A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists. Tonight Powerleegirl Hosts Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-Lee focus on Fall Film Highlights featuring interviews with filmmaker Suzanne Joi Kai about her documentary Like a Rolling Stone, the life & times of Ben Fong-Torres and filmmaker Jimmy Chin about his documentary The Rescue.
The Rescue in Cinemas near you.
Like a Rolling Stone: Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres Sat, Oct 30th, 2:00 PM @ Great Star Theater as part of the Decibel Film Festival and in LA November 12-18 Laemmle Royal
October 7-17, 2021- Mill Valley Film Festival with feature films, documentaries, shorts, special events, live music, panels and workshops. Available both in-theater and online.https://www.mvff.com/program-mvff44/
October 14-17, 2021 – Lauren Yee’s THE GREAT LEAP Directed by Jeffrey Lo at San Jose Stage Company (490 South 1st Street, San Jose, CA, 95113). When an American basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama goes deeper than the strain between countries. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as a pivotal moment in history collides with the action in the arena.www.thestage.org
October 16 and 23, 2021; November 19, 2021 – ShadowLight Productions’ Fall 2021 In-Person outdoor Balinese Shadow Theater Performances. TICKETS: October 16 & November 19 performances are free. Tickets to the October 23 performance are $16 – $20 and are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shadowlight-productions-tickets-168810285107.
October 23-24 San Francisco International Arts Festival, featuring music featured in tonight’s show plus many others: Tickets here: https://www.sfiaf.org/music_sfiaf2021
October 23rd – November 14th – APAture Festival Kearny Street Workshop (KSW)’s showcasing 36 emerging APA Bay Area based artists across five limited in-person and livestreamed events. The festival comprises five categories: film, literary arts, visual arts, performing arts, and music, and features artists Edward Gunawan, Monika Sok, Erina C Alejo, Johnny Huy Nguyen, and Mild Monk respectively. Features both limited in-person and virtual events. Tickets APAture 2021: Embrace are available now at kearnystreet.org/APAture.
Film Festival Highlights Transcript
[00:00:00] Opening: Asian Pacific expression unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
[00:00:18] Jalena Keane-Lee: We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerlee girls, a mother daughter team,
Tonight, we focus on our fall film highlights. We talk with Suzanne Joe Kai and Jimmy chin about their respective new documentary films that tell stories about Asian and Asian Americans. We’re so excited to bring this to you And to get to talk about craft and process and approach. With these wonderful documentary filmmakers. Miko spoke with filmmakers Suzanne Joe Kai about her documentary like a rolling stone the life and times of Ben Fong-Torres
[00:00:58] Miko Lee: welcome director, Suzanne Joe Kai award-winning television news reporter. And now has her first feature documentary debut like a rolling stone, the life of Ben Fong-Torres. Suzanne, thank you for coming on to apex.
[00:01:13] Suzanne Joe Kai: Thank you very much.
[00:01:15] Miko Lee: Can you give us a little bit of an overview of a film of the legendary Ben Fong-Torres?
[00:01:20] Suzanne Joe Kai: So there, there actually it is about his life and then we’re weaving in. His work at rolling stone magazine as well. And that’s what he’s very well known for. And then we’re also weaving in his contributions to his community family. And even what he’s done is into the community in terms of raising a lot of millions of dollars actually. But very few people actually are aware of all of these things.
[00:01:49] Miko Lee: What inspired you to make this.
[00:01:52] Suzanne Joe Kai: At a dinner meeting. Ben had flown down from San Francisco to Los Angeles and he says, I’m going to meet with Q would you like to get together right after my meeting? I said, sure. And so over dinner I just asked him it’s you’re in many rock and roll documentaries, but I was just wondering why isn’t there one about you? And then he just said why don’t you do one? So that’s how it started. I just I approached it as a really, a fun, entertaining film with Ben as the. center of the film. Then I started to do the research and I basically blocked myself out from the whole world in terms of reading anything out there on seeing anything out there in terms of films or books or anything. Then I became really surprised because I said, whoa, there’s a lot in here. It is a very I w it was a very complex story. So I would be interviewing the insider sources, in, at rolling stone magazine who worked alongside Ben. I was interviewing rockstars, actually the music industry. His family members and the community. And then I discovered, wow, this story is not completely missing because his great books and even has an autobiography that’s very personal. But connecting that personal life to his professional life was where I wanted to focus. I did such a deep dive. I’m really, pleased with the outcome. Ben invited something like, give me, maybe more than 20 of his colleagues who worked with him in the rolling stone days that he was there. All I cared about as a journalist is I want to make sure I got it right. And they did. They said, yes, you got it. In fact, one person said I nailed it. So that’s all I was very thrilled about. So that’s how it.
[00:03:49] Miko Lee: Oh, I love that. I want to go back to the very beginning. You said he was going down to LA to meet with Q and by Q I take it. You mean Quincy Jones, is that right?
[00:03:58] Suzanne Joe Kai: Oh, yes. Q turns out to be Quincy Jones. In fact he was working on a project with him and then also he has a I think a new project with can see even today,
[00:04:11] Miko Lee: And so he was coming down to meet with you. So you are friends first before you started the whole process?
[00:04:17] Suzanne Joe Kai: Yes.
[00:04:17] Miko Lee: How did you meet Ben?
[00:04:19] Suzanne Joe Kai: I was one of the, probably the first female face that was Asian-American in television at a major, ABC, NBC, CBS affiliate in San Francisco. I joined other asian-Americans like Christopher chow. Who’s actually, in my opinion, the first person who breaks through to break through as an Asian face at KPIX CBS in San Francisco. And then you probably know David Louie, David Lee is still broadcasting at TGO was ABC affiliate. We knew everybody, you could probably count Asian Americans on a network affiliate or network station in one hand probably, it was that tiny. And so Ben was at rolling stone and. Basically, he came before all of us, he was on radio television and as an editor for rolling stone magazine before the three of us. So that’s how we all knew each other. It was really, we were seeking each other out, basically. And I’m very excited to meet each other.
[00:05:28] Miko Lee: Oh, I love that. So you were part of a community, essentially. I’m wondering how you felt working on this film because you spent 10 years working on this doc.
[00:05:38] Suzanne Joe Kai: Actually probably a little longer, I hate to admit it. Probably 12 years I had intended it to be a two year project tops. That was it.
[00:05:46] Miko Lee: That’s a classic documentary line.
[00:05:51] Suzanne Joe Kai: Actually. I did documentaries, short ones, like half hours, that sort of thing for Kroy NTV, the NBC station where it was a staff, a reporter and boy, it was just such a luxury. They would give us maybe six weeks, so that was a, quite a different world. When here I am, with the responsibility to cover some of these entire life. And also you’re dealing with rock and roll, and then you’re also dealing with rolling stone and then every single person that is actually we filmed in the, in our film. Like the Carlos Santana’s and the Elton Johns and the Annie Liebowitz, a photographer, a Cameron Crow. We really had, I really had to figure out, how are we going to approach that and where we’re in the story. So that took additional time.
[00:06:42] Miko Lee: The other amazing thing that you captured is the how time impacted Ben and his work from the very beginning of the ethnic studies movement and the San Francisco state strike all the way through to present day, how these different things impacted him. I’m wondering while you were working on this, if you ever felt it was difficult to to go between being the friend and colleague to the filmmaker. I imagine with all the short docs that you made when you were a newscaster that you didn’t necessarily know those people that you’re making those short docs on. So how was it different making this documentary about somebody that you knew as a, both a colleague and friend.
[00:07:25] Suzanne Joe Kai: I basically went into my journalism mode and Ben and I were friendly as colleagues, but we didn’t really have more than that, when we were working in San Francisco. And so that’s actually a plus, so I didn’t have to flip between two different personas. Of course, we are colleagues and we have been for years. But we didn’t have that beyond that in terms of any kind of additional, social relationship. And so I was pleased to just approach it as a journalist in a very friendly.
[00:08:01] Miko Lee: Ben’s really known for being this amazing interviewer and that really shows in your film and you made this really unusual choice. I thought, of having him involved in many of the interviews that were about himself. Was this a conscious choice that you made?
[00:08:16] Suzanne Joe Kai: Yes, it was actually part of it is because we were filming, I would say organically some of the shoots he would say I’m going to meet with Ray Manzarek of the Doors. He would not set up any of the interviews. I would have to figure out if we could actually gain access. And so I remember on that particular interview I basically contacted the the people in charge. They were from New York and I contacted them and said, no, you can’t come in. And I said, “oh, okay.” And then I called back. They said, “what if I just came in and posed as a relative, just as a family member?” And I remember the person just laughed and said “okay. You can come in, but don’t bring any professional equipment. Just be very low profile, bring, like small cameras.”
So we had to, adjust in that particular instance, but that was the one where we actually captured then with Ray Manzarek and then also that was in Bob Weir’s studio Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. And then while we were filming Bob Weir, pop over and said, “Hey, I understand you’re doing a documentary about Ben. Let me know. And I’d be happy to sit with you,” and I said, “oh, that’s great.” So some of these were organic, but most of them I arranged, for Ben. I thought it’s just better to have Ben there because I can see then the relationship. The relationships between them. You could see in the film, the relationships between Ben and let’s say Carlos Santana ban and Annie Liebowitz, Ben and Carlos and Cameron Crowe, for example, they’re really genuine. As a press person, journalists, you can tell, whether it’s, meet you for five minutes, Then you’re gone, that’s very, Hollywood’s where it’s very staged, but you can actually feel and see the relationships. And that meant a lot to me that then I knew I had, I needed, I knew I had something
[00:10:12] Miko Lee: The thing that really strikes me about the film is that it seems that yes, he’s a reporter. That’s very clear and he’s really great writer, but that he actually had real deep relationships with a lot of these icons that go beyond just the kind of casual reporter that he actually has and has maintained relationships with.
So many of them. You mentioned a little bit earlier about archival footage and in one section in the film you walk through. Personal AICAR archives. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that experience? Did you know that he had this vast collection of rock history?
[00:10:47] Suzanne Joe Kai: I did know that, yes. He would give me, tapes. I said, “gosh, I really would love to see where you are keeping them.” so one of our, one of our shoots he actually took us down to his basement area. And that’s where we captured more of his archives. He has them in different parts in storage, but that was pretty amazing to me. That was really an eye-opener.
[00:11:10] Miko Lee: Ben started pretty young around 23. And you also started reporting at a really similar age. What message would you send to your younger self?
[00:11:18] Suzanne Joe Kai: I would answer that phone.
[00:11:23] Miko Lee: What does that mean?
[00:11:24] Suzanne Joe Kai: That it’s fantastic. That your program actually goes all the way back to the early years? I’m a student probably a freshman Back in the day before cell phones existed. So you had to be standing in your dorm room with a wired phone, right? I get this phone call and the phone call is a group of Asian-American activists. And they’re calling saying, we just saw your photo on the cover of the Sunday magazine of the San Francisco Chronicle.
And that’s true because photographer had just come out. Students college students. I was at a women’s college mills college in Oakland, and it was a cover story then to have women anywhere in radio and especially college women. So I remember the photographer came over and he just asked us to pose for the photo, which we did. Then the photographer went on his way. Little did I know it would end up on the cover of the Sunday magazine of San Francisco Chronicle. They listed the names of all of us in the article. And that is how I got the phone call. And to this day, I don’t know who actually called me, but I answered that phone. They asked me, would you be able to cross our picket lines were going to be outside of. K CBS news, radio, San Francisco. We want to de-segregate the newsrooms. I grew up in Berkeley. My cousin was the third person arrested in the free speech movement. My uncle’s a judge and he was bailing out students in the middle of the night over at San Francisco state when that spread over there. This whole idea of protests was normal. That was my normal in Berkeley to see. So I said, yes. I went over there. I did, cross the picket lines as they asked me to, or went in, to ask for a job and then I was given a typing test. Being a 18 year old for college freshmen, of course. I did the typing test and then the person came back out and says, “oh, I’m really sorry. You didn’t pass the typing test.” I was so flabbergasted and embarrassed actually I’d let the protesters down.
But then the person said, “why didn’t you go down this other hallway? And maybe you could talk to Roy. Maybe he can use you, to do some work over there.” I never on purpose wanted to fail anything, typing tests. So I went down that hallway and it turned out that was the newsroom. In retrospect, if I had passed the typing test, I probably would have been hired into the secretarial pool. So that was the. Moment where I was introduced to news media radio, and then later television. So I just always recommend to answer that phone.
[00:14:15] Miko Lee: I love that. Okay. People answer the phone. So you talked a little bit about your activist family. Your Berkeley activist family. In the film, you really touch on the impact of family on Ben and how family impacted his career choices. I wonder how family has impacted your career, both as a reporter and now as a filmmaker.
[00:14:38] Suzanne Joe Kai: I didn’t have the tragedy that Ben has had in his family, but we come from very similar backgrounds. We both come from the same community. Family is very important to me. In my family actually goes back for many years in San Francisco, I’m a native foreign San Franciscan. My family is very proud family. They would point to our ancestor came over from China. I think I counted it just recently. It’s 166 years ago. Our ancestor came over even before angel island existed, came over in a little sailboat, 12 years old with five other adults and made it to California. So there’s a whole history about him that my relatives have put together. Another filmmaker actually put together a little animation that was placed on permanent display at the California state historical museum in Sacramento within the past year. So we’re really family has been around for many years in America and my niece actually, when our film world premiered at Tribeca this summer, and she just asked me where this golden spike and pin, and of course, we went back to the hundred and 50th golden spike ceremony in Utah just to pay respects to our ancestors who were properly recognized. That was really an emotional event for all the people we could, be there. Finally, give them the the acknowledgement and respect and honor that they deserve. These are the early railroad workers from China. So I wore the pin into remember them, and I still do actually. It’s also to remind me how old a American family that I come from.
[00:16:26] Miko Lee: Thank you for sharing. I appreciate that. So you’re the founder of AAPI entertainment and also this lifestyle portal, Asian connections.com. Can you talk to me about both of those and how they got started?
[00:16:39] Suzanne Joe Kai: Yes, definitely. I’m actually the founder of studio LA TV, which is a production company. The Asian American website actually was not founded by me. It was for my young son. My young son was searching for his roots and he realized. That there’s almost at that point, you’re talking some years ago very little out there written about those of us Asian-Americans. It was just not there. And so he would create this website. Called Asian connections.com and no, it’s not a dating site. I know some people think, oh, but no, it is a lifestyle site with articles that has my son, actually, my young son started by himself. Then I was telling this to Ben and I decided we’re going to, the child has to go to school. So we will continue on. I would bring on people like Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook and others. And it was just really. Really fun. It’s been semiretired. We’re definitely going to be updated. It’s been live all these many years. Ben actually has been writing a column for this website. Coincidentally it’s named like a rolling stone, the column.
[00:17:55] Miko Lee: Oh, that’s great. So what last thing would you like to share with me about your amazing new film about Ben Fong Torres his life?
[00:18:04] Suzanne Joe Kai: What is really stunning to me is first I’m really thrilled to finally in a way, correct an omission American history. And that is the true story of Ben Fong Torres. It’s coming at a time that is a reminder to us that I think that. With the pandemic and then all of this anti-racist, anti-Asian hate basically going on.
I think it’s coming out at a really wonderful time because I think that it’s for audiences of all backgrounds and even all politics. And my hope is that the audience will get to know an Asian American through our film. And he’s a very likable one. And maybe that will help in its way to start bridging people back together as human beings and understanding each other..
[00:19:05] Miko Lee: Thank you. Yes. I think it’s a great intro to Ben and his place in history. I think a lot of younger folks might not know who Ben is. In fact, I host the show with my daughter Jalena who’s in her twenties. And when I was telling her about, interviewing this show. She said, “who?” I said, the film Almost Famous. And then she said, “oh yeah. Oh yeah, that guy.” And I’m just curious, because so many young folks are introduced to him in that way. You actually interviewed Cameron in the film and Ben seemed surprised by Cameron using his repeated phrase.” Crazy.” He seemed really surprised by that. And I’m wondering if. Ben shared with you, his feelings about Almost Famous.
[00:19:52] Suzanne Joe Kai: Yes, he did actually at least what he told me is that his friends would tell him, “Hey, that portrayal of you in almost famous. Is not the real you. You really a funny dude, right?” He’s both, he’s got all these different dimensions to him. He can be very serious, but it’s in his DNA, I think, to be just really humorous. So that humorous part, that other parts of his personality are not presented and it was used only really for story, to develop the story. So he did share that with me.
I really truly wanted to make sure I presented Ben as best as we could in a more 360 degree portrayal, which shows who his normal, natural humor, as well as he can be very serious as well. So that was very important. And I hope that will help in a way, correct that maybe two dimensional portrayal event in Almost Famous. And I love, love, love that movie by the way. I do want to say that for young people, yes. The answer. We have been very quiet about this film for many years and only maybe two, two and a half years ago. I finally consented to show maybe five minutes of of a trailer at actually at the Chinese historical societies gala.
I’m showing it and I’m standing outside in the hallway and just observing. And then right after the five minutes. Young people would come out us. “I didn’t know he existed had I known he existed. I think my life would’ve been different.” whether it was because they were struggling in journalism or they were struggling in the music industry. I remember having that, having a huge impact on me that this was more than a documentary film. As many people do it this way. This was a mission. It always has been a mission for all of us involved. It’s taken a whole village to make this sound.
By the way, the other note I do want to mention is I’m I was at UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies, archival library, and I some years ago, and I spoke to the archive person and she was really Saying, oh, it’s really interesting. The students are really starting to come back more and trying to find their roots and particularly studying the 1960s early seventies. Asian-American movement that as. Initiated you started off in San Francisco bay area. I was there to actually look through the east-west newspaper bound books. And that was the only set that I know that was anywhere that I was aware of. So I’m going through those books. These are early books of 40, 50 years ago. The newspaper that came out, that was English language and Chinese language in San Francisco led by the founder Gordon loop. I could feel that the papers were starting to crumble in my hands. I thought, my goodness, if more people start handling these, I felt that history was being lost right in front of me. And in those pages, Our own civil rights. Activists are our own civil rights people leaders and our community leaders.
They are the ones who helped kick open the doors for all of us back then. And so I said, wait a minute, these people are still alive. They’re still very vibrant. They have the healthy, and at that moment, that’s the moment that I decided I am quitting them in our film. Immediately because I realized that history is being lost right in front of my hands. And because these books at that time were not digitized. So I just want to share that also that I think that I hope that more and more of us document our histories for our community.
[00:23:50] Miko Lee: Thank you so much for spending your time and sharing about this film. I really think you’ve helped to cement his place in history and help to really broaden our world, to be able to provide a hero like Ben, who was like a quiet hero writing and sharing and documenting so much of our history. Thank you for your film.
[00:24:12] Suzanne Joe Kai: Thank you.
[00:24:12] Jalena Keane-Lee: Like a Rolling Stone can be seen Saturday, October 30th at the Great Star Theater as part of the Decibel Film Festival. And links to keep up with the film will be included in our show notes. Next up, let’s hear Florentine. a manila born guitarist and composer whose arrangements and composition successfully craft the balance between respect and the redefinition of tradition
[00:26:35] Miko Lee: That was Florentine. whose work can be heard at the October 23rd and 24th at San Francisco international arts festival. Check out our apex express shownotes for ticket info. Next Jalena talk with filmmaker Jimmy Chin about his latest work The Rescue
[00:26:51] Jalena Keane-Lee: So we’re here with academy award winning director to reach-in talking about him and Chai Vasarhelyi’s latest film, The Rescue, which tells the story of the global effort to rescue 12 young soccer players and their coach from the thumb long cave in Chang Rai I’m curious. So obviously the film was created after the events actually happened. So in 2018, when everything was happening with the cave, where were you placed in the world? And how did you hear about what was good.
[00:27:18] Jimmy Chin: Yeah, we were traveling quite a bit at the time, but we were definitely following the story and really riveted by what was happening just in terms of kind of the ups and downs that happened. But then also as parents, we were very empathetic to the families involved, we were mainly just following the story like everybody else.
[00:27:38] Jalena Keane-Lee: I know your production got halted because of COVID. When you were about to go to Thailand, have you been to Thailand before? What was your relationship with?
[00:27:46] Jimmy Chin: Yeah, I’ve actually been to Thailand quite a few times. I’ve done some photography assignments there as well. I think we were really. Thinking about this story beyond kind of its national borders and cultural borders. This was a story that was about, moral responsibility and our common humanity. It was about a story about people that had come from all over the world, different countries and cultures and belief systems that had really set aside their differences to, to achieve this impossible. And really given how divided the world is right now and how polarized our country is. This was a story that reminded us that in fact, there’s a lot of good in people and we all have the potential to be good. And that we have a lot in common in terms of taking care of each other.
[00:28:45] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah. That really came through and it was and one thing that really stood out to me was just all the coordination that was involved on the ground, which I thought you showed so well in the film of all of these moving parts, all of these different teams.
[00:28:56] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. This is a logistical nightmare in terms of how they enacted this rescue, but it really, it just goes to show, what we can achieve when we have a common goal. And there was also this aspect of kind of east meets west. It’s like we wanted to present this idea of how people, we all get trapped in this idea that our belief systems or my belief system is the real belief system is the only belief system. When in fact that’s just not the case. People from all over the world have different belief systems and who’s to say which one is more real or which one’s more right or wrong. We wanted to make sure that we reminded people that there are a lot of different belief systems out there. And we leave it up to the audience to decide, what to think, but there are some pretty insane what’s called coincidences that happen. And who’s to say, what really has.
[00:29:56] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah, I really liked the way that spirituality was portrayed in the film and how that was such a thread and seeing that perspective and to what you’re saying of the east meets west. I’m curious. What were the considerations that you took as a filmmaker when thinking about balancing perspectives and balancing different cultural viewpoints?
[00:30:15] Jimmy Chin: Yeah, I think particularly as Asian filmmakers, we were in a very good position to really listen and to pay attention to. These different perspectives and points of view. This is a very international story. It’s a global story. I think, it was important that we presented it that way and presented, the fact that there’s a lot of different points of view on this story, which was really One of the big challenges is that in a lot of ways, it’s a very fractured story in the sense that people outside the cave didn’t know what was happening inside the cave and the people who were on top of the mountain, diverting the water didn’t really know what was happening with the water pumping. There were just so many different teams involved that were focused on doing their task. Getting a clear sense of. The actual story was, and what actually happened was quite challenging.
[00:31:12] Jalena Keane-Lee: I bet, especially with all those different footage sources and not being there yourself, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and I heard that you got 87 hours of footage from the Thai Navy seals.
[00:31:24] Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
[00:31:24] Jalena Keane-Lee: The wife was a filmmaker
[00:31:26] Jimmy Chin: and really the Thai Navy. Had the most critical footage, but we couldn’t access it because they’re the Thai Navy seals. They run covert operations, they don’t advertise and publicize what they do. And really, they didn’t have much incentive to, to share it because there’s a lot of people in the film that are currently, working in the field as operators. It was very delicate trying to get that footage, getting the footage approved. But yes, this is this is journalism, right? You’re a non-fiction filmmaker, you held the journalistic standards and you go and you find and research every corner of the story to make sure that you have it right.
This film will be. One of the main kind of historical document of this, event. So there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. And to make sure it’s accurate and as filmmakers to make it entertaining and thrilling. Like we, we believe that, we’re held to these journalistic standards, but we also believe that. These are empathy vehicles, right? Films and films create empathy, but they also should be entertaining to watch.
[00:32:40] Jalena Keane-Lee: It definitely was, it was extremely suspenseful and entertaining. And it really felt like even though it’s interesting too. Cause since it was such a big global news event, we all know what happens.
[00:32:50] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. I think people think they know what happened. Everybody’s oh yeah, I remember that story. And they, and then if you actually ask them two questions further what happened? One-third diver, and it’s like, when you see the film, you realize he didn’t really know what happened,
[00:33:08] Jalena Keane-Lee: At all or how miraculous it was.
[00:33:12] Jimmy Chin: It’s literally miracle upon miracle and you know what it’s like to have to make impossible decisions in a situation like that. These rescues are extraordinarily difficult. And you have to make choices when all your choices are horrible. And what does that look like? So I think the film unpacks that for people in a way that they can appreciate what went down.
Jalena Keane-Lee: I’m curious about that for you on the filmmaking side too, because obviously, the stakes are different from the actual rescue, but a film that takes place in the dark in caves would also seem. It’s not the best options from a filmmaking point of view.
Jimmy Chin: It’s classic because often times there’s there’s stories where there’s tons of footage, but not enough story. This was the opposite. There was unbelievable story, but no footage. We really had to work around that. And in nonfiction, it’s really the. That push you as a filmmaker and push your creativity. So to really illustrate, what happened in the cave, because there was no footage, it was either going to have to be animations or recreations. And so we went about getting the diverse together to demonstrate as authentically and accurately as possible. What they. did in the cave and we filmed it. I think even when we were filming it, we were like, is this going to work? But it, I think it worked.
[00:34:36] Jalena Keane-Lee: It definitely worked. Yeah. How did that work? That was in a studio or a tank
[00:34:40] Jimmy Chin: in a studio tank, like water tank that we shot it in. Yeah.
[00:34:45] Jalena Keane-Lee: And it was just dummies for the kids?
[00:34:47] Jimmy Chin: No, we cast kids. Thai kids that had diving experience, which was a very short list. All of the UK. Yeah, we wanted to make it as real as possible.
[00:34:59] Jalena Keane-Lee: That’s great. And so you think of the kids I’m curious about, have they seen the film?
[00:35:03] Jimmy Chin: They have seen pieces Chai met with them in Thailand when she was there. They were really curious about seeing this particular footage not to give away too much, but when they. We’ll say, put under. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:35:19] Jalena Keane-Lee: And did they respond well to it?
[00:35:21] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. Cause they were curious. They were like, we don’t remember anything. I just remember being in the cave and being, yeah.
[00:35:31] Jalena Keane-Lee: Wow. It’s interesting how through the film, you can recreate memory and you have that,
[00:35:36] Jimmy Chin: it’s funny because even the divers who were in the. When they watched the film, they were like, we had no idea that this was happening over here at the same time, or that was happening because it was very fractured. People just didn’t understand the scope and the scale, even when they were there in, and the people inside, outside the cave who were working on all these other projects to try to help save the kids, which ultimately did, know, the water diversion from keeping off. Massive amount of monsoon rain going into the water table was this huge, military logistical, mission. They were literally diverting water from the rains from going into the cave, but they didn’t understand what the cave divers were going through and the decisions they were making, but they all had to be working together to make this thing happen.
[00:36:28] Jalena Keane-Lee: it was so incredible that there was footage too, of when the divers reached. And seeing them in the cave like that was really incredible to see.
[00:36:37] Jimmy Chin: It’s just, it’s hard not to be very much. .
[00:36:41] Jalena Keane-Lee: It was really emotional fulfilled throughout. We thought, especially with the divers setting them up as people that, compartmentalize their feelings because they have to. I don’t want to give too much away, but when they do finally have the release of tears at the end of.
[00:36:55] Jimmy Chin: I know I was watching it with our first audience. It premiered in Telluride and then later on in Toronto as well, but sitting through the filming, like this is really intense. I hope people survive this film because it is this emotional rollercoaster the whole time which you don’t really, that’s what you’re aiming for when you’re making the film, but you don’t get to experience it in. Screen it with people and you can feel the room. And I was like, wow, this is really intense. People said it was more intense than Free Solo, I was like,
[00:37:31] Jalena Keane-Lee: yeah, it felt more intensive then Free Solo to me.
[00:37:34] Jimmy Chin: I was like, wow, that’s pretty intense.
[00:37:35] Jalena Keane-Lee: I think it’s the kids it’s cause they’re children and it builds so much more.
[00:37:41] Miko Lee: I’m curious about the men that were the cave divers, particularly from the UK and also from Australia. It seemed like they were on the autism spectrum or at least were more othered. And I’m wondering how you think that played into them being part of the rescue team?
[00:37:58] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. I don’t know if they were on the spectrum necessarily, but I think, any of the kind of extraordinary people that I been very fortunate to work with who are at the top end of these. High stakes lifestyles. I don’t even call it sports, like cave diving for them. It’s a lifestyle. It draws a certain type of person because Hey, you need to be able to function extraordinarily well in extreme high stakes situations where you have to perform and execute perfectly for prolonged periods of time. You have to be able to assess. Extremely accurately. And you need to be able to stay calm in high stress situations. You’re not in that position at the top of these sports or lifestyles because you’re not, you don’t have the capacity to manage your fears. And so I think they are all of a certain type. Cut from the same kind of cloth, even though they’re very different activities, free solo and cave diving look in very different are in very different environments, but the mentality is very similar. You have to have tunnel vision, but you also have to have like broad vision. You have to have all of it and you have to be able to see the entire field and you have to also be able to see like the micro movements of the ball, it’s like it’s that we call situational awareness.
[00:39:27] Miko Lee: And even though it’s like solo sports, like free solo, it seemed like they really had to work in collaboration.
[00:39:33] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. I think that was one of the challenges right there. They’re usually used to working with very small teams and here was a situation in which the. Bureaucracy a huge, branches of the military army and Navy us air force international teams coming from Japan and China and the us. That coordination was very challenging. And if you’ve ever been on a rescue site, which I have been on. It becomes very, it can become very messy, very quickly, unless it’s like highly coordinated. And when I say messy, like I’m talking about endangering the rescuers, it could be very dangerous for the rescuers and you have to be able to manage that.
[00:40:17] Miko Lee: Did the boys see the rescue team after? Have they kept in touch?
[00:40:23] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. They met them afterwards multiple times. But yes, a few of them have been sending photos to the divers, like graduating from high school or, pivotal events. The rescue, as one of the parents says it’s as if they died and now they came back to life at a second.
[00:40:46] Jalena Keane-Lee: We were really struck by the coach too. And like having them meditate and all that stuff to conserve their energy. And, like you said, the miracle upon miracle, but I’m curious if there’s any updates on the coach and what that was like. Cause he was pretty young.
[00:40:59] Jimmy Chin: He was not the main coach. He was like the assistant coach and he was quite young. But he was a monk in the past and And I think he started a foundation for helping kids in that area to have to be able to play soccer, as like a communal cause there’s a lot of undocumented children in that part of the world. They’re on the border of Myanmar. And live very difficult, lives. It’s very rural but yeah, doing good, which is great.
[00:41:32] Jalena Keane-Lee: I know the film is in theaters right now. What are your plans for the film with impact and the screenings and,
[00:41:39] Jimmy Chin: , we just had a really incredible opening weekend. I think it was the biggest documentary theatrical or. Since the pandemic over two years. It’s been very well received. We’re very happy and fortunate and grateful for the release of Toronto where it won the audience award or the people’s choice award there. We work on these films for years and of course we. People to see the film and hope audiences come out to see it. It’s, I think we’re seeing on the big screen and having a kind of communal experience of a theatrical screening of it. I hope people are reminded about, the good potential in all humans about our common humanity.
[00:42:23] Jalena Keane-Lee: Even watching it on a small screen, I was struck by the sound design. I’m curious of your approach to using sound, to build that suspense and build the emotion. Okay.
[00:42:33] Jimmy Chin: Yeah. We are very fortunate to work with an Oscar winning mixer Tom mixed our mixed, free solo as well. And they swept the Emmys for audio awards. The sound design is something that we put a lot of time and care into. And you can feel it in the room when you see it in a theater, for sure.
[00:42:54] Jalena Keane-Lee: We’ll have to go see it in theater. I know we’re coming to the end of time, but I was just curious about how you and chai work together and what kind of projects you all have on the horizon.
[00:43:03] Jimmy Chin: I we are more than co-directors because we’re married and we have kids, it’s really just, a bigger, broader partnership. And it’s okay, who’s going to mix and color. Who’s dropping the kids off at school. Who’s going to Thailand. Or the grandparents taking them for the weekend. I’m going to be in Wyoming. It’s just a constant juggling act, but we both know each other’s strengths. And in those types of partnerships, it’s about trust. You got this? I got it. Great. I got this. I got it. No problem. Don’t worry. There’s a lot of that.
[00:43:37] Jalena Keane-Lee: Do you have your next film or next project?
[00:43:40] Jimmy Chin: Yeah, we have three other films in production plus another one that we’re about to go into production. So that would be four films. This one’s obviously. You have a couple of new series coming out and I don’t know if you know this about me, but filmmaking is my, I only Moonlight as a filmmaker because I’m still a professional climber, not in here. So it’s busy. Busy. Yeah.
[00:44:08] Jalena Keane-Lee: The Rescue is out now in cinemas near you. Next up, listen to Lisa Graciano from Purnamasari, whose work can be heard at the october 23rd to 24th, San Francisco International Arts Festival check out our apex express show notes for ticket information.
that was Lisa Graciano from Purnamasari and Indonesian born San Francisco bay area singer songwriter who integrates Indonesian, gamelan instruments, ideas, and dance movements into original get accessible guitar based songs and compositions. Their upcoming performance the weaver explores diaspora and multicultural identity in the context of stories based on family history. So what stood out to you from the two films tonight?
[00:46:52] Miko Lee: One of the things I was thinking about is the way that they are both telling news stories, but telling them in a different way and then approach that they used to do. It was really different. , Jimmy and chai chose to recreate pieces of the story because they didn’t have them. And then Suzanne ended up taking Ben the subject of the documentary with her.
[00:47:13] Jalena Keane-Lee: , Well, and they both talked about journalism, Suzanne being a journalist and having that journalistic background. And then Jimmy talking about journalistic integrity and having,, the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders as a filmmaker and knowing that this film will live on as a really important archive of this moment. , I think it really stuck out to me how. Beyond how documentary has the power of going beyond headlines and really diving in deep and building a lot of empathy. , Jimmy talked about , wanting people to feel it and to be there. , I think , both of the films did that , hopefully both films can keep these stories alive for future generations. I know Suzanne talks about that too, of young people, myself included. Not necessarily knowing. Who Ben Fong-Torres is and learning about him maybe for the first time through this film or learning about him in a new way, because many of us know about him, even if we may not know his name.
[00:48:08] Miko Lee: , They’re both adding to the history of broader context of the history of these headline stories in the Thai soccer team. We heard so many headlines stories, but really didn’t know what was happening and how complicated the whole story was. And the film really helps to unpack that
[00:48:24] Jalena Keane-Lee: and how unlikely victory was to oh.
[00:48:26] Miko Lee: It was crazy.
[00:48:27] Jalena Keane-Lee: I feel like the film did a really good job of showing just how much the odds were stacked against the rescue.
[00:48:35] Miko Lee: And like you were saying about the Ben Fong Torres film here, it is a person who has written the headline stories, but it’s been behind the scenes. You get Ben’s story of growing up, working in a restaurant all the way to, at the time of the fight for ethnic studies being right there at the forefront, to be able to capture these stories as they were happening and share them with the world. Then meeting all these incredible rock icons all over the world who really developed a really strong connection with him. For so many folks, as we were talking about, like you, only know of him either through almost famous, or if you’re a bay area person as one of the MCs of the Chinese new year festival. The parade, MC every year. So that might be the only way that you know him, as opposed to this guy who has incredible relationships with people who have made the music of our time.
[00:49:25] Jalena Keane-Lee: I think that brings up another connection, which is this idea of community and, with Ben having this really wide community and wide reach, but, being very rooted in his own culture in his own people Writing for East West.
[00:49:40] Miko Lee: And making the choice to stay in the bay area when he could have gone with Rolling Stone to New York.
[00:49:45] Jalena Keane-Lee: Staying in the bay, staying rooted in the bay area. Similarly in The Rescue, I was really struck by the whole community that was outside of the cave and everyone praying and asking for, spiritual guidance and spiritual health and rescuing the boys and, what a community effort it was. Not only for the family of the boys, but also this global community that came together to enact this rescue mission.
[00:50:07] Miko Lee: I think both of them are talking about the different kinds of community there is. Whether that’s a really small, like diver cave diver community, which I didn’t even know that existed, right. From a cave diving community to a soccer community, to Navy, seals. In Ben’s movie, it’s the Chinatown community. The ethnic studies community, the rock community, the writers community. There’s all these different communities that are echoing each other.
[00:50:34] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah, there’s also an element of unlikely heroes. In The Rescue it’s pretty obvious. I think it’s talked about, well in the film that, there’s these extremely highly trained, Thai Navy seals, but it’s such a niche thing that these middle aged white guys are way better equipped than these, super, highly trained seals just because of how niche it is and how specific it is. ,The impact that an unlikely hero can make carries over into the Ben Fong-Torres film, because we don’t always think about who’s writing the pieces, especially when you’re not involved in the creation of media, you don’t always think about who’s behind the scenes. Who’s the one crafting these stories. Who’s the one choosing who’s interviewed and stuff like that. But it’s so powerful that for so long,there’s been a really predominant Asian voice. That’s been shaping this kind of music discourse, especially knowing how toxic the music industry can be.
[00:51:27] Miko Lee: Both films used archival material too. With the rescue, they had so much footage from the Thai Navy and how do you use all that info? Then there was news coverage from all over the world that was covering what was going on. In Ben Fong-Torres’ place, he has an archive of records and audio tapes and newspaper articles. How those filmmakers chose to go about telling the story. Through the use of that archival footage was really different. I love how Jimmy was talking about even the people that were deeply involved in the process itself didn’t know the whole picture. And I think
[00:52:04] Jalena Keane-Lee: that said that they learned it through the film.
[00:52:06] Miko Lee: What both of these filmmakers did was try and provide a broader picture, a broader picture in the case of one person that involved Ben Fong-Torres and a broader picture of this entire miraculous rescue that happened. I think they both did it in a way that’s deeply personal to those filmmakers and with sensitivities to the subjects that they were covering.
[00:52:29] Jalena Keane-Lee: It definitely matters that both filmmakers are Asian-American and that it’s coming from that lens. I liked how Jimmy talked about how him and chai being Asian American. It was a lot easier for them to understand this like spirituality side and the princess, and the cave.
[00:52:44] Miko Lee: Loved that part.
[00:52:45] Jalena Keane-Lee: Me too.
[00:52:46] Miko Lee: Is there anything that stood out to you that really surprised you that you’ve thoughts “huh?” I was surprised about the recreation. In the rescue. I knew that there had to be some recreation and I loved how they mixed the animation with the recreation. I thought that was really. Interesting approach to how to tell that story.
[00:53:08] Jalena Keane-Lee: I was surprised when Suzanne said she was telling Ben that he needs a documentary and Ben said, well, you make it.
[00:53:16] Miko Lee: Why did that surprise you?
[00:53:18] Jalena Keane-Lee: I don’t know if it was just funny, but also really sweet. I feel like that’s a rather unique origin story for a documentary, but it shows that comradery. I was also kind of surprised that she brought him to all the interviews. I feel like that’s a really interesting approach.
[00:53:33] Miko Lee: It was fascinating. I love what she said it, she said because he had relationships with all those people. So it’s not like she could get necessarily Annie Leibovitz it’s just making a phone call and making it happen. all these other people that she talked to, but with him reconnecting with those folks, she was able to be able to see that side and his connection and closeness with all those artists.
[00:53:56] Jalena Keane-Lee: , It speaks to this idea that artists should be give, especially artists of color should be given their flowers while they’re still alive. And should be able to do this kind of retrospective work and take stock of some of their life’s work while they’re still living and get to enjoy that and hang out with their friends. And it doesn’t have to be once someone’s passed away that all of a sudden their work is seeing this new light and gets a lot more popular.
[00:54:21] Miko Lee: Yeah, I think that there is this new, wave of appreciating people and recognizing their value and their commitment and dedication while they’re still around. And I think the Ben Fong-Torres film. really does that. Those films are both in the mill valley film festival, and it’s still going this weekend and we’re actually going to see, a film that’s based on a murakami short story about uncle Vanya. And that should be interesting. And it’s called Drive My Car. They’re also showing a film that we really liked, this weekend at the Rafeal, which is Marvelous and the Black Hole. Remember that film.
[00:55:04] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah, that was a great, really fun one.
[00:55:06] Miko Lee: It’s a good family movie with a kind of rebelling Asian girl.
[00:55:10] Jalena Keane-Lee: And Rhea Pearl. Yeah, the kind of mentor magic lady. Yeah. And then they bond over like a newfound love for magic and the fantastic.
[00:55:19] Miko Lee: And a little magical surrealism in there. That was a fun one. So it’s lovely to see all these Asian American films that are out right now. That or cover a bunch of different genres from the two documentaries that we covered, but also the Feature. One family one and one Japanese film.
[00:55:38] Jalena Keane-Lee: In addition to Shang Chi of course.
[00:55:43] Miko Lee: Oh yes, we haven’t talked about Shang Chi. Was so much fun. I love that. And I’m not a big like Marvel, Marvel, Marvel person, but
[00:55:48] Jalena Keane-Lee: I’m not either.
[00:55:49] Miko Lee: Such a sense of pride seeing that. And it was Definitely Necessary to see that one on a big screen.
[00:55:56] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yes. All we can say about the Asian cinemas. Keep it coming. We’re excited to see what’s next and to watch more films by and for Asian-American creators
[00:56:06] Miko Lee: more and more and more. And now for the community calendar this weekend . It’s the closing out of the mill valley film festival with feature films, documentaries, short, special events, music panels. Those are both in-person and online also through this weekend is Lauren used the great leap at San Jose stage company. This weekend is shadow light productions, fall in-person outdoor Balinese shadow theater performance. Those are free for this weekend. They’re are also part of the San Francisco international arts festival, which we featured music from tonight show. That’s October 23rd and 24th.
October 23rd through November 14th, the aperture festival that Kearny street workshop puts on. There’s 36 different emerging APA bay area artists, and five limited in-person in live stream events. The festival has so many different aspects with literary arts, visual arts, performing arts music, and features both live and virtual events. Check out every single one of these events on our website, Kpfa.org/programs/apex-express.
Thank you so much for joining us tonight. For more information, we’ve posted the transcripts from the interview along with a detailed linked glossary in our show notes
keep resisting, keep organizing, keep creating and sharing your visions with the world because your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preeti Mangala-Shekar, Miko Lee, Jalena Keane-Lee, the Powerleegirls. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts. the Powerleegirls Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-Lee thank you to kpfa staff for your support and have a great night.