China Institute: YELLOW EARTH with Chen Kaige

Many of us can think of the exact moment that triggered the inspiration to work in film. For
me, that moment came in Beijing watching YELLOW EARTH by the masterful Chen Kaige.
Growing up in America, I had barely seen any Asians on the big or little screen; if any made a
fleeting appearance, it was inevitably a very demeaning role.

When I chose to work and live in Beijing after college in the 80’s, my eyes were open up to a
whole other universe of cultural creators. In particular, I fell in love with a group of filmmakers
who were being nurtured at a film studio in the remote area of Xi’an.

I’m not sure if it was haunting music, the searing shots that gave us both breadth and depth, or
the subtle, complex storytelling and performances that most transported me. Likely all of the

And it was YELLOW EARTH that truly set the course for the rest of my life. That film gave me
the courage to believe that the Western world would also relish this work, which led to a job
running a distribution/exhibition company in San Francisco dedicated to Chinese films, which in
turn led to representing studios in selling American films, and that in turn led to working with
Steven Spielberg on his epic movie in Shanghai, EMPIRE OF THE SUN.

I was so pleased to be reunited with Kaige on Zoom yesterday. Check out our discussion here.