Arrested at 16 and tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, Eddy Zheng served over 20 years in California prisons and jails. Ben Wang’s BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY paints an intimate portrait of Eddy—the prisoner, the immigrant, the son, the activist—on his journey to freedom, rehabilitation and redemption.
BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY is a documentary feature about a Chinese immigrant who became the youngest prisoner at San Quentin State Prison and later one of the nation’s most recognized leaders on prison reform and youth violence prevention. Eddy entered the criminal justice system at 16 years old with limited understanding of the English language or the U.S. judicial system. After spending time in the California Youth Authority, he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison as soon as he turned 18. While in prison, Eddy learned English, earned his college degree, published his poetry, and transformed into a nationally recognized leader—inspiring youth, activists, and politicians on issues of prison reform and youth violence prevention. As an advocate for Ethnic Studies in the prison college curriculum, Eddy was sent to solitary confinement for 11 months, where he garnered support from community activists and leaders. Even as Eddy fought systemic injustices, he continued to fight an internal battle. Spending nearly two decades in prison left a physical and mental toll on him, an all-too-common phenomenon for the incarcerated. What is more, Eddy had to reconcile with his family, for whom the shame and stigma of prison caused a lifetime of secrets and lies. Despite being released from immigration custody in 2007, Eddy has been ordered deported to China and awaits the final court decision. With the looming possibility of deportation, Eddy must negotiate what it means to “live freely”—attempting to rebuild a family, reconcile with his victims, and make a lasting change in society at large.
Ben Wang (Director/Producer)
Ben is a documentary filmmaker whose previous films include AOKI (Co-Directed with Mike Cheng, 2009 feature documentary film, which screened at SF Int’l Asian American Film Festival, Black Panther Party Film Festival, Chicago Asian American Showcase, LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival, Vancouver Asian Film Festival, and Boston Asian American Film Festival) and MAMORI (Director, 2013 short documentary film that screened at CAAMFest). Wang also co-edited “Other: an API Prisoners’ Anthology,” the first anthology of writings and artwork featuring API prisoners.
Director’s Statement: “I first met Eddy Zheng in 2003. I was studying Asian American Studies at UC Davis, and he was nearing his 18th year of incarceration. Eddy had recently spent 11 months in solitary confinement as a result of campaigning for Ethnic Studies to be incorporated into the prison college curriculum at San Quentin State Prison. I was struck by his tenacious commitment to educational and cultural empowerment, despite arduous circumstances such as solitary confinement, parole denials, and immigration detention. His motto, “breathin’,” expresses his philosophy of letting go of the past and focusing on the present moment—appreciating each breath. In making this film, I have gained more insight into Eddy’s philosophies, his crime and its lasting impact, his prison experience during this era of mass incarceration, and his struggles to reconcile with his family and victims. Thirteen years after I first met Eddy in a crowded prison visiting room, I am thrilled to premiere BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY in 2016.”
Christine Kwon (Producer)
Christine is a writer, producer, and film curator. She served as the Festival Managing Director at the Center for Asian American Media, where she created the Student Delegate Program and wrote the Comcast-commissioned series Nice Girls Crew. She teaches film in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley, and has curated programs for Oddball Film and Archive, the San Jose Museum of Art, and Ladyfest. She now works as a screenwriter and editorial director in Los Angeles.
Deann Borshay Liem (Executive Producer)
Deann has over twenty years experience working in development, production and distribution of independent documentaries. She is Producer, Director, and Writer for the Emmy Award-nominated documentary,First Person Plural (Sundance, 2000) and the award-winning film, In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (PBS, 2010); Executive Producer for Spencer Nakasako’s Kelly Loves Tony (PBS, 1998) and AKA Don Bonus (PBS, 1996, Emmy Award); and Executive Producer for On Coal River (Silverdocs, 2010) by Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood. She served as Co-Producer for Special Circumstances (PBS, 2009) by Marianne Teleki which follows Chilean exile, Hector Salgado, as he attempts to reconcile with former interrogators and torturers in Chile. She was the former director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) where she supervised the development, distribution and broadcast of new films for public television and worked with Congress to support minority representation in public media. A Sundance Institute Fellow and a recipient of a Rockefeller Film/Video Fellowship, Deann is the Director, Producer and Writer of the new feature-length documentary, Geographies of Kinship – The Korean Adoption Story.
Ken Schneider (Editor)
Ken is a documentary producer and editor based in the SF bay area. He has edited 25 feature length documentaries, attempting to move, provoke, and educate people about war and peace, human rights, artists’ lives, American history, and contemporary social issues. A partial list of films he has edited include: A Fierce Green Fire (Sundance), Regret To Inform (Oscar & Emmy nominee, Peabody and Sundance winner), To Save A Life (HBO), Have You Heard From Johannesburg (Emmy, best series), The Good War and Those Who Refused To Fight It (PBS Special), Orozco: Man of Fire (PBS’ American Masters), Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (PBS’ American Masters, Sundance), Store Wars (PBS Special), School Colors (Columbia-DuPont winner), Bolinao 52 (regional Emmy winner), Ancestors in the Americas (PBS Special), and Speaking in Tongues (PBS).
Tina Nguyen (Editorial Consultant)
Tina is a documentary editor recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Her credits include the feature documentary “Fed Up” which premiered at Sundance and was theatrically released in 2014. She edited and co-produced “Seeking Asian Female” which premiered at SXSW in 2012 and was broadcasted by PBS as part of the “Independent Lens” showcase in 2013. Her recent credits include the documentaries “Off the Menu: Asian America” which aired on PBS in 2015 and “Out Run.”
R.J. Lozada (Director of Photography)
R.J. is an award-winning filmmaker who explores and engages multiple diasporas, communities of color, and class. Lozada has worked in varying capacities from film festival programming, producing documentaries, radio segments, and photo editorials. Lozada recently obtained his MFA in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University, and is currently in post-production for his first feature-length documentary entitled, “Passing Grounds.” The film explores America’s legacy of violence through the sites of death at the hands of law enforcement in 2014.
Scott “Chops” Jung (Composer)
Scott is a music maker whose multi-instrument style helped his group Mountain Brothers become the first Asian American rap group signed to a major label. He’s since worked with many of rap’s biggest and most respected artists (Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Raekwon, Talib Kweli, E-40, Ice Cube, Snoop). His Strength in NUMBERS album featured over 30 talented Asian American rappers and singers. Chops’ music is heard in ads (Nike, Coca Cola, X Games), TV shows (Empire, Grey’s Anatomy, House of Lies, Breaking Bad, Law & Order: SVU, Parks and Recreation), and movies (Brown Sugar, House of Wax, Hurricane Season, Face, Ping Pong Playa). He credits the sports documentary 9-Man for reigniting his love of writing music to picture.