“Children of Invention,” presented as the opening film of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, is writer and director Tze Chun’s first feature film. This movie has so far won 13 well-deserved festival awards, including “Grand Jury Prize, Best Film” and “Best Narrative Feature” at the SDAFF.
The Film Festival opened on October 15, at the UltraStar Mission Valley at Hazard Center. The night started with a pre-party, at which Asian food such as sushi, chicken satay and fried noodles was served. Inside the theatre, numerous booths offered activities such as a free chi reading and origami.
The film “Children of Invention” is loosely based on Tze Chun’s childhood, during which he witnessed his mother falling prey to various pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes are fake business models in which a person has to pay a fee to start working at a company as a salesperson, but before they start selling the products they are required to recruit a number of people. According to the employer, the employees will be paid based on the number of recruits they make, out of the other people’s fees. However, only the top levels will ever actually receive any money, whereas the bottom levels of the scheme will lose their investment.
Filmmaker Chun called these schemes “a short-cut to the American Dream,” only they do not work. As he had experienced these schemes as a child, the only research he did writing the movie was finding names for the companies in the movie, as almost everything they came up with had been used before by real-life companies.
However, these schemes are only part of the movie’s plot, as it mainly deals with the children’s reaction to losing their house and eventually their mother to one of those schemes.
“Windowbreaker,” which was one of Tze Chun’s first short movies, is an 11-minute short which deals with a series of break-ins in a racially diverse neighborhood. The movie was also part of the official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “Children of Invention’s” Raymond and Tina, the mai n characters, are two characters from his short film that Chun wanted to revisit in a different setting. During the writers’ strike in 2007, he decided to do so and wrote the script. Between March and September of 2008, the movie was financed, filmed and edited and in October presented at Sundance.
According to Tzu Chun, casting the two child actors was really difficult, and to find the right children, he and his team looked at approximately 250 kids. “Most of the work happens during the casting process and not in the direction process,” said Chun. Watching the movie makes it apparent that he chose well, as Michael Chen as Raymond and Crystal Chiu as Tina are absolutely phenomenal. Chun said working with the children was great because they offered a new perspective. “An adult can only approximate childhood so much, and it is [.] nice to have an ongoing dialog with kids who are living in it.”
The film industry, and more specifically the indie film model, is experiencing changes in the way movies are distributed. One can easily watch a movie online nowadays. Tze Chun and his director, Trevor Sagan, received numerous offers from distributors at Sundance, but none were interesting to them, so they decided to distribute the film themselves. Chun called their method of distribution “punk marketing.”
According to Sagan, through DVD-sales at the festivals their movie has played so far and on their website (www.childrenofinvention.com), they have already earned twice as much as any of the distributors offered. The movie will be available on Amazon and Netflix in the future.
Chun describes the great cinematic experience that “Children of Invention” is, as “a family story, it’s a story about the resilience of kids and family in difficult times.”