Category Archives: Documentary Filmmaking

About ME: Anna Chen

My name is Anna Chen. I am an assistant intern to producer at Kirschenbaum Productions. I recently graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison, double majoring in Communication Arts and Economics. I will graduate from college in 3.5 years. This spring, while my classmates are still striving to get high GPA in their final semester and suffering from the Wisconsin extremely cold weather, I “escaped”. I feel very thankful for the opportunity to work at Kirschenbaum Productions. It is my first full time position and a transition point in my life.

Anna_Green hairME: Anna Chen

An internship at Kirschenbaum Productions is an ideal position for me. When I decided my major in college, I thought I would become a filmmaker. However, after two years of studying, I realized that filmmakers are artists, whereas I am an artistic economist. Compare to film aesthetics, I am more interested in film distribution and promotion. In between my undergraduate study and graduate study, I believe that my time working for Kirschenbaum Productions, covering range of duties from social media to assistant in post production, is a perfect fit for me. I would love to dedicate the knowledge and abilities that I learned from school to workplace and hope to gain experience in the industry. Therefore, I really appreciate this opportunity.

To describe myself, I have contradictory personalities. On one hand, I am artistic and creative, but on the other hand, I am rational and good at math. My undergraduate majors that I chose were totally unrelated, that’s why my academic life was very tough. It was very hard to switch from film aesthetic thinking to economic rational thinking, but after three years of studying, I will get used to it. Working in film entertainment industry is my dream, and studying economics was just an accident. I have never thought about getting a bank job. The most interesting part of learning economics is that I have improved my drawing skills. I barely remembered the models and concepts, but I am able to hand-draw straight lines, curves and tangents after these classes. It was an unexpected outcome.

I have various interests. I love painting. I started learning traditional Chinese painting since kindergarten. When my skills became proficient, I dedicated my efforts in drawing bamboos, one of the spiritual plants in China. I believe this was the first moment that kindled my interests in arts. Besides painting, I like music very much. I like not only pop music that most young people like, but also classic music. I have played the flute for 7 years, and I was the flute player in my high school orchestra. However, my love for music just stayed as a hobby, I didn’t attempt to enhance it and turn it to my career. My interests for film started in high school. At that time, short funny clips were very prevalent among my classmates, watching these short online clips everyday. I tried to make one funny clip through Windows MovieMaker, and presented in to my classmates during class presentation, which made all of my classmates and teacher laughed, and I felt proud of it.

Tokyo 2014_AnnaTokyo 2013 Summer

My background and experience allowed me to experience different cultures. I traveled a lot and I love travelling. Travelling not only allows me to experience different cultures, but also motivates me to learn different languages. Learning foreign language is a painful process, that’s why so far, I am still not very confident with my English, since it’s my second language. I have travelled to South Korea to take SAT alone. Because I didn’t know a single word in Korean, I was unable to order foods and almost got lost in Seoul. This experience motivated me to learn a third foreign language: Japanese. Therefore, I have learned three semesters of Japanese and I felt very comfortable when I traveled to Japan last summer. My travel experience led me to rethink the process of learning. Active learning is always more efficient than passive receiving. I can apply this to video production as well. I know the need of what to learn, and I actively seek for the strategies to resolve the problem.

Working at Kirschenbaum Productions covers various range of duties. I, an active learner, will be able to apply different knowledge and abilities to fit this position. I really appreciate Gayle’s passion and persistence on making her movies. These qualities are invaluable for me to absord in order to succeed in my future career.


Random facts about me:

  • Favorite film star: Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman
  • Favorite film: Atonement
  • Favorite animation: Pokemon, Doraemon Pikachu
  • Favorite documentary filmmaker: Werner Herzog
Posted in Documentary Filmmaking, LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! Updates, Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Christa

Gayle Kirschenbaum is making a film about her highly-charged relationship over the years with her mother called Look At Us Now, Mother! Camille Billops made a documentary called Finding Christa (1991) about her relationship with her daughter Christa. The difference is that Christa was adopted when she was four and Gayle was not adopted.

Giving Christa up for adoption was probably Camille’s hardest decision to make, but when her lover refused to marry her, Camille felt compelled to give up her daughter. Christa was adopted by professional singer Margaret Liebig who becomes a very loving parent.

This movie could have easily been called Finding Mom because Christa thought very much about finding her natural mother. Her adoptive mother Margaret encouraged her to search for her birth mother. Through the help of ALMA, in 1980, 20 years after being adopted, Christa found her mother in New York City.

Finding Christa has a running time of 55 minutes and contains a combination of home movies, dramatic sequences, and interviews with family members. The movie is written, directed, and produced by Camille Billops and her husband, James Hatch, a professor of theater at City University of New York.

In addition to Camille and Christa, the cast includes Christa’s adoptive mother; Christa’s adoptive siblings; and Camille’s aunts, uncles, and cousins.


Canby, Vincent. “Reviews/Film Festival; Documentary of Mother-Daughter Reconciliation.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Mar. 1992. Web. 08 May 2013. <>.

“Finding Christa.” Sundance Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2013. <>.

“Finding Christa.” Third World Newsreel. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2013. <>.

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To Make People Feel Something

Yo-Yo Ma has been quoted as saying, “If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing,” He said, “You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.”

Music, the moving image, or any artistic expression tells a story and the risks taken during the process of its creation, even the trips along the way, are part of what will make the tale worth telling. Risk taking is often confused with a mistake until it’s recognized as something bold and new. Risks are often what bring artists to their next creative level. The second half of Ma’s quote is about response. Does the artistic expression elicit a feeling? Is that feeling powerful? I think documentary prompts feeling when it reflects people and their behavior honestly. The exploration of human condition, and more importantly our relationships, along with the why and how each of us react to them, form our perceptions of the world, and is what makes us tick.

One of my favorite artists, Joseph Cornell, (shadowbox pictured left) made beautiful shadowboxes and collages, rich in subtext, about his relationship with his mother, with women and his view of the world outside his insulated life. Cornell’s intricate shadowboxes have inspired a range of feelings, from playful delight to claustrophobia.  Filmmaker Barbara Kopple gave her audiences (of all walks of life) a feeling of connectedness with the wives of coal miners and Kopple’s relationship with them came to play in their story in Harlan County, U.S.A (1969). Documentarian Alan Berliner explored the complexities of identity through his need to know his father and learn his ancestry in Nobody’s Business (1996). Through Berliner’s personal story, he pulls viewers in with his humor and his ability to make us think about our own sense of self and where it comes from. A couple weeks ago I saw Herb and Dorothy (2008) by Megumi Sasaki (pictured below) and edited by Bernadine Colish. The story is of  Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who were early collectors of contemporary art. Filmmaker Sasaki was able to convey the Vogel’s true passion for art and the artists, their true connection to the artistic process in a way that endears audiences to them. They are common folk like us, (a librarian and a postal worker who love cats, turtles and fish) who have an academic’s knowledge and creative’s soul when it comes art. Her next film is Herb & Dorothy 50×50.

Good storytellers convey feelings and take you there. They take risks in their method because their vision won’t accept anything less. Cornell made shadowboxes using found objects a fine art. Kopple made the backbone of a coal miner documentary about women’s strength. Berliner repurposed ephemeral and orphan films along with arguments with his father to weave a hysterical and fascinating narrative. Sasaki brought blue collar audiences into the New York art world by showing us that anyone can understand and even own art.

Another quote from Yo-Yo Ma that really resonates is, “The best storytellers always get really into their own stories,” Ma says. “They’re waving their arms, laughing at their own jokes.” I couldn’t agree more and good storytellers are fearless through whatever medium they work in, or approach they take.

I have been at the Kirschenbaum Productions for close to a year now as an Associate Producer and Associate Editor. The first thing that attracted me to LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! (LAUNM) was Gayle’s ability to take risks with this film and her previous short My Nose. Her documentaries are personal stories with relatable themes, but just because they’re personal doesn’t mean they’re looked at through rose-colored glasses. Her narratives are told with rawness and peppered with humor, which makes for a sometimes uncomfortably honest – and sometimes painful, but often pretty funny combination. After all, laughter is often the best way to settle chaos.

LAUNM is a social issue film which looks at (and brings awareness to) the effects of strained upbringings and tumultuous relationships that often exist between family members, and more specifically mothers and daughters. In other words, the themes are layered and deep, but brought with waving arms and laugher because they are told through a terrific storyteller and the many staff members who are all arms of the whole. Each understand the most important point of making art; to make people feel something.

What art or artist has made you feel something lately?

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