Author Archives: Ben Wang

Updates and announcements Oct 2016

Over the past 7 months, we have had almost 30 screenings of Breathin’—at film festivals, museums, conferences, Universities, and at San Quentin. We are so grateful to all of our hosts, partners, and collaborators. The tremendous response motivates us to continue sharing Eddy’s story with a nationwide audience.

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Eddy at Boston Asian American Film Festival. Photo credit: Can Truong

Eddy at Boston Asian American Film Festival. Photo credit: Can Truong

Next up, we have screenings in Oakland, Charlotte, Austin, San Diego, Atlanta, and Philadelphia! Please help us spread the word!

Like our FB page for most recent updates: https://www.facebook.com/eddyzhengstory/
Website: www.eddyzhengstory.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AsianPrisonerSC

Thanks for all your love, encouragement, and support!

Bambu x Chops x Breathin’

New song by Bambu x Chops for BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY!

(Featured in credits sequence of the documentary)

All footage in this video are deleted scenes from the documentary. A couple notes on footage to share:

(0:19): Eddy kept almost every letter he received while incarcerated. During one film shoot, he showed us these treasured items–pulling out boxes upon boxes from his closet. The letters (and the community support they represent) made a huge impact on Eddy’s survival, social/political development, and ultimate freedom.

(0:36): Eddy visits the resting place for his Grandparents. Eddy lived with his grandparents when he first came to the U.S., but was not able to have a relationship with them after he went to prison. In this scene, Eddy is able to pay his respects to them (making an exquisite flower bouquet), and reflect on his family’s secret of his incarceration.

BREATHIN’ Premiere!

A HUGE THANKS to all our supporters at the WORLD PREMIERE of Breathin’ at CAAMFest! We not only had three shows–at the Alamo Drafthouse in SF and The New Parkway in Oakland–but we sold out all three screenings! It was very special to premiere the film with friends and family, supporters and donors, and the vibrant community that has lifted up Eddy’s story and this documentary film project for over five years. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support!

It was a huge honor to win the AUDIENCE AWARD for Documentary Feature. Thank you to everyone who came to the screenings and voted!CAAMFest2016_AudienceAward resize

Breathin’ was also awarded the Honorable Mention in the Documentary Competition by the CAAMFest Jury.

“We are compelled to give an Honorable Mention award to Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story, directed by Ben Wang, for its celebration of Eddy Zheng’s resilience, strength, and transformation while exposing deep flaws in our criminal justice and immigration systems. An honest portrait of a man struggling to reconcile his past criminal actions with the role model and community activist he has become, the film deftly interweaves the story of Eddy’s journey from prison with humor and pathos making it evident that his is a story that needs to be shared.” – CAAM Documentary Competition Jury

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Outside the Alamo Drafthouse right before the premiere

Post-screening Q&A at the Alamo Drafthouse

Post-screening Q&A at the Alamo Drafthouse

The filmmaking crew!

The filmmaking crew!

Eddy and Ben with colleagues/friends after The New Parkway screening in Oakland

Eddy and Ben with colleagues/friends after The New Parkway screening in Oakland

Please like us on FaceBook for more pictures and updates: 

Screening BREATHIN’ at San Quentin

Athough the official World Premiere of Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story is on March 11 at CAAMFest, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and I organized a special preview screening on February 29—at San Quentin State Prison. The screening was hosted by the San Quentin ROOTS program, a weekly class modeled after an Asian American Studies/Ethnic Studies curriculum that documentary subject Eddy Zheng helped co-found. ROOTS is one of the few programs in the nation that addresses the specific experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prisoners through cultural empowerment and community building activities.

Given that a significant amount of footage was filmed at San Quentin and includes the voices of currently incarcerated individuals, screening the film at the prison was very important to me as a director, and the film’s crew. As far as I know, this is the first documentary film screening about an API subject to be held at San Quentin.

About 75 incarcerated individuals joined us for the early afternoon screening. The crowd was a diverse mix of ethnicities with roots from China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii, Samoa, Nicaragua, Mexico, parts of Africa, and many more places. Many of the audience members have stories that mirror Eddy’s—juveniles charged as adults, families who hid their incarceration as a secret, and “lifers” who have been denied parole countless times.

Once inside the prison, a projector displayed the movie onto a small screen at the front of the chapel, with rows of men sitting in the pews. The audience was particularly enthusiastic—laughing, nodding, and cheering throughout the screening. The loudest cheers came when Lee, Kam, Thongsy—all API inmates still in San Quentin—and others were given their cameos on screen.

As the film ended, the audience gave us a standing ovation. Many of the men greeted me with smiles, handshakes, and heartfelt congratulations. As expected, the Q&A after the screening was unique and engaging. The audience members expressed how strongly they could identify with Eddy’s struggles and appreciated his journey to change, grow, and evolve as a person. One of the questions explored Eddy’s process of letting go of the prison mindset—and even being okay to wear blue jeans again after his release, as blue clothes are the prisoners’ daily uniforms. Another question reflected on the thin line between maintaining hope against all odds and “lying to yourself”—a dilemma that many of the audience members face on a daily basis, especially the “lifers.”

As Breathin’ premieres at CAAMFest and embarks on many more festival and community screenings, I am forever grateful for the thoughtful, engaging, and warm reception we received at San Quentin.

—Ben Wang

Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang

Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang

Processing took almost two hours, so Eddy had ample time to pose and take photos on the “red carpet.” Paparazzi photo credit: Kasi Chakravartula

Processing took almost two hours, so Eddy had ample time to pose and take photos on the “red carpet.” Paparazzi photo credit: Kasi Chakravartula

In the parking lot before the screening, the SQ tower and gates in the distance

In the parking lot before the screening, the SQ tower and gates in the distance

Our group after the screening--some of the sponsors, volunteers, and guests who make the ROOTS program happen on a weekly basis.

Our group after the screening–some of the sponsors, volunteers, and guests who make the ROOTS program happen on a weekly basis.

We hope to share more photos later – from inside the prison of the screening

Breathin’ World Premiere – March 11 and 20 at CAAMFest

I am proud to announce the World Premiere of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story at CAAMFest 2016. We received two very good screening times: Fri, March 11, 6:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse in SF (capacity 320) and Sat, March 19, 8:10pm at The New Parkway in Oakland (capacity 140). Tickets available NOW on CAAM’s website.

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CAAMFest Description: Arrested at 16 and tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, Eddy Zheng served over 20 years in state prison. 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’ moves with a deep, critical love, unafraid in confronting the hard truths of Eddy’s crime, the harsh realities of mass incarceration and the intertwined emotional hardships experienced by all involved. The film finds Eddy at many crossroads — in and out of parole hearings, organizing in the community, othered and at risk of deportation — his resilience and astounding compassion resounding throughout. In chronicling Eddy’s decades-long struggle for freedom, the film interrogates the complexities and hypocrisies of crime and punishment in the United States, raising the greater question: For whom are prisons for? — Andrew Yeung

Co-presented by: Chinese for Affirmative Action & Asian Prisoner Support Committee

 

Watching a Film

After hundreds of hours in the editing room, I am pleased to announce that we have reached “picture lock” for Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story! A major part of this editing phase involved showing the film to people … lots of people. We held focus groups with filmmakers, writers, and editors. We sent out online screeners to colleagues, film programmers, and friends. I showed my wife, sister, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law. Christine Kwon (Producer) and Deann Borshay Liem (Executive Producer) watched many cuts and provided detailed notes. Scott “Chops” Jung (Composer) insisted on watching nearly every new version and continually developed new music cues. And finally, I showed the film to Eddy. 

Despite us following him and working on the project for over four years, he never once requested to view the earlier drafts or hounded us with questions about the film’s creative direction. Along with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) and a small group of friends, we screened a near final draft of the film for Eddy in a crowded hotel room during a conference. Eddy laid on the bed and chomped on sunflower seeds throughout the entire screening. When it was over, we held a constructive feedback session with the small audience. I could tell that they really liked the film, but I was still waiting to hear from Eddy. He ate a few more sunflower seeds. Finally, he responded, “It’s kind of hard for me to respond right now. I think I’m still processing it. That’s my life up there.” 

I would probably feel the same way if I was in his shoes—it must be strange to view one’s life on a screen, for others to watch and evaluate and judge. That’s my life up there. And life becomes complicated, story lines get messy, personalities show vulnerabilities. After a brief pause, Eddy chose a few specific scenes to discuss; he was curious about some editing choices. He talked about what impact the film could have, and started getting excited about future screenings, its distribution, and audience engagement. The reality of the film began to sink in for both of us. We continued talking and discussing through the night, and I anticipate reactions will continue to evolve. I am excited about the next phase: screening the film to even more people at the world premiere! I am pleased to announce that Breathin’ will screen in San Francisco and Oakland in March 2016. More details to come!

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Still frame from the “picture lock” cut: Eddy moments after his release, February 27, 2007

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Still frame from “picture lock” cut: Eddy and family playing Mahjong

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Editor Ken Schneider and Director/Producer Ben Wang at the PatchWorks Editing Office

 

Happy Lunar New Year! & Updates

 

Happy Lunar New Year to all our supporters of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story!

Breathin’ has made many important strides in the editing phase and I thought I would give a brief recap with some of the major updates. Editor Tina Nguyen and I spent much of the summer and fall 2014 editing the previous drafts towards a full-length rough cut. Bringing in another person to help shape the story was a major leap. Tina was able to approach problem areas from a different angle and inject new creativity, which has been great for the film. During this phase, we also gathered feedback from other filmmakers, media programmers, and community members during private screenings and solo viewings (thank you to all who viewed the cuts and provided notes!). After being so deeply engrossed in editing specific scenes and material, it was helpful to receive the candid feedback.

Originally, we planned to finish the film by the end of 2014 with a goal of premiering in early 2015. However, after receiving feedback from key advisors and discussing with our team, I decided to extend the editing phase. We also had an opportunity to work with Editor Ken Schneider, an accomplished Editor and Producer in the bay area. It has been a pleasure working with Ken on taking the film to a higher level and I look forward to continued progress in the coming months. Ken has edited films such as: Regret To Inform (Oscar & Emmy nominee, Peabody and Sundance winner), Bolinao 52 (regional Emmy winner), and In Football We Trust (Sundance 2015).

I am also excited to announce that Scott Jung (a.k.a. CHOPS) has come on board to compose the original score for Breathin’! Scott recently scored music for the documentary 9-Man (which screens at CAAMFest in March, go see it!) and has had his music featured in many television shows and films. Scott is well known for his ground-breaking work as a producer/rapper for the Asian American hip hop group Mountain Brothers and has had an illustrious career as a producer for many hip hop artists. Over the past several months, Scott has worked diligently on drafting music for key scenes based on our rough cut. We Skype regularly to discuss concepts, ideas, and examples that will highlight the emotional character and dramatic arcs of the film. Music will play a crucial piece to Breathin’ and Scott is on track to create a score that enhances Eddy’s story.

I look forward to completing the film in 2015. Thank you to all of you for your support and enthusiasm!

Sincerely,

Ben Wang

Director/Producer