University of Massachusetts, Boston Screening Recap and Photos


UMass Boston Autumn Gem

On Friday, we had a great time at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where we participated in several seminars before our screening of Autumn Gem at 4:00 pm.

At most of the screenings on this trip, we don’t have too much time to wander around the school and talk with the students. We have typically arrived at the venue an hour before the screening in order to test the projector, screen and speakers. Following the screenings, we return to the road to reach the next venue. This is why Rae says, “It feels like we’re in a band… minus the roadies!” At UMass Boston, however, we had scheduled two additional events before the screening, giving us time to connect with the faculty and students. Kudos go to Shirley Tang, Professor of Asian American Studies and American Studies at UMass Boston, for organizing these extra events. It’s something that we’ll definitely suggest to other schools that we show Autumn Gem at in the future.

At noon, Rae and I conducted a martial arts demonstration at the Campus Center. Rae performed her mantis form and taught wushu basics, whereas I went through the first few steps of the Tai Chi 24 form. Here’s a video of the two of us performing and teaching, along with student reactions following the workshop:

Afterwards, we visited a core set of Asian American Studies students and talked about our background and how we got to where we are today. These students had all completed their own short films, many of which tackled very personal topics. I hope that Rae and I were able to inspire the students to continue their media projects and create their own feature-length documentaries on the subjects they care deeply about! Shirley was saying that the program encourages students to create media more than they consume media; I heartedly agree with that!

The screening was well received, with over 65 people in attendance. Like at Whitewater, the room had dual projectors, so everyone in the long classroom had a good view of the film. The crowd asked some good questions that were well-documented by Professor Peter Kiang; we’ll try to get these up in the future (and add to our growing FAQ list).

Today, we have a final screening in Massachusetts at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center; after that, we’ll be returning to New Jersey for the final leg of our four-week trip.

Here are photos from the U-Mass Boston screening.

Brown University Screening and Recap


Autumn Gem at Brown University

During our East Coast scholar interview trip last June, we also interviewed Professor Lingzhen Wang at Brown University. Following our stop at Connecticut College, Rae and I drove up to Providence, Rhode Island on Wednesday afternoon. This is now the fifth time I’ve been in Providence, having come here as a high school student to visit the University, twice for Autumn Gem, once for a wedding, and finally while traveling with singer-songwriter Vienna Teng on her East Coast Tour in 2003. Unfortunately, in all these instances, I’ve only been in Rhode Island for a day or two at most, so I really can’t say that I’ve spent quality time in our nation’s smallest state.

The Fall colors are really making the East Coast look lovely this time of year; it certainly doesn’t hurt that the weather is similar to a brisk California winter day. It’s good that we planned our Midwest and East Coast tour before the snow arrives; I don’t think we would have been able to make every stop on this tour in such weather.

I’ve learned that my grandfather once attended Brown University as an undergraduate. It’s been told to me that he transferred to MIT because he couldn’t pass the swimming test at Brown! Walking by the buildings, I wondered what it would have been like for him to be in the United States back in the roaring twenties.

Wilson Hall was a great venue for our screening; the projector and screen were top notch in quality and made Autumn Gem look great. The four sponsors of the film — Department of East Asian Studies, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, and Cogut Center for the Humanities — did a great job of advertising the screening with posters throughout the campus. We saw students from nearby RISD, people from the outside community, and various faculty members at our screening of 45 people.

Questions came fast and furious in the Q&A session. Some notable ones included:

  • How can you differentiate between the myth and reality of Qiu Jin?
  • Was she familiar with American and Japanese feminists during her time.
  • Was she aware of the women’s suffrage movement in the US?
  • What is the status of women today in China?
  • How did your research (primarily English-based) influence the process of developing the film? Were we losing something in the translation?

Following the screening, we drove over to Boston, MA for a showing and seminars today at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. We’ll have an open date on Friday and another screening at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center on Saturday. Until then, here’s photos from the Brown University screening!

Connecticut College Screening Recap and Photos



Nearly a year and a half ago, Rae, JP, and I went to the East Coast to interview two scholars, Amy Dooling from Connecticut College and Lingzhen Wang from Brown University. Three weeks into our Midwest and East Coast tour, we have returned to both of these schools for screenings of Autumn Gem. Our first stop this week was at Professor Dooling’s Connecticut College. Driving around New London, I remembered the roads to get to the university. The weather was a lot different this time around; back in June, 2008, it was overcast and raining, but in October, 2009, blue skies and autumn leaves greeted us. As we were walking around campus, we saw people playing ultimate frisbee, soccer, and running. We haven’t been exercising as much as we would have liked on this trip; I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds, pounds that I’ll have to burn back off when we return to the Bay Area next week!

It was great to see Professor Dooling again in person; watching the documentary over and over — both in our house during editing and at screening venues across the country — we feel like we’ve been seeing her a lot over the past year and a half! She brought to the screening a sizable contingent from Chinese classes. Several other students and faculty members were also present at the screening, which was held at the Blaustein Humanities Center. Also present was my friend from high school. Melissa’s been out in Connecticut since college, and the last time I saw her was back in 1996 when I visiting France and England during Winter Quarter. Catching up with friends has been great, and there’s a few more people that I’m looking forward to seeing at our Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania screenings.

Rae and I received notification of the first PayPal payment for the Autumn Gem DVD today! Thanks to A. Gung for being the first buyer of our DVD!

Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving Connecticut to go up I-95 over to Brown University, where we have a screening at 4:00 pm. Following the screening, we’ll drive further north to Boston. After Saturday’s screening at the Boston Chinese Neighborhood Center, we’ll be heading back down I-95 to New Jersey. The finish line is in sight for this tour, but we’ve still got several more stops along the way!

Here are photos from the Connecticut College screening of Autumn Gem!

New Jersey Chinese Community Center Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at New Jersey Chinese Community Center

Our final stop in our seven screenings in six days week was at the New Jersey Chinese Community Center. Thanks to Tien-Fang Hou for bringing a great crowd to the screening. Coincidentally, Tien-Fang’s grandson trains at the same wushu school as Melissa, the girl who played the young Qiu Jin in our film. Small world! All in all, we had about 75 people at the event, which was well organized by my Uncle Don.

Screening venues have varied on this tour; we’ve shown the films in theaters, classrooms, and auditoriums. Whenever possible, we have tried to stagger the chairs in the latter two to reduce the amount of heads moving laterally back and forth to read the subtitles. Often times, the people in front are blocking the view of the captions in the film. I really liked how Slumdog Millionaire moved the subtitles away from the traditional spot in the bottom third of the screen. Though I don’t know if it would be effective in our film, given the amount of text being displayed on-screen, but it’s something I certainly keep wondering about. With films, there’s always that “one last change” that you’d like to make. Eventually, however, you have to put your foot down and say, “No more changes!”

We’ll have four screenings coming up this week. Connecticut College, Brown, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. Though it’s a far cry from the seven in six days, we’ll be traveling a much greater distance. We’re renting a car tomorrow morning to head up from New Jersey to Connecticut. Almost a year and a half ago, we went to interview Professors Amy Dooling and Lingzhen Wang for the film. Now, in just a few days, we’ll be screening at their respective colleges!

Here are photos from the Saturday night screening at the New Jersey Chinese Community Center.

Princeton University Screening Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at Princeton

When I was in high school, one of my top college choices was Princeton University. Unfortunately at the time, I wasn’t accepted, and I eventually went to Stanford. Things worked out in the end, and I no longer spend any time wondering what might have been.

Our screening was organized by the Davis International Center and sponsored by Forbes College, the Women’s Center, and the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. Thanks to Paula Chow, Jingwen and Margaret for organizing the evening’s events. Though we were competing with Parent’s Weekend, the ALCS, and the wet weather, we had 25 people in attendance.

Over the past week, we’ve gotten requests to add more stops on this current tour. While we can’t accommodate all of them, we might be adding a couple more stops during the final week. Once we’ve secured all the details, we’ll update the blog and screenings page. Rae is already starting to plan our next U.S. tour in Spring of 2010.

A pleasant surprise was seeing Hilary and Stephen at the screening. Rae and I photographed their wedding back in 2005. It was great to see them again and to see our wedding photographs adorning their apartment. Because of Autumn Gem, we haven’t shot many weddings over the past two years. If I were to shoot a wedding today, however, I would use video to complement the still photos I take during the day. With cameras like the 5D Mark II, Nikon D3S and other HD-video capable cameras, the lines between wedding photography and videography are blurring.

Here are photos from the Princeton screening!

University of Maryland, College Park Screening Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at UM

Our double feature on Thursday, October 15, ended with a screening at the University of Maryland, College Park. The weather was really wet, and we were fearing the worst in regards to the turnout. But, by golly, thirty-five people said, “Hell no!” to the rain and wind and made it to the showing! Thanks go out to John Young, Rebecca McGinnis from the Confucius Institute, the Center for East Asian Studies and the Women’s Studies Departments for organizing the event.

We had a good mix of UM students, faculty, relatives (Tow clan was well represented), and outside people who heard about the film through various means (email, organizations, flyers and word-of-mouth).

Rae and I are creating a list of what works and what doesn’t with regards to getting more people from the outside community to attend the screenings. Extra-credit and course requirements don’t exactly work in this case! Scheduling screenings between noon and 5:00 pm works for students but isn’t so great for those that work outside the schools. We have a nighttime showing of Autumn Gem coming up in New Jersey tomorrow; we’ll see how good the turnout is for that.

Following the screening, we went to Wong Gee Restaurant in Wheaton to have dinner with our cousin, his family, and relatives. I’ll have more to write now, but we’re just about to start a screening at Princeton! Here are photos from UM yesterday.

Oldfields School Screening Recap and Photos


On the morning of October 15, 2009, we drove north of Baltimore to Oldfields School, Maryland’s oldest girls’ boarding school. The theme for Oldfields this year is, “Women Who Dare,” so it was an ideal fit for our documentary. Thanks to Maria and the rest of the Oldfields staff for having us! And, big kudos go out to the terrific students at Oldfields. They really made us feel welcome at the school. But, enough of me saying that. How about I let the Oldfields students speak (or cheer) for themselves!

Our presentation at the school was a little different than at previous screenings. Because the student body watched the film the day before, we came prepared to speak about our backgrounds and how we got to where we are today. Taking our existing Keynote presentation as a base, we added lots of fun biographical slides on us.


For instance, when I asked the students if they had an iPhone or iPod, the majority of them raised their hands. Then, I showed them a photo of me back when we got our Apple ][ computer. That must have been back in 1981! I also showed them drawings that I had made back in high school and college. Art and drawing eventually led to my interest in photographer (though it did take a long time for me to have my own camera), which ultimately led to videography and Autumn Gem.

The crowd also got a kick out of seeing our wedding invitations. They asked us question after enthusiastic question about the film, about us, and about our next steps. It was very rewarding to be able to share our film and our lives with them; it’s our hope that our example will help inspire them to work on their own creative endeavors. It’s certainly been an exciting one for the two of us!

Following the screening, we had lunch with Constantine and Maria. They were great hosts at UMBC and Oldfields! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to spend more time with them, as we had to get to our next showing at the University of Maryland in College Park. Two events in one day — a veritable double feature!

Here are photos from the Oldfields School screening.

George Mason University Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at George Mason

Our third stop in three days (three of seven for the week) took us to George Mason University. We had the pleasure of being toured around the campus by Dr. Karl Zhang, Professor of Chinese Modern and Classical Languages at GMU. It turns out that Professor Zhang did his Ph.D. work at Stanford University the same time that I was an undergraduate. Alas, our paths never crossed, as he was a fuzzy in Lit and I was a techie in Symbolic Systems.

Professor Dan Liu arranged for her Chinese Literature class of about 60 people to watch Autumn Gem at the Student Union II on campus. So, add a third way for us to get students to watch our documentary: food, extra credit, or make it a requirement! Among the other guests at the screening was Ken Lee. His grandmother and grandaunt were heavily involved in the revolutionary movement around the time of Qiu Jin. There is a well-known story of the two where they hid weapons and other contraband in a wedding sedan chair while traveling through China.

Again, one of the more frequent questions we’ve received throughout these screenings is what happened to her family after her death. Strangely, in her entire work of several hundred poems, essays and writings, there’s no mention of her family.

It’s early morning right now on Thursday, October 15. We’re off to Oldfields School in Glencoe, MD, for a talk at the boarding school. Then, we travel back south to the University of Maryland, College Park. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking the train over to New Jersey, where we’ll be screening at Princeton. The memories of college applications and my own high school experience are coming back to me. But, that’s a story for tomorrow!

Until then, here are some photos from our showing at George Mason University!

University of Maryland-Baltimore County Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at UMBC

We’ve discovered the secret to getting a good turnout at our university screenings: food and extra credit! About 90 students attended the screening at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Big kudos to Constantine Vaporis, Anna Shields, Rebecca Boehling and all the UMBC professors who got their students to come to the showing. They also did a fantastic job flyer-ing the campus with our Autumn Gem posters.

We got a number of insightful comments and questions from the students. One of them asked how Qiu Jin could be considered a feminist when she was shown to be rejecting her female identity at the same time she fought for women’s rights. Another student wanted to know whether or not Qiu Jin was trying to emulate the male heroic figure or create a modern female heroic figure. There’s no right or wrong answers to these questions. They point to the conflict within Qiu Jin and touch upon why she’s still such a fascinating person to study today.

Professor Boehling made the comment that the actresses playing Qiu Jin both wore makeup during the recreation scenes, even those where Qiu Jin is shown to be wearing Western clothing. She asked whether it was a deliberate decision on our part to do this. The answer is no, we honestly didn’t think too much about makeup during the filming of the documentary. We certainly could have had a stylist on-set to help make the makeup look more natural and less feminine. There were some instances where I used Apple’s Color program to desaturate the colors on the young Qiu Jin’s face, but in general, I generally left things as they were shot.

Following the screening, we went out to dinner at Catonsville Gourmet with Julie, a high school classmate of mine, and Professor Vaporis. Like I said in my earlier posts, we’re really enjoying this trip as we’re able to reconnect with friends and family whom we haven’t seen in many moons. After the next screening at George Mason University, we’ll be heading over to our nation’s capitol to meet up with more friends from high school and college!

Here are photos from the screening at UMBC.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Screening Recap


Autumn Gem at UIUC

One of the first questions that I had when we arrived in Champaign, Illinois, was, “Is it Urbana-Champaign or Champaign-Urbana?” The University is called University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), but I saw buses with signs saying Champaign-Urbana. The reason for the hyphenated name is because the school is located between the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana. I believe I first head about UIUC through its association with Mosaic, the first graphical web browser.

Today’s screening of Autumn Gem was held at the Asian American Cultural Center and was sponsored by the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies. There were about 30 people at the showing. With so many scholars and professors in the room, the questions and answers were again numerous and spirited. Rae and I have gotten a lot of great comments and suggestions for the film. Some of the notable questions included the following:

The song played during the ending credits is a famous song called Man Jiang Hong. The song is often (perhaps incorrectly, according to Wikipedia) attributed to the Chinese national hero Yue Fei, who was one of Qiu Jin’s heroes. Because we do not display the lyrics during the credits, however, there was confusion as to why we chose a song so strongly associated with Yue Fei to conclude the movie. It turns out that Qiu Jin wrote an alternate set of lyrics for Man Jiang Hong; Rae’s parents’ choir performed this version of the song for the film. Perhaps we will add these lyrics to a future screening version of Autumn Gem.

Some people thought that the film portrayed Qiu Jin as the first person who openly criticized the practice of foot binding. This is, of course, not true; over the long history of foot binding, there were many people who argued against the practice. Even after Qiu Jin’s death, many women continued to have their feet bound. As scholar Hu Ying states in the film, “Qiu Jin was not an original political thinker, she was more of a person on a mission.” We chose to focus on her efforts in Autumn Gem; we’ll probably add a slide to our introductory presentation about this.

Tomorrow morning, we fly out to Baltimore for a screening at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Until then, here are some photos from the screening at Urbana-Champaign!