Chinatown: A Changing Neighborhood

Recommended by Educational Media Reviews Online

“This documentary is ripe for pedagogical use in urban planning, sociology, and Chinese studies courses…many interesting concepts…could be expanded upon in the classroom through discussion, case study analysis, or research. The overall originality of the documentary’s subject matter makes it a worthy addition to library film collections.” – Brandon West, Social Sciences Librarian, State University of New York at Geneseo


Documentary, 26 Minutes, HD 16:9, Color, United States

Subject Areas: Asian American Studies | Urban Planning | Sociology | Ethnic Studies | Public Policy


Synopsis

As Chinatowns across the country are facing off with gentrification, just over 300 Chinese American residents remain in Washington, D.C.’s historic Chinatown. Most of them are seniors living in the federally subsidized section 8 project Wah Luck House and have been pushing for the right to remain in the neighborhood as it undergoes development and rising property values since the early 1970s.

Through the stories of three Chinese Americans, the documentary takes an intimate look at the past, present and future of a changing neighborhood from the perspective of its underrepresented low-income community. Just like when the 1960s Civil Rights Movement inspired many Chinese Americans into action, today’s D.C. Chinatown community has overcome the political and cultural isolation and reached out to nonprofit and legal organizations for education and representation in their on-going activism for equality and justice. The documentary sparks the important conversation of what the future will hold for Chinatowns across North America.


Awards & Festivals

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  • PBS Broadcast on WHUT-TV
  • International Premiere on Beijing TV Documentary Channel 
  • Winner: Best Documentary Short, IndieCapitol Awards
  • Nominations: Best Documentary Short & Capital City Award, Decades of Docs in Our City Film Festival
  • Official Selections: Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Virginia Film Festival, DC Shorts Film Festival, Our City Film Festival, Film Festival at Little Washington, Heritage Film Festival, Utopia Film Festival, DC Ideas Fest, Decades of Docs in Our City Film Festival, Beijing International Film Festival, DC Public Library Our City Fest 

Quotes

Chinatown can serve students making short documentaries, particularly ones about their own communities, as example to discuss access, style, and story.  And it also could be useful for Asian Studies curriculums, to consider other Chinatowns facing gentrification.” – Danielle Beverley, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Northwestern University 

“The film is a unique story yet relevant to other ethnic neighborhoods in cities across the U.S.  It is an important contribution to our understanding of immigration history in the United States.” – Professor Maggie Stogner, School of Communication, American University 

Chinatown would make an excellent addition to geography and urban studies departments seeking material to examine how an invisible population is being impacted by and fighting against urban processes.  The film is also suitable for those studying the changes of Chinatowns across North America.” – Sophie Fung, MA, Urban Studies,  Simon Fraser University, Canada 

“I’ve found the film to be an excellent educational tool in the classroom to engage students in a meaningful discussion about immigration history and changes in the historic Chinatown neighborhood over the last decades.  It engages my diverse student body and encourages critical thinking about important social issues and a part of American history that is often overlooked in mainstream secondary curriculum.”  – Chrissy Stouder, World Languages Department Head, Washington Latin Public Charter School 

“The very first documentary film about D.C.’s Chinatown…takes an intimate look at the past, present and future of the gentrifying D.C. neighborhood, through the eyes of three Chinese immigrants. What makes a Chinatown authentic isn’t an archway or signs in Chinese. It’s the people who’ve called the neighborhood their home for years and hope to do so for many more to come.” – Rebecca Sheir, NPR 

“Here are a few films that have us buzzing: Yi Chen’s documentary looks at the evolution of the Washington, D.C. neighborhood through the lens of three residents, who are trying to hang on to the last vestiges of Chinese culture on a strip where an increasing number of storefronts are chain restaurants and bars.” – Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post


Characters

Yam Chum LEUNG (left), 70s, came to the United States in 1998 from Taishan. Having lived in DC Chinatown for over a decade, Leung is one of the founding members of the Wah Luck House Tenants’ Association and has been serving as the President of the Board since 2008. The 153-unit low-income housing is home to primarily limited English proficient Chinese seniors and families. Leung leads the association in its efforts in advocating for tenant rights.

Jia Ting (Tina) XU (middle) is a retired nurse in her 70s. She immigrated from Shanghai in 1992 with her husband. They have lived in Chinatown for over 20 years. In 2009, Xu testified at a City Council hearing advocating for more affordable housing and a Chinese grocery store in DC’s Chinatown. She also organizes a monthly shopping trip to the Great Wall Chinese Supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia.

Raymond WONG (right), a martial arts teacher in his 40s, immigrated from Hong Kong in 1968. He established the Wong People Kung Fu Association in 1986 – a community organization teaching traditional Chinese martial arts and lion dance. Performing almost 200 traditional Chinese Lion Dance shows each year, Wong dedicates himself to keeping the culture heritage alive in and around Chinatown.

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Team

  • Producer/ Director/ Editor: Yi Chen 
  • Camera: Yi Chen, Ian Cook, Jonathan Adelman, Kian McKellar, Xuan Zhao 
  • Advisors: John Douglass, Gary Griffin, Dr. Esther Chow 
  • Location Sound: Yi Chen, Juliane Piecha 
  • Post Production Audio: Richard Humphries 
  • Trailer Audio Mix: Brian Chew 
  • Audio Consultants: Paul Oehlers, Greg Smith 
  • Motion Graphics: Kristian Perry 
  • Color Correction: Greg Conners 
  • Water Color Artist: Mary Belcher 


Community & Campus Screenings

  • Howard Community College Television 
  • Arlington Independent Media 
  • Montgomery Community Media 
  • National CAPACD 
  • Many Languages One Voice 
  • ONE DC 
  • AARP
  • OCA-DC
  • Chinese American Citizens Alliance
  • DC Historical Society
  • City of Takoma Park
  • Edmonton Chinatown Conference, Canada
  • East Coast Asian American Student Union National Conference
  • Film and Video Association National Conference
  • National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Convention
  • DC Historical Studies Conference
  • AAAPI Literary Arts & Performance Poetry Festival
  • Green Point Group 
  • Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton, Canada
  • The Locavore Film Series, Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse

    


Institutional Collections 

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Southern California 
  • American University 
  • University of the District of Columbia 
  • George Mason University
  • George Washington University  
  • University of Minnesota 
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • University of Alberta, Canada 
  • Washington Latin Public Charter School 
  • Art Bank Collection, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities 

Special Thanks

Funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by Women in Film & Video, American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact, Fudan Fuzhong Overseas Foundation, Rho Psi Foundation, Neel Family Foundation, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the 128 Kickstarter backers who helped bring this project to life.

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