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Tag Archives: Robin Lung
New York in June could only be made possible by the hospitality of longtime friend Peer Just. A free place to stay in New York meant that I could funnel some of our funds towards filming two crucial interviews with Asian American scholar Judy Wu and the award-winning author Danke Li. Both provided important insights into Li Ling-Ai’s motivations and how World War II transformed the everyday lives of women in both the United States and China. Answering the last-minute call for camera help were our New York go-to DP Frank Ayala and another longtime friend Ruth Bonomo.
A visit to New York also meant I got to hang out with Calamity Chang, who has volunteered to record temporary voice over lines that allow us to edit our historical scenes. Calamity constantly inspires me by her willingness to embrace her performance instincts and bare it all in her wonderfully tongue-in-cheek burlesque shows. She also knows her Chinese history and promotes projects like ours that bring it to the forefront. Her musician/photographer husband Mike Webb put in hours of free time as our sound man while dog Chewie quietly put up with our intrusion. After a super long recording session on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we all needed a New York specialty cocktail.
Just being in NYC is a real shot in the arm for a filmmaker. Visual stimulation is everywhere and so are other artists whose very existence and work are like cheers from the sidelines.
Before my New York trip I got word that I received a fellowship to go to China to join a group of high school educators form Canada and New Jersey on a World War II centered study tour. It would be my first trip there, so China was on my mind.
Li Ling-Ai’s spirit is also close at hand when I am in NYC. Her great friend Larry Wilson offered to point out the third floor apartment where she spent most of her life on West 55th street. The breeze picked up and the trees outside the apartment did a dance as we looked up to the third floor.
I knew when I saw the stunning shadow visuals designer/animator Chris Do did for a GAP campaign that I wanted to use the same technique for FINDING KUKAN. I envisioned Do’s animation being brought to the genius shadow scenes that Larry Reed develops for ShadowLight Productions as the perfect way of carrying the emotion of especially intimate or harrowing scenes in the dramatic narrative of Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott’s lives.
So it was thrilling to have both Chris Do and Larry Reed in the same room with me today in Santa Monica at Chris Do’s BLIND design studio office space. Larry joined us by SKYPE and conference call from San Francisco (SKYPE can drop out on you when bandwidth is scarce).
After our meeting I realized that I had found two creative geniuses who were also practical producers with years of experience in how to ACTUALIZE a visual idea. The pragmatic, step-by-step path to bringing a new way of visual storytelling to the screen in FINDING KUKAN, just got a whole lot clearer thanks to Larry & Chris.
I invite you to check out their work HERE and HERE. If you are as wowed by it as I was, please consider contributing to the collaboration process at our Post-Production GIFT REGISTRY. If you have any cool shadow ideas or images you think would work well in the film, please post on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/kukandocumentary and write “Shadow Idea” in the comments section (and don’t forget to LIKE us while you’re at it)!
It was my husband Paul who convinced me that I should have a fundraising party. So last October I got many volunteers together to throw one. Terry Lehman Olival helped by sending press releases to the local media and got the attention of Star-Advertiser reporter Mike Gordon.
“That might be the coolest story I’ve heard in a long time,” Mike said, and promised to write an article on it. The more Mike found out, the more he wanted to know. His article grew and grew. My fundraising party came and went; my Kickstarter campaign came and went.
Finally the opus turned up – a 3‑page spread on the film, complete with color pictures, showed up in the Sunday newspaper and drew response from people as far away as Kentucky!
DeSoto Brown, curator at the Bishop Museum, also read Mike’s article and something clicked. He remembered a donation of lantern slides made to the museum by Betty Li, Li Ling-Ai’s older physician sister, back in the 80’s. In fact the slides were marked as being related to KUKAN! Early in my research I had read that KUKAN’s director Rey Scott lectured with a group of slides, but no one in his family remembered seeing them or hearing anything about them. I had given up on finding them.
So I was on pins and needles last week when I finally connected with DeSoto at the Bishop Museum and had a chance to examine the slides myself. They didn’t disappoint — 97 images of 1937 Nanking, including some with Rey and Betty Li, brought Rey’s first trip to China to life for me in a thrilling way and helped answer some of the mysteries that had been plaguing me for years.
Many of you know by now that my documentary FINDING KUKAN revolves around my discovery of the “lost” 1941 Oscar-winning color film of war-torn China called KUKAN. Many of you might also be wondering, where in the H… is KUKAN? If it was found, then why can’t we see it? Well when I tracked down the only full copy of the film it had been sitting in a Fort Lauderdale studio for a few decades and then a Georgia basement for a couple more. Heat and humidity had done its work.
When AMPAS’s Ed Carter and Joe Lindner opened the rusty metal can that contained KUKAN they winced. “Vinegar,” they both said, wrinkling their noses. I learned later that that is a sure sign of deterioration. As Joe examined the 2 reels of film that represented 90-minutes of invaluable color footage of China in 1939 and 1940, he detected both shrinkage and brittleness (more bad signs of deterioration). Joe said he’d seen films worse off…but not many. Things looked pretty grim. If we were in the Emergency Room, this would be time for triage.
Fortunately a deteriorating film takes longer to die than a bleeding human. Two years later, KUKAN has been stabilized but is still in pretty bad shape as you can see by the photos I took of it last week at Colorlab in Maryland where AMPAS sent it to have major restoration work done.
Parts of it are so curled that they will never be able to be re-plasticized (a sort of Botox process for film that hydrates it enough to allow it to lay flat in the scanner without breaking).
A partial copy of KUKAN that I located in the National Archives (NARA) will be used to fill in those parts that are unsalvageable. The NARA copy was kept in a temperature controlled environment all these years and is in fairly good shape. But even that has to go through a frame by frame scanning process to pull both image and soundtrack from the 16mm strip.
DP Frank Ayala, 2nd Camera Mia Fernandez and I arrived at Colorlab to film the initial frame by frame scanning of the NARA print and learned a lot about the care and effort needed to bring a film back to life.
A.J. Rohner, head “surgeon” on the KUKAN restoration process, assured me that “my patient” could be saved despite its horrific appearance. He gave us a tour of the monster machine that does the scanning – an invention of Colorlab engineer Tommy Aschenbach.
I was entranced by its gorgeous parts, blinking lights and robotic movements — so much more tangibly satisfying to see at work than watching the little gray line creep across your computer screen as your digital footage downloads.
I also learned how the sound from the film will be lifted from the scan, VISUALLY corrected before turning into sound waves and then cleaned and scrubbed to get all the ticks, and hisses out. I was surprised to learn that those little horizontal lines on the edge of the film are what make the sound come alive through the projector – a magical phenomenon when you think about it.
From the photo below A.J. identified the camera Rey Scott was using in China as a 16mm Bolex.
Colorlab technician Laura Major just happened to have one in the office that she still shoots with.
Holding that camera in my hands, looking through the tiny viewfinder, and learning that the camera could only shoot 100 ft of film at a time (roughly 2 minutes) gave me a much greater appreciation for Rey Scott’s heroic accomplishment in filming the epic scenes contained in KUKAN, especially the 15-minute sequence at the end of the movie that depicts the massive bombing of Chungking and the fiery destruction of the city.
I am more determined than ever to reach our $16,000 Kickstarter goal so that we can keep following the magical resuscitation of KUKAN and track the amazing story behind its creation. Please join me on this journey, it’s going to be an incredible ride!
Writing grant applications is a lonely business, and receiving rejection letters from granting foundations is depressing to say the least. Don’t mistake me. Grant monies have been very helpful to this project. And since we need more grants to get this film finished, we will continue to apply for them and be overjoyed if/when we get them. However, sitting back and wiating to hear if some unknown panel of judges will deem your project worthy of X,Y,Z’s support, can leave a filmmaker feeling powerless and dejected. What to do?
Several months ago I decided to take a part of fundraising into my own hands with the help of KICKSTARTER — an online crowdsourcing platform that creative types from first-time inventors to veteran filmmakers like Charlie Kaufman have been using to raise funds for their projects. The idea is that even with small donations, you can raise a decent chunk of money if enough people get behind you. As someone who was raised to be independent and stand on my own, it feels uncomfortable to ask for help, especially monetary help. But as soon as I started telling people about my plans, Voila! a major shift occured in the energy around my film. I soon had offers of help from friends, colleagues and complete strangers who got excited about getting involved in a creative project and helping it come to fruition. Here are some of the amazing volunteers who’ve joined TEAM KUKAN recently.
There are many more people not pictured who have offered goods, services and morale support. Suddenly fundraising doesn’t feel like a lonely, depressing business anymore. It’s still not easy. It’s been challenging, time-consuming, and stressful at times. It’s also a little scary. The way Kickstarter works is that if you don’t raise ALL of your goal you get NOTHING. So I expect the Kickstarter campaign (scheduled to run from Sept 29-Nov 17) will run me more than a little ragged before it’s all through. I also expect it will be an exhilirating ride that many new friends will join me on. I hope you’ll be one of them.
Here is a sneak peek at a couple of premiums we are offering to our Kickstarter pledgers.
Want to join the effort? Kickstarter is administered through Amazon. If you shop on Amazon, donating is easy. If you’ve never shopped on Amazon, consider setting up an account to make the Kickstarter donation process go smoothly. Hate the idea of doing anything financial on the internet? Don’t worry, we are giving people the old-fashioned option of putting a check in snail mail too!
So what am I learning on my latest fundraising venture? To FACE MY FEAR, EMBRACE NEW FRIENDS, and HAVE FAITH that things will work out. Have experience fundraising on Kickstarter? Please share by commenting.
As the weeks wear on and I get closer to the deadline for submitting a grant application to the NEA, I have periods of doubt and wonder if it’s even worth it to try for such a prestigious thing. And if I don’t get awarded a grant what will it mean – that the project is unworthy, and I should give up?
Glancing through pictures I took in May I’m reminded that getting grants and making Art are two different things. These black and white snaps were taken on a hot summer night when I joined my husband Paul and our friend Peer at one of NY’s oldest bars – The Ear Inn on Spring Street.
As I ate muscles at the bar and listened to old-time jazz, a woman named Katerina introduced herself. She had an intriguing accent and was very charming.
Several minutes later her friend Roland joined her – an artist, he showed her photos of his latest work on his Iphone.The striking shadows in his imagery prompted me to talk about the ideas for shadow play I had in mind for FINDING KUKAN.
For some great use of shadows, you should see THE THIRD MAN, said Roland. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. When I got home I looked up Roland’s website – photos of his performance pieces made me think of all the possibilities before me. The doors to creation opened up a crack.
As I watched THE THIRD MAN for the first time the doors were thrown wide open. Every shot was a compositional gem and fired up ideas in my head for ways to visualize my own search.
I’m hanging on to the DVD so I can watch it for the third time – a reward I’m going to give myself after getting that grant app finished. You DO need a lot of money to make movies, but you DON’T need a lot to enjoy the heck out of them.
Thanks to Roland Gebhardt and the Ear Inn for reminding me of why I’m writing grants applications in the first place.
Whether it’s the bar, the gym, or the beach, we all need to leave the desk once in awhile to get a fresh perspective. Where do you go when you need a creative breath of fresh air?
My main reason for traveling to LA was to interview Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li who was a young boy of 8, living in Nanking when Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai began pre-production for KUKAN.
I hoped to find out more information from Andrew about Ling-Ai’s connections in China at the time. Though I was able to gather some valuable information from my interview, the 5 days in LA turned out to be about so much more — a lot of it behind the scenes stuff that will never make it into the documentary.
Getting to know the talented filmmaker Ann Kaneko was one of the unexpected bonuses of the trip. Thanks to generous donations from early FINDING KUKAN supporters, I was able to hire Ann for a couple of days as my LA Director of Photography. Having a dp with a real interest in the project and experience with both editing and being a character in her own films was invaluable.
Witnessing Ann balancing her dedication to her work with the demands of raising her 8‑month old daughter Ceiba was a real inspirational shot-in-the-arm too.
As I lunched with Andrew Li, his daughters Portia and Quincy, and his wife Gilda I got a sense of the rich life Li Ling-Ai had beyond KUKAN and the profound ripple effect that personal stories can have through time and space.
Filming B‑roll scenes of Ed Carter at the Margaret Herrick Library introduced me to this gorgeous building and amazing film history resource for the first time (I am already thinking of excuses to return to spend more leisurely hours there).
It also gave me an excuse to hook up with the perennially upbeat Rebecca Bozzo again. Becca is a dedicated young filmmaker who shares a passion for old movies and has been a FINDING KUKAN supporter from almost day one.
Dan & Denise Levenick invited me to their home in Pasadena to view their mother’s home movies and photographs of 1930s Hawaii. Besides giving me another reason to marvel at the generosity and kindness of strangers, Dan and Denise provided me with precious “before-my-time” knowledge of my home town.
Talking to AMPAS Presrevationist Joe Lindner about the arduous process of restoring KUKAN gave me new insights into the precious nature of old film, the historic value that even old home movies have, and the galling number of films that have been destroyed by time.
Finally my hosts in LA, John and Ille-Heid Zaner, provided me with an intimate view of what living in LA can be like, inviting me to neighborhood parties, providing home-cooked meals after long days of shooting, chauffering me around in vintage vehicles, and sharing Ille’s sister Elke’s amazing Christmas cookies with me.
The result is that after my 5‑day production shoot in LA, a city that I once had a very low opinion of, I can’t wait to go back.
Although I’m more comfortable being behind the camera than in front of it, I agreed to be profiled on OC 16’s Career Changers TV show in order to get the word out about FINDING KUKAN. Producer Rich Figel and Cameraman/Editor Stan Chang managed to boil my life of job-hopping down to a succinct 4 minutes or so. Even better, the lead in and out of the piece made people really want to see the work-in-progress trailer and learn more about KUKAN. The show airs through December on digital channel 16 or 1016 in Hawaii. The show is rebroadcast Fri 2:30pm, Sat 6:30pm, Sun 12:30am, Mon 9:00am, and Wed 2pm and Thur 8:30pm through December. If you can’t catch it, here is a low resolution version.
There’s nothing like having a cold over the holidays to make you feel sorry for yourself. It’s that old dejected feeling that creeps in as the box of kleenex gets emptied. Now that I’ve recovered, I’m having some belated Thanksgiving thoughts, tallying up the windfalls that have come my way over the past year — many by way of the internet and blogosphere. Recently I made an internet connection with blogger Durian Dave, who turned out to be a very generous like-minded soul with an incredible visual archive and wealth of knowledge about old Chinese films and film actresses. See his blog and Tumblr for hours of entertaining and eye-opening articles and photos. David advanced my KUKAN research tremendously by sending a bunch of choice KUKAN related items to me, including this vintage lobby card.
Besides displaying gorgeous color and imagery, the card had an intriguing embossed stamp on the bottom of it: “STATENS FILMCENSUR 1947–48.” David suspects that the stamp refers to Sweden’s censorship board. If he’s right, that means KUKAN screened all the way in Sweden! So if any of you Swedish film collectors come across 16mm Kodachrome color footage of China that appears to be from 1939 or 1940, let me know! We’re still looking for good partial prints to help with the KUKAN restoration.
My next post will feature the fabulous photo of a jet-setting Li Ling-Ai that Durian Dave dug up as well as info about a couple of other groundbreaking Chinese American females working behind the camera. Why not now you might ask. Hey, I’m still recovering!