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'Children of Invention' comes to Starz Denver Film Festival

Director Tze Chun's debut feature-length film up for Emerging Filmmaker award


Courtesy photo

This undated photo shows "Children of Invention" Director Tze Chun.

“Children of Invention” (USA, 2009)

Directed by Tze Chun

Thursday, Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 20, 4 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.


Two first-generation Chinese kids in suburban Boston find themselves on their own after their desperate mother is unwittingly involved in a pyramid scheme and arrested.  Older brother Raymond takes a page from her marketing seminars to start creating a life for himself and his sister – casting a strange, pint-sized reflection on the American Dream.

In cooperation with University of Colorado at Denver Asian American Education Program

For Tze Chun, finding inspiration for his film, “Children of Invention,” took him back to his childhood.


The 29-year-old writer and director follows the story of two Chinese-American kids who must fend for themselves after their mother is arrested for taking part in an illegal pyramid scheme. The promise of getting rich quick, Chun said, is seductive for many who are immigrants or in need of money, and it was something he saw first-hand growing up in Boston.


“It took me back to when I was a kid,” he said. “I would go to all these pyramid-scheme seminars with my mom and my little sister.”


Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the film has garnered 14 awards from different film festivals around the country. And at the Starz Denver Film Festival, it is up for the Emerging Filmmaker award.


“It’s always interesting because you never really know what’s going to happen when you make a movie,” he said. “You never know what the trajectory is for it.”


The movie is Chun’s first foray into feature-length film after having done a number of short movies, including “Windowbreaker.” He never planned on turning the short into a full-length movie, he said, but there was an element in it that he wanted to explore.


“(‘Windowbreaker’) had two kids in it who have a single mom who’s working all the time. They’re kind of like latch-key kids,” he said. “ ... I kind of like that family dynamic so I started thinking about what a feature-film plot could be that involves that family.”


Cindy Cheung – best known for her role as Young-Soon Choi in “Lady in the Water” – plays Elaine, the mother who gets arrested. But it is the two kids, Michael Chen and Crystal Chiu, who carry the movie.


“We looked at about 250 kids,” Chun said, “and it was difficult to find the two kids who we thought could carry the movie because really they are ... pretty much in every single scene.”


Initially, he thought he would have to do a lot of improvising for the young actors, anticipating that they wouldn’t be able to remember their lines. But they quickly proved him wrong, he said, and came to the set on the first day with all their lines memorized.


“Kids can have a pretty good understanding of material as long as you take the time to walk them through it,” he said. “Most of the time, it’s just me asking the kids, ‘What happens here in this scene? Why do you think you’re saying this? Why do you think your mom’s mad at you here?’ ...


“If they don’t get it, it’s just gently pushing them toward their purpose.”


Ultimately, the story’s about survival.


“I hope this film can be a reminder that we’ve had bad times before, individually and as a country, but we’ve always made it out fine,” Chun said in his director’s statement. “America’s a melting pot. It’s made up of immigrants who are, by the nature of their journey here, survivors. It’s what we’re best at, and it’s what we’ll continue to do.”


For more information on "Children of Invention," visit www.childrenofinvention.com.

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