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FROSTED YELLOW WILLOWS - A documentary on Anna May WONG by Director Elaine Mae Woo

Interview with the Director of documentary ANNA MAY WONG: FROSTED YELLOW WILLOWS

Elaine Mae WOO, of Los Angeles, is attending this year's Pordenone Silent Film Festival to present her brand new documentary and upcoming book on Chinese-American silent and talkie film icon ANNA MAY WONG. She talked with Helen Dobrensky over a cup of coffee (and a delicious pizza  ) across from the Teatro Verdi where her movie was extremely well received the day earlier.

It took over 10 years for Elaine to finalize the production and shooting of this documentary for which she mainly used her own private collection of photos and audiovisual material, and to gather further evidence on this unusual personality who was the first Chinese-origin actor/actress to break open the barrier and enter an acting career in Hollywood successfully throughout the silent era and on to vaudevllle, broadway and television.

Elaine, how did you begin making the film?
" I spent a lot of time structuring the film as it goes through her entire life-span and particular research was needed on the social climate and her family background and the anti-Chinese legislation existing at that period, which was very important to show as the primary obstacle to her getting anywhere into the Hollywood industry and alternately, her outstanding motivation, too."
Then, Jean LAU, the co-writer, corrected and we together come up with the final script.
In fact, I did the visuals by storyboarding first and the script next. We were proud and thrilled to have Nancy KWAN do the audio and narration in the film and in all, there were 5 editors who worked on it."

How were you ever incited to do a documentary on this topic? Is this your first film, really?

Unbelievably, it is.   How I really got into this is that I was approached at a reception in L.A. by an "A" film director - who called me a "Dragon Lady" (I am of Chinese ancestry too).  "Who is the Dragon Lady", I asked - I really had no idea !  Why, Anna May Wong, THE Chinese-American film star, he told me.  So, intrigued, I went over to the Academy of Arts and Science Film library and found a file there that was so thin there was scarcely anything on her. That was in the mid '90's.  10 years later, the file is now enormous, as interest has been aroused with the publication of books about the actress.
Then I started research in a chronological order.

Did you do all your research on her in Los Angeles ?
OH, no. Much of my findings where in European archives and film institutions, especially pure material on her one-woman shows that she took all over Europe. She had originally gone there at the request of director Richard EICHBERG to make three films and ended up staying in Europe from 1928-1930.

I got native adult speakers to translate the material for me from Sweden, Germany,  France, etc.

What do you think is the main interest of this film star now?
She is definitely an example of an Asian woman, third-generation, born in America who had to tackle almost insurmountable obstacles, due to her ethnic origin, to achieve her dream of being a successful actress. Despite all the odds, she did it !
In my view, she is an example for young people, who have difficulties finding a career, and they can emulate her.

She died very young, at 56. Is there something, you are not telling us in the biography, like was her health sketchy ? Did she have a drinking problem ?

I never wanted to focalise on shady, gossipy information about Anna from the start. That is not the purpose of my study. What the books do not stress is that she had St. Vitus Dance disease when she was young and that could have later contributed to her bouts of health problems. She was starting her 2nd year in high school and was bed-ridden several months.

What she leaves is a legacy of being the first Chinese-American who ever reached prominence in a sexist and racist American society, driven by the Chinese Exclusion Act stemming from 1882 which severely restricted the civil rights of Chinese-origin Americans and it was only until 1943 that the Act was repealed. She was right in the throes of if but with her determination, persistence and passion, she succeeded in achieving her dream.

Is this the end of your research on Anna May Wong, or is this an ongoing pursuit for you? 

Definitely, I am continuing my private research on her and her life and am compiling a pictorial book about Anna May Wong, which will go into more detail on her personal life and have just started the outline. It also will identify with the problem of Chinese-American assimilation and exclusion.

Interview with the Director of documentary  ANNA MAY WONG : FROSTED YELLOW WILLOWS

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The story of the legendary folk-hero Juraj Janosik (1688-1713), filmed by American immigrants of Slovak origin. Janosik is the first Slovak full-length motion picture. It was shot on location simultaneusly by two cameras at Blatnica (the mansion of Baron Prónay), Sutovo (as Janosik’s native village of Terchova), the Sutovo waterfalls, Prague, Orava, the Blatnicka Valley, and in the AB Vinohrady Studios in Prague. Premieres of the film took place on 25 November 1921 in Prague and 1 December 1921 in Chicago. In 1995 UNESCO entered this film onto its register as a landmark of our national film heritage. As early as 1975, a preserved American film copy was reconstituted and provided with sound.

“For the first Slovak film they rightly chose the the history of Janosik, the most romantic character of Slovak legends and poetry. Janosik is a child of the people and the mountains of Slovakia. His story contains an infinite treasure, especially in its pictorial presentation of the Slovak people and the Slovak land.” (Dedor Ruppeldt, “Discourse on Automobiles, Airplanes and the Film about Janosik,” Zivena no. 1/1922: documentation with the DVD Janosik, I-II, Slovenska Filmova Klasika/Slovenska Televizna Klasijka, Bratislava, 2006)

Interview with the Director of docu ANNA MAY WONG : FROSTED YELL

Interview with the Director of docu ANNA MAY WONG : FROSTED YELLOW WILLOWS :

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