnpix)

There is another documentary on Maier titled The Vivian Maier Mystery, which will be shown in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center on Thursday, April 24, at 6 p.m. If you can attend the screening, arrive earlier to take a look at an exhibition of Maier’s work in the Special Collection Exhibition Hall on the 9th floor. I went there last week and was pleased to see some of her work in print. The exhibition puts the photos in “the context of her life” from the 1950s through the 1970s, featuring a selection of her recognized street photography. Click link here for more information.

In addition, the Chicago History Museum is also having an exhibition, Vivian Maier’s Chicago, through the summer.

Maiser is an amazing street photography. Check out the films and exhibitions—well worthy of your time.

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 Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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 Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Mulberry Child Premiered in Chicago

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

At the reception of Mulberry Child

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, the reception area at the Gene Siskel Film Center became alive with the arrival of our friends, friends’ friends and Mulberry Child’s viewers who had all managed to purchase their tickets in advance.

We had a pre-screening reception, sponsored by Wintrust Commercial Bank. Our first screening in Chicago was sold out three weeks before the scheduled date. Each of us, my executive director Ellis, my daughter Lisa, and I, had received emails or phone calls from friends who tried to get help from us to buy tickets. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to any—they were all sold out. In the end, I even gave my ticket to a friend.

I was very touched by the support we had received in Chicago and the overwhelmingly positive response from the audience at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis and more recently, the Palm Springs International Film Festival where we had sold out screenings and was selected as “Best of the Fest”, an honor bestowed to only 14 films out of 188 from 73 countries at the festival. We were thrilled.

With Lisa and her friends

Last week in Chicago, shortly before our premiere, we were overjoyed to read Roger Ebert‘s review of Mulberry Child, with a rating of 3.5 stars out of 4. My director Susan was in tears when she heard the news. “Roger Ebert is my god,” she said, referring to his highly-respected film critic voice in the industry.  “You have no idea what an honor that is,” she said to me.

I think I got the idea when Phil Ponce, anchor of the Chicago Tonight Show, opened his interview with me about the film with Roger Ebert’s rating last week.

“This is a powerful and touching film,” Roger Ebert wrote.

We were all “over the moon,” to use a word Ellis said. Indeed, we all felt overjoyed and honored.

At the reception on Saturday, I did the best I could welcome people, only to regret that I had no time or opportunity to introduce them to Susan and Ellis.

I was especially pleased that Lisa introduced me to a few of her friends.

“Tell me if you still love her after watching the film,” I joked with them.

“They will,” Lisa cut in, a big smile crossing her face. “Because they are my friends!”

With my friend and fellow writer Jennifer Anton

We had plenty of food and drink at the reception. Shortly before 8 p.m., everyone walked into the theatre for the screening. Lisa, my supportive husband Francis, Chao, an ITT student who was working with me throughout the evening, and I were the only people remained in the reception area. Lisa and I had both given out our tickets to our friends, and even if we had tickets, we might not have the nerve to watch the film with so many people who know personally, a big difference from attending film festivals at other cities.

We walked into the theatre for Q & A a few minutes before the end of the film. The theatre was very quiet, except for an occasional sniffing from one seat or another, indicating someone was crying. A mere glance on the screen on which my father was giving me his last wave shortly before his passing brought tears to my eyes.

We had a long Q & A session and most of the people in the audience stayed until the last minute.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!

Roger Ebert’s full review:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120118/REVIEWS/120119987

Interview with Phil Ponce on Chicago Tonight Show, WTTW:

http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2012/01/19/mulberry-child

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.

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At Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival (2)

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Jian and Jodi who performed Jian as a child met at the theatre at PSIFF

I arrived at the Regal Theatre to attend the 1st screening of Mulberry Child shortly after 12 noon on Saturday and was surprised to see two long lines of people in front of the entrance. I had never been to this theatre before and thought one had to wait to get in for all the screenings.

“Jennifer,” a man in the line waved to me.

It took me a second to recognize Sean Valla, my film editor. I met Sean quite a few times during the editing process of the film in Los Angeles and was always impressed by his dedication and patience combing through mountains of footage and the endless close ups of my face for all the interviews that my director Susan conducted.

I was thrilled to see him and surprised to learn the two lines were all for entry to the screening of Mulberry Child: one line for ticket holders and the other, people standing by for the possibility of getting in at the last minute, for tickets had been sold out the week before. My heart skipped a beat.

By the time I managed to get into the theatre, my executive producer Ellis and his wife Gillian and Susan were already there. I saw the theatre was nearly full and felt sorry that many people waiting outside wouldn’t be able to come in.

Susan tapped me on my shoulder. “I want you to meet Jodi,” she said.

I looked at the little girl by her side. Jodi performed the 6-year-old me in the film and I had never met her before.

I wrapped Jodi in my arms. “You did a wonderful job,” I murmured in her ear.

Jodi gave her shy smile and looked at me with an expression I had seen so many times on the screen.

Jian and Lisa after Q & A when Jian signed books for interested viewers

I scanned the audience and was thrilled to see a few familiar faces, including Quyen Tran, my cinematographer and her husband, Sam, Eli Bergmann, my book editor, and his girlfriend Lily. They had driven all the way from Los Angeles to watch the film. I also noticed Chaz Ebert sitting next to Ellis, and a couple rows below, Norman Mark and his beautiful wife Grace. I was touched.by all the support.

Half way through the film, Lisa was ushered into the theatre. She had just flown in from Chicago this morning to attend the Q & A and I was relieved that she made it on time.

As it was at the Heartland Film Festival, many people in the audience asked questions about the film, my parents and their views on the Cultural Revolution, and Lisa’s on-going process of identifying with her Chinese roots. When the Q & A session ended, quite a few people lingered behind and continued the discussion. Once Chinese man’s comments particularly touched me.

“I also come from the Northeast of China,” he said, as we shook hands. “I was sent to the countryside for six years,” he continued. “I very much like the presentation of that historical period in your film as it was done sensibly, not an over kill.”

It meant so much to me the remark came from someone who had lived through the Cultural Revolution in China.

Once again, I was overwhelmed and touched by the reaction from the audience.

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Mulberry Child in Ledet’s “Top Ten of 2011”

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Selection by Diane Ledet

I’m thrilled and honored to be notified about the selection of Mulberry Child in Diane Ledet’s “Top Ten of 2011” book list.

Here is Ledet’s posting: http://bookwinked.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/top-ten-2011/.

I’d also like to share some exciting news: Mulberry Child movie, a feature-length documentary based on the book, will come to Chicago in January, 2012. It will be shown as part of the documentary series at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Screening schedule is as follows:

8 P.M., Saturday, Jan. 21;

8 P.M. Tuesday, Jan. 24; and

8 P.M., Thursday, Jan. 26.

Director Susan Morgan Cooper will come from Los Angeles to attend all the screenings, so will be Lisa and me. We will be all at the Q & A after each show. Hope to see you at one of these screenings!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Mulberry Child movie is directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Filming Mulberry Child in China (1)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

by Jian Ping

Cultural Revolution Museum in Shantou

I had traveled 2 or 3 times each year to China since 1992. Never before had I worked so hard, yet enjoyed the trip so much—more than 10 hours of shooting and traveling from April 23 through May 4 every day. Our crew included my film director Susan Morgan Cooper, cinematographer Quyen Tran, my daughter Lisa, who could only join us for a week, Alex Sophia Cooper, Susan’s daughter, and I.  I was very excited about the doc-drama film based on Mulberry Child.

Susan, Quyen and Alex had never been to China before. I told them I could take them in, but they might need Bill Clinton to get them out. Joking aside, they were quite nervous about shooting in China.  

We flew to Hong Kong on April 23—the three of them from Los Angeles and Lisa and I, from Chicago. We wanted to visit the Cultural Revolution Museum (CRM) in Shantou, Guangzhou Province. My blunder nearly messed up our schedule—I mistook our flight departure time from Shantou to Beijing on April 27 for our flight from Hong Kong to Shantou on April 26. We missed our flight, the only one of the day! Since we had such a tight schedule, I frantically searched online and re-routed our flight from Guangzhou to Shantou and booked a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. A two-hour flight took us an entire day. But we managed to check into our hotel in Shantou late at night, with only one meal at the Guangzhou Airport for the entire day. (Lisa reminded me later how mean I was–rushing her and not allowing her to pick up some food at the Hong Kong Station when she was starving!)  

Ba Jin's Portait at the Museum

We lost half a day of work on April 26 and went to the CRM early in the next morning. CRM is located in the Ta Shan Scenery Area, a mountain range dotted with Buddhist Temples. The style and structure of the museum looked like a temple as well. Reading the greeting letter carved on a slab of marble to Lisa, I was amazed by the open criticism of the Communist Party and Chairman Mao for starting the “chaotic”, “disastrous” and “unforgivable” Cultural Revolution (CR). Images of atrocities took place during the CR etched on the black marbles that constituted the core of display. We took many stills and footage. Tears emerged in my eyes as I examined one picture in which a helpless official was surrounded by a group of angry Red Guards. He could have been my father…. So many memories flashed through my mind!

 Many books on the CR were on display in glass cases. China’s famed author Ba Jin was credited for proposing the establishment of a CR museum, and his portrait was placed in the center of the museum. I was very impressed the idea became true. 

It was a pity that not many people were interested in witnessing this part of history. During the three hours we spent there, we only saw four other visitors. Even our cab driver, who often took customers to the Buddhist Temples nearby, had never stopped here before.

We could have spent more time there, but had to leave to catch our flight to Beijing at 1:10 P.M.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com