People We Love: Sean Baker Loves Karin Chien
(Karin Chien is an independent film producer based in New York. Her most recent film, Bradley Rust Gray’s The Exploding Girl, premiered at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. Ms. Chien has produced seven feature films, including Greg Pak’s Robot Stories (2002), Michael Kang’s The Motel (2005), and Chris Chan Lee’s Undoing (2006). She also recently launched dGenerate Films, a venture to distribute independent Chinese films to the United States.)
When I was asked to contribute to the People We Love corner, I knew right away I’d be writing about NYC-based producer Karin Chien. Karin is one of the hardest working indie filmmakers out there, not just producing quality independents but also delving into the world of distribution and art exhibition.
I’m more than guilty of incessant questioning and advice-seeking from peers who have made a mark in this industry. Karin was one of those poor souls that I’ve turned to often over the last five years. She has not only been tolerant but incredibly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.
Back when distribution was looking bleak for Take Out, Shih-Ching Tsou (the film’s co-director) and I sat down with Karin to figure out if self-distribution was a wise-choice for our film, as she had successfully self-distributed both Robot Stories and Undoing. Karin proceeded to give us a mini-course in self-distribution for nothing but our gratitude in return. Although we ended up not having to go the self-distribution route, many of the pointers Karin gave us worked their way into Take Out’s distribution plan. As a result, we remained very much involved in every step of the film’s release. I later asked her to watch the first cut of Prince of Broadway on which she gave me invaluable feedback.
Besides the way that she has personally helped me, I’m just very impressed by the arc of her career so far. She is not only producing high-brow American cinema but she is also working on bringing foreign cinema to our shores. As a cinephile, I’m grateful for this as well. In my opinion, her new company dGenerate harks back to what Janus Films and Roger Corman were doing in the ’60s and ’70s, introducing US audiences to foreign cinema that they would not otherwise be exposed to. This will in return help support China’s independent film industry whose cultural importance can not be denied. The sixth generation of Chinese directors are the ones through whose eyes we are seeing the radical change that is occurring in China. I have to commend Karin for wanting to support them not only for commercial purposes but for historic, social and academic purposes as well.
Thanks Karin! And I promise not to ask as many questions in 2009.
— Sean Baker
(Sean Baker is an acclaimed social realist filmmaker who lives in New York City and whose most recent features, Take Out and Prince of Broadway, were both nominated for the prestigious John Cassavetes Award at the 2009 Spirit Awards.)