The making of a #film #documentary - a #backstory.
Having talked to several people who are making films, whether documentaries or not, I am learning some behind the scenes stories that are truly inspiration. None is more so than the story of "Journey of a Thousand Miles," told by award winning film producer Zhu Shen and her son, Perry. Not withstanding all the investments and fund raising and meeting celebrities in the industry who validate the film by endorsing it. The act of putting a story like this on film is so enormous, those of us we are blessed with the ability to watch it (when it is released, watch the video to learn more), can never imagine how much work someone like Perry and Zhu put into a project of this magnitude.
#Storytelling from Real Life
This is a story within a story within a story. There is more to this remarkable journey than the angst, the worry, and the desire to keep one man's essence alive via film. There is more to it than Zhu's journey and recognition as she begins to recognize her own artist value (with help from son Perry). Within this journey, of a thousand miles not steps as I mistakenly say more than once during the interview, there is human frailty but also human courage. There is human anger and fierce exasperation, but there is also joy and understanding and there is a coming to wisdom.
As I listened to Zhu reveal the backstory of "Journey of a Thousand Miles," I began to understand how making this film was a necessity, as much as it was a joy, to produce. Oh, not because it's the story of the struggles to understand why Perry's father, Changyou, Zhu's husband, had to be taken from Perry and Zhu by cancer - that story is brutal in and of itself, as are so many - but because Perry and Zhu are master storytellers who offer us their raw, authentic, vulnerability and emotion in ways many of us would never do, within our own families. Because we can watch and see ourselves in the story, perhaps, as Zhu goes through her own journey as her talented and creative son Perry grows up without a father.
Tug of War Between a Mother and a Son
What parent wouldn't relate to the story of struggles, the tug-of-war, the ups and the downs, of raising children who repeatedly test their boundaries? We can all relate, whether Moms or Aunts or Dads. Yet, how many of us come to learn it's necessary sometimes to stop and ask this question (as Zhu's coach asked her at one point), "If you had to make a choice - the film or your son, what would you choose?"
Watch and see what Zhu did. How she solved this dilemma, and how Perry contributed.
Be watchful and listen carefully as Zhu talks about this problem. This is not as easy as it sounds. Yes, of course, family must come first! But how do you reconcile that with the debt - debt not only in dollars, but in responsibility? Where does Tiger Mom end and Zen Mom begin?
We are all family
I have so many notes written to assist me in writing this blog post, all thrown aside. So much worth saying that I know I will not say. So many hot tears making me want to cry and wail because, I too, have watched cancer take a loved one. I, too, have struggled with a parent. I, too, have wondered where do I take my creativity - if not here, then where?
Zhu reminds us that we are all human. That this film about the conflicts in her life with her son, during a time of grief and recovery, is a tiny speck of time in the shared humanity of all people. The film is about diversity, showcasing Asian communities and cultures, but it's also to say, "We are here. We are the same. We laugh and cry and suffer, like all people of this world." And, perhaps, "We can hold hands as we travel forward for another thousand miles."
The powerful story, the biggest one, about the making of the film, pales in comparison to the story of how Zhu went from Tiger Mom to Zen Mom. And how she and Perry were able to take the film home, to China, to show it to Changyou's 90 year old mother, years after the cancer consumed him. As I talk about often, this ability to bring family history alive, to bring the story of your family, your grandparents, and your parents, and your children, to life, is priceless.
And still, like an onion we must peel away another layer to learn a little more about Zhu Shen - from another writer's voice.
As noted in the article linked here, by Zachary Noriega,
In 2018, during a trip back to California from China, Perry pointed out how the documentary Zhu was filming about his growth as an artist should be more about her growth as a mother and becoming an artist in her own right. They agreed that the focal point of her film should be about her transformation, and Zhu retitled the project Journey of a Thousand Miles – From Tiger Mom to Zen Mom. The theme of the movie shifted to focus her family’s story of restoring trust and hope, one she sees as very important in a time when many families are estranged, and how she learned to pay attention to her son’s emotional needs. She is proud to join the many women using their passion and empathy for social justice issues to dominate documentary filmmaking, despite filmmaking overall being white, male dominated.
I have so many talented and smart people on my show, and this interview shows that Zhu is among the highest in talent and resilience and storytelling. Her capacity to bring the listener into the story, offering so much angst and then joy, will captivate you throughout. This is about an amazing journey. A "Journey of a Thousand Miles".
Watch the video to the end to get updates on where you can connect with Zhu Shen, in April 2022 and May 2022.
Those thousand steps I mistakenly mention in the show are just the beginning of the story - it's the thousand miles you must pay attention to! "Journey of a Thousand Miles" - best heard from Zhu (Ju) Shen herself, in the interview embedded below.
But before you watch that, perhaps you have two minutes to watch this trailer.