With its second season wrapping up next week, I was very excited to interview the woman behind the organization that’s been bringing films from all across Asia—including Japan, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Korea—to Chicago, founder and executive director of Sophia’s Choice, Sophia Wong Boccio.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself . What was your goal in founding Sophia’s Choice?
I was born and raised in a filmmaker family in Hong Kong, father a film editor and mother a movie actress (comedian); it’s in my blood to do something about film. I started Sophia’s Choice as a pet project back in the 90’s in Beijing, showing Chinese films with English subtitles for all the expats and diplomats working and residing in Beijing at the time. Since relocating to Chicago in 2000, I see there’s a void for the marketplace to exhibit Chinese languages films, let alone the entire Asian region. My goal is to fill the void and expose the Asian cultures via films made from Asia. After working for many years as an international film and cultural curator, I founded Sophia’s Choice as a Chicago based 501 C (3) not-for-profit organization with the multiple missions of cultivating the general public’s interest in Asian culture via diverse offerings of Asian films; connecting the Asian film industry with local industry for both professional and educational exchanges; and promoting Chicago as a destination for Asian film company production.
2. Tell us a bit about Asian Pop-up Cinema.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema is the signature semiannual film festival taking place twice a year during the fall and spring seasons. Since its inauguration in September 2015, Asian Pop-Up Cinema has presented 2 North American premieres, 12 Chicago premieres, and a total of 18 contemporary Asian titles including films from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam in 24 showtimes. Artists who attended Asian Pop-Up Cinema include: Directors Yuichi Satoh and Yukinori Makabe from Japan; Director Tom Lin Shu-yu from Taiwan; Pinnacle Award Honoree: Herman Yau Lai-To from Hong Kong; and Japanese Cinema specialist Mark Schilling from Tokyo. All the films are shown in their original language with English subtitles. Each screening is followed by a Q&A session with a visiting or local Asian specialist, film critic, and/or talent from the film. Highly rated, respected associate professor of Cinema + Arts of Columbia College Chicago, Ron Falzone, hosts the post-film Q&A.
3. Sophia’s Choice is a new organization, which was created just last year. You are now wrapping up your second season, what sort of changes do you envision for the upcoming season this fall, as well as future seasons?
As you will notice from the final execution of 1st two consecutive seasons, it is quite an accomplishment for Asian Pop-Up Cinema to deliver such a highly visible and professional film festival by relying on volunteers and/or professionals offering pro-bono and in-kind series plus small financial support from foundations. Moving forward the organization needs to focus on developing some long term financial supporting partners to ensure the sustainability of APUC as well as prioritize expanding our marketing reach beyond the community partners.
4. What has been the most challenging aspect of founding this organization? The most rewarding?
The founding of the organization was pretty straight forward as I am a seasoned Not-for-profit arts & culture manager and since the organization was founded on my own personal vision and passion, nothing was impossible. Most rewarding as of today is that after 24 showtimes, all the film choices have been highly appreciated by the audiences including film professionals/critics specialized in Asian films located outside of United States. I feel most gratified that directors/artists are accepting invitations to attend a start-up film festival like APUC with the same enthusiasm that they have for the big film festivals.
5. How do you select which guests are invited to your screenings?
Since directors attending the film festival are coming with their films, festival guests are chosen based on the content and quality of their films. I do not at this point select our festival guests based on the filmmakers but rather based on their recent works worthy of a presentation in Chicago under APUC.
6. Compared to the past, what are some recent trends you’ve noticed in contemporary Asian cinema?
Film industry around the world shares one common characteristic in that a film’s success measured by its box office revenues. Very often certain genres of commercial films are created by following the lead of other successful box office films. Only very established directors, with secure financial resources, can afford to be original in their new works either to start a completely new genre or to re-imagine some of the current genres to create a new trend. The outcome is always a mix of genres of old and new ideas that I do not even consider that they are making trends.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema will close its second season with a tribute to film director, actor, cinematographer, scriptwriter, and producer, Herman Yau Lai-To; first with the North American premiere of his film, The Mobfathers, on Thursday, May 19th at the AMC River East 21 and finally with a closing night gala on May 20th at Venue SIX10. The night’s events will include a cocktail reception and a feature presentation of IP MAN: The Final Fight, one of Herman Yau’s most celebrated recent works, followed by an onstage “Conversation With The Director.” Mr. Yau will be the first recipient of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Pinnacle Award. For more information be sure to visit asianpopupcinema.org.
— Interviewed by Jennifer Lopez