The Chinese Students Association (CSA) sponsored a screening of Children of Invention followed by a Q&A session with producer Mynette Louie to an audience of approximately 30 people Sunday afternoon in the McCormick Tribune Forum.
Children of Invention is the poignant story of a Chinese-American immigrant family, based on the director Tzu Chun’s childhood. After their house is foreclosed, Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung), hard-working mother of two, falls for a pyramid scheme in her desperation for a job.
“My mom also did pyramid schemes,” Louie said, “so the script really resonated with me.”
When their mother is arrested, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu) find themselves alone and completely broke. A slice of pizza is suddenly extravagant. Determined to do something about their situation, Raymond and his little sister begin making inventions — spaghetti spinners — to sell. The kids’ resilience and optimism are endearing, and although Chen is at times a bit stoic, Chiu truly shines in her acting debut.
“We didn’t want Disney kids,” Louie said, but it was difficult to find minority actors through traditional agencies. Louie utilized multiple casting directors and searched for non-actors for many of the speaking roles. The cast was finalized just a week before shooting began, and the entire production process lasted just ten months before the film’s Sundance debut.
“There just aren’t that many minority stars out there,” Louie said. “It’s very frustrating for me.” Louie encourages directors to write more minority roles, but even in the progressive film industry, minority actors still face challenges. Following their performances in Children of Invention, both Chiu and Chen picked up agents. Louie said it is very rewarding for her to help actors and build strong relationships for future projects.
Much like the film’s innovative big brother Raymond, Louie and other independent filmmakers are finding new ways to market their films. The crew behind Children of Invention sold DVDs and gained press at more than 45 film festivals, with Louie citing Asian-American film festivals as particularly helpful for cultivating an audience.
“We decided to use our festival run as a theatrical run,” Louie said. “Targeting your marketing to particular audiences is a good strategy.”
While the fragmented film market makes it difficult to gain a large following, press from blogs like angry asian man have helped with DVD sales.
Louie is currently juggling several feature films and short films, including an untitled Haitian film in post-production and another feature with director Chun titled You’re a Big Girl Now.
If you missed the screening, Children of Invention is playing at Facets Cinematheque at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. through Thursday, May 20.