CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Documentary Filmmaker S Leo Chiang and "Mr. Cau Goes To Washington"
“Now, you’re not gonna have a
country that can make these kinds of rules work, if you haven’t got men that
have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. It’s a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of
these Senators were boys once.”
Smith (portrayed by Jimmy Stewart) in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
Public television stations across the country will re-broadcast A Village Called Versailles and Mr Cao Goes To Washington starting this week. The two films will be shown back-to-back on stations such as WGBH World (Boston), WHYY (Philly) and Alabama Public Television. And if you are in Silicon Valley, PBS Northern California (KQED) is hosting a film and conversation event Thursday, May 29th in San Jose to highlight the rise of Asian Americans in Silicon Valley politics and show clips from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington and A Village Called Versailles.
the Center for Asian American Media, which funds television programs for
subject matters based on Asian Americans, asked filmmaker S. Leo Chiang to do a
documentary film on an Asian American political figure based out of New
Orleans, he said yes without hesitation.
Chiang is best known for his documentary film A
Village Called Versailles that was nominated for an Emmy Award;
received eight film festival awards; aired on PBS Independent Lens series; and
has been acquired by more than 200 academic public libraries. The film focused on the rebuilding and
transformation of the Vietnamese American Community in post-Katrina, New
“A Village Called Versailles is part of the reason I was approached
to do this project, because I spent quite a bit of time in New Orleans in the
Vietnamese community and they thought I was the right person for the
project. They actually came to me and
said they were putting a lot of programs for politicians, one of which was
Cau is not your normal politician; Cau was at the time considering going to
seminary school to become a priest; and in fact, did not come under the
political public radar until after $90,000 was found in then Louisiana
Congressman William Jefferson’s freezer.
Jefferson would later be convicted of taking bribes. Thus began the
novice’s bid for the Senate.
What makes Joseph Cau unusual are three things: he is the first Vietnamese American to be a
congressman; he is Republication when over 70% of the New Orleans population
identify themselves as Democratic; and he is an extreme idealist.
It seemed only fitting that the title of the film would be Mr.
Cao Goes To Washington; a bit of a spin on the classic movie Mr.
Smith Goes To Washington with Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith. The film
reveals the journey of Mr. Cau’s ideals and his good intentions, only to be a
bit dazed by that great dose of reality. The film took about two years to film
and complete, beginning with Cao’s campaign for the 2010 election of the New
Orleans district congressman office and through his second campaign. Chiang described Joseph Cau’s bid as
Republican Senator for Louisiana being something nobody expected, especially
“It was a fluke. He is the first Vietnamese immigrant voted
into Congress and he was the only Republican that voted in favor of President
Barack Obama’s health care reform bill. Mr.
Cau is idealistic in terms. He really
believes you can overlook partnership and racial representation. It was something he strived to achieve during
those two years”
Chiang traveled from his home base of San Francisco to New
Orleans and Washington D.C. and spent the days with Congressman Cau.
“I was in New Orleans for six to eight
weeks straight through. I’d just show up at Joseph’s office and hung out there
as much as I could and followed him where I was allowed to go with a
camera. Even though there were some
things I was not allowed to shoot, I had more access than many people.”
Chiang and Cau have a lot in common; both are Asian and both
at one time considered a different career field. Chiang, even though he always was fascinated
with film at an early age, thought he’d become an engineer, and started taking
“I was working apple
computers for a while and not satisfied with the work. I was very curious about
media and photography and life. And I
liked to play with camera and make weird little short films. It was kind of a fluke. I didn’t have too much film training at that
point. It was a sign and I needed to
drop what I am doing and go to film school.”
Chiang was accepted into the film program at the University
of Southern California where he received his MFA in film production. His focus was on fiction and non-fiction
films, and he found that he enjoyed the non-fiction the best.
“I was always interested
in story telling and documentaries stood out.
I love traveling, meeting different people, going to unusual
places. Real life stories are so much
more compelling than what people can make up.
I tend to lean toward more things that have more observational elements
In a screenplay – the play itself determines the outcome of
the film; and how it is structured. In a
documentary the participants ad lib at will, and determine the structure and
direction of the film. The writing for
the documentary film is based on what was said by the participants.
“The first step of
making a documentary film is to converse with your subject, which Cao would
do. There are lots of discussions about
dramatic structure, character development.
You let what you film determine how it is going to be put together.”
After 800 hours of worthy footage, the editing process can
be a painful one, especially when you have to cut the footage down to a 71-minute
“The way I like to edit is to start on the
scenes and the shoots that I remember the most compelling to me when it was
being video taped and start to think about the whole story, and what the film
is about. Even then, there will be more
edits. First passage is not the end
that I could include Cao’s back story, which is fascinating and unusual. As an eight year old he came to America and
was raised by his parents, uncles, aunts, relatives and sponsors. He originally came to California but decided
to become a priest and moved to New Orleans.
Joseph’s father died in the middle of his reelection campaign. A lot of people were against him and he dealt with a lot of personal stuff. It was tricky to try to capture that
story. He is now studying for a PhD in
Mr. Cao Goes To Washington had its first screenings in San Francisco, the place he calls home.
“Actually when I first
moved to the USA going to high school in Santa Jose I felt comfortable in the Bay
area. It’s a dense city and we lived in
an apartment in multiple unites that are the typical San Francisco
Victorian. It is a very beautiful city;
one of the most beautiful in the world.”
is now working on a project with another filmmaker about Lesbian, Gays, and
Transgender politicians who live in conservative countries – thus far he’s
followed individuals in Kenya and the Philippines.
also a lecturer in the Social Documentation program at the University of
California, Santa Cruz.
Description And Copyright Information
Scene from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington where Jefferson Smith (portrayed
by Jimmy Stewart) addressees Congress.
Goes To Washington movie poster.
3, 11, and 15
Copyright granted by S Leo Chiang
5, 8, 12
still from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington
Anh “Joseph" Cao, R-La, attends the House Oversight and Government Reform
2009, on Bank of American’s buyout of Merril Lynch.
Attributed to Bill Clark/Roll Call/ Getty Images)
still from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington
Barack Obama talks with Representative Joseph Cao, (R-LA), in the State Dining
Room following discussion with members of Congress about immigration reform,
June 25, 2009.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
still from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington.
Anh “Joseph” Cao chats with President Obama at a Congressional Republican
event, 2010. (Photo courtesy of House Republican Conference).
Production still from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington
Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Congressman Joseph Cao (R-LA) walk over the Judge
Seeber Bridge in the Ninth Ward to release a wreath in commemoration of the 5th
Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Sunday, August 29, 2010.
Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Production still from Mr. Cau Goes To Washington.
Anh “Joseph” Cao campaigning for his re-election in Uptown New Orleans, 2010.
(Photo by Bao Nguyen) Production still
Cau Goes To Washington