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The 50th Chicago International Film Festival

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

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.

Call for action – Honor Diaries

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

honor diaryHonor Diary, a documentary film denouncing the cruelty against women in the name of culture and family honor, will be shown at the Chicago Int’l Film Festival (CIFF).

Nine courageous women’s rights advocates voiced their stance against gender inequality, “honor killing,” female body mutilation, and forced marriage in this film.

“Culture is no excuse for abuse,” said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Executive Producer of Honor Diaries. “I am proud to join these courageous women to speak the truth.”

Some numbers the film presented serve strongly as wake up calls—such actions are not only in the Arabic world, but here in the U.S. as well.

“In male-dominated cultures, like Saudi Arabia, women and girls are treated like property, forced into marriage, and suffer female genital mutilation,” the film states.  “Now, these barbaric practices are coming to America, with 3,000 cases of forced marriage occurring in the US over the past two years, and 150,000 – 200,000 girls in the United States at risk of being forced to undergo female genital mutilation.”

Star advocates in Honor Diaries

Star advocates in Honor Diaries

As I watched the film at the press screening at the CIFF, I couldn’t help from thinking how similar women were regarded in the traditional Chinese culture in that they were supposed to obey their father, husband, or son.

These women advocates, including the “expert interviewees,” such as fellow writer and friend Qanta Ahmed (In the Land of Invisible Women,) should be hailed for their courage and efforts.

“When women suffer in silence, they suffer alone, and their suffering grows,” said Raheel Raza, President of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and co-star of Honor Diaries. “Only when women come together and break the silence can this suffering end. ”

Honor Diaries will be shown at AMC River East at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13 and 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15. Producer Paula Kweskin will be at the screenings and do Q & A.

Visit http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com for more information.  

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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Ping Pong, directed by Hartford

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Les D'Arcy

Les D’Arcy

Have you ever seen anyone learning to play ping pong as therapy in a nursing home and then go on to play in the World Championship competition? Or a 100-year-old woman, arriving at a competition in a wheelchair and playing by stationing in one position, but hitting the ball back as far as her arm could reach? Or an elder man gasping for air but managing to win a medal in the men’s singles and championship in men’s doubles at the World Championship games?

Ping Pong, a documentary film directed by Hugh Hartford that I watched yesterday at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival, showed just that. The charming 80-minute film featured eight ping pong players aged 85 to 100 who participated in the World Championship ping pong competition held in Inner Mongolia, China.

Dorothy DeLow

Dorothy DeLow

Coming from all over the world, these senior players, among more than 2,000 participants at various age groups at the competition, showed their prowess and determination. They were competing for medals in the age group 80 and above. We followed them to their homes in different parts of the world and watched them proudly show off the medals of gold, silver or bronze that they had won in the past, some quite a few dozens. At this advanced age, however, their movements were hindered, breathing short, but their competitive spirits didn’t diminish and their love for the sports and life continued to soar.

“I want to die playing ping pong,” one of them said. “But not soon,” she quickly added.

The audience chuckled.

An avid ping pong player myself, I watched them play with determination. I was amazed and amused. A few times, I  found myself clapping my hands in the theatre as the people sitting around me smiled.

The film had a light touch, and many times, made the audience laugh. It showed more than being competitive at an old age—it is about living and loving, about winning medals in the passage of life.

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.

 

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In the Shadow, directed by David Ondricek

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

shadow 1

One of the best films I saw at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival is In the Shadow, a production listed under Czech Republic, Ploland, Slovakia and Israel. It’s a story of a capable and honest cop investigating a jewelry heist in the dark days of Cold War. It was in an era when the Soviets was controlling Czechoslovakia. As the State Security took over the case, a group of Jews were framed to be the criminals, and nothing was what it appeared to be and no one could be trusted. It was a film noir, with superb performance and a very well constructed narrative.

shadow 2Director David Ondricek appeared at the screening for Q & A. He stated he was the last generation who lived through the socialist era under the control of the Soviets, though the story was set in a period before he was born. He webbed three stories his father related to him in the film. Together with a young and talented screenwriter, they worked on various versions, and in the end, came out with 17 screen scripts. Being a writer, I’m always interested in learning about other people’s creative process, and I was touched by their dedication.

One woman in the audience expressed regret for the ending of the film in which the good cop was tortured and murdered. “You just killed your franchise,” she said.

Ondricek answered with a smile. “That’s the difference between Americans and us,” he said. “We are not pragmatic.”

Dark as it is, I must say the realistic ending is very powerful. Besides, the last scene in which the good cop’s little boy picks up a plank to defend a helpless small boy when he was bullied by three bigger kids does leave hope that the battle against injustice will continue, no matter what the sacrifice.

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

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24th Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival honors stars and filmmakers

Monday, January 7th, 2013
Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren

I had the good fortune of attending the 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), partially to cover the event as a journalist, and partially to enjoy the films and meet with people in the industry.

The most glamorous event at PSIFF, among the top three largest in North America, is the star-filled, black-tie Award Gala held at the Convention Center on Sat. Jan. 6. More than 10 actors/actresses and filmmakers received recognition to the enthusiastic applauses of 2,000 people in the audience.

Director Ang Lee stepped first on to the stage to present the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing to Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”).

Lee said “Life of Pi” is “an adventure of motion picture” in which he wants to present a story that is both philosophical and complicated.

“When I didn’t know how to put the film together, I called Mychael,” Lee said. He praised Danna as a wonderful filmmaker and credited his simple yet profound music for “bringing life and soul to ‘Life of Pi’.”

Darryle Macdonald, Festival Director, called the Festival “a singular celebration of the cinema’s power to provoke, entertain and enthrall all those who open themselves up to new horizons and a journey beyond the comfortable confines of everyday experience.”

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper

Other recipients of honors at the gala include actor Richard Gere (“Arbitrage”) for Chairman’s Award, actress Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”) for Spotlight Award, director Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”) for Director of the Year Award, actress Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) for Desert Palm Achievement Award, director Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) for Sonny Bono Visionary Award, actress Helen Mirren, (“Hitchcock”) for International Star Award, actor Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”) for Desert Palm Achievement Award, actress Sally Field (“Lincoln”) for Career Achievement Award, and actors Ben Affleck (also director), Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (“Argo”) for Ensemble Performance Awards.

Presenters of the awards were equally impressive in their own career achievements. Besides Lee, others include John Hawkes, Tom Holland, Tom Hanks, David O’Russell, Eddie Redmayne, Diane Lane, Tom Hooper, and Tony Mendez, who, different from the rest who are Hollywood stars or film directors, is the CIA officer who planned the rescue of six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980 that the film is based on.

“When I went in, I had the support of my colleagues in the CIA and our government,” Mendez said, “and the help of our friends in the Canadian government — not to mention some very creative people in the movie business who helped me carry out what became known as ‘The Hollywood Option.’”

Ang Lee

Ang Lee

“I never imagined that our ‘Hollywood Option’ would ultimately be optioned by Hollywood,” he continued.

PSIFF will screen 42 of the 71 foreign-language films submitted for Academy Awards. A total of 180 films from 68 countries have been selected, among them, 15 are from Asia, including Cheng Kaige’s “Caught in the Web”, Wendy J.N. Lee’s “Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey” (Executive producer: Michelle Yeoh), and Chang Jung-Chi’s “Touch of the Light”.

“I’m excited to be here,” said Cambodian director Chhay Bora whose film “Lost Loves” is shown at the Festival. “It’s so great to see such interest and support for film,” he continued.

To watch more about the red carpet arrivals and interviews, click the link below:

http://www.epklink.com/24thpalmspringsfilmfest

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

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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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At Palm Springs International Film Festival

Saturday, January 7th, 2012
Welcome to Palm Springs!

Image by bamalibrarylady via Flickr

I arrived to the beautiful sunshine at Palm Springs yesterday afternoon. After checking in at the Renaissance Hotel and getting my credentials at the hospitality room at the hotel, I got together with Ellis, my film executive producer, and Susan, my director.

We started this exciting film festival by attending a private party in the home of Brenda, a former film commissioner in Illinois. Brenda lives in Palm Springs now, but because of her Chicago ties, there were many people from Chicago and the midwest were there, including Chaz Ebert, Roger Ebert’s wife and Morman Mark, a former Chicago TV host and journalist. I was trilled to meet her and many others.

Listing of Mulberry Child in the program of PSIFF

Early this morning, I went out for a hike on a trail behind the Art Museum, about 6 blocks away from the hotel. I waited until daylight to get on the trail and was soon captivated by the tranquility of the sprawling mountain ranges around me. I was relieved to see another hiker half way up a hill and watched him disappear as I stopped to admire the scenes of the valley.

Despite my fear of getting lost, I couldn’t resist the temptation of going higher and reaching one and then another peak. When I finally sat down on the flat surface of a large rock, I found myself bathed in the warmth of the rising sun. I extended my arms toward the blue sky, my thoughts turning to my grandmother and father, wishing that somewhere up there, they could see me and know I was here to tell their life stories on the screen to a large audience.  Memories of my childhood flooded back, with grandma’s smiling face vividly in my mind. Watching the valley below me—dotted with palm trees and swimming pools, I found it hard to believe this was reality. Tears came to my eyes as I told Grandma that her legacy would live on through generations to come…

The first screening of Mulberry Child is at 12:30 p.m. today. As I descended quickly down the trail, I wiped away the tears of gratitude and joy and felt more determined and energized than ever before.

Jian Ping, author Mulberry Child: a Memoir of Child.

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An Inspiring Experience at the Heartland Film Festival

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

 

Tickets to Mulberry Child sold out at AMC theatre

Nothing is more reassuring and gratifying than finishing the screening of your film at a film festival with a SOLD OUT show and a standing ovation from the audience. That was the exciting experience I had at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, a well-respected festival by filmmakers and film patrons at which Mulberry Child had its world premiere.

 

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Susan Morgan Cooper, director of the feature-length documentary film based on my book Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, repeatedly said to the enthusiastic audience. She wiped away tears of joy and appreciation as she faced the audience in this packed AMC theatre in Castleton Square.

 

Jian, Lisa and Susan at Heartland Film Festival Gala

My daughter, Lisa, and I stood by Susan’s side, along with Louise Henderson, director of the festival’s documentary program who introduced us to the audience. We were all touched and thrilled by the response we received. I must say I was also overwhelmed and humbled. All my concerns and worries about exposing my life and that of my family evaporated at that moment. Even Lisa, a reluctant participant throughout the filmmaking process, came on board, now that she saw the positive impact that the film had on others.

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com to watch the trailer of Mulberry Child. For more information on Jian Ping and her book, visit www.mulberrychild.com and www.moraquest.com.

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Mulberry Child Makes Premiere at the Heartland Film Festival

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

 

Little Jian in re-enactment

I’m so excited to share the news that Mulberry Child (MC) movie will start its premiere at the Heartland Film Festival on October 16 and will have two more screenings at the Festival on October 17 and October 21!

 

Of course, we are all excited about Jacqueline Bisset, winner of Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, to be the narrator of the film.

Susan Morgan Cooper, Director of MC, said: “I am delighted to return to Heartland’s nurturing and very classy film festival … The atmosphere of the festival inspires many lasting friendships.”

Susan’s last film An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story, was also shown at the Festival when it was first released.

 

Teenage Jian dreaming of flying away

It was a healing process for me to put the memories of the hardship I endured during China’s Cultural Revolution on paper. The book is also a legacy for my daughter—my effort to connect her to my family roots, and teach her the importance of resilience. I’m amazed by Susan’s wonderful job in expanding the film to include my life with my daughter in Chicago today. She successfully weaved my intentions for the book into episodes of my life stories in China and in the U.S.

 

The movie is a unique hybrid of documentary and narrative film, using rare archival footage, photographs taken surreptitiously by Li Zhensheng, and dramatic re-enactment. Susan succeeded in presenting the terrifying days of the Cultural Revolution and my fear as a little girl for my family. What Susan finds most compelling is what happens when the trauma of such a past haunts the future and impact my relationship with my daughter.

Check out the film at the Heartland Film Festival at

http://heartland.slated.com/2011/films/mulberrychild_susanmorgancooper_heartland2011

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com, www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com. Mulberry Child movie is directed by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

 

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