ARTHUR DONG 曾奕田
San Francisco native Arthur Dong’s film career began with Public an animated Super-8 film shot on his Chinatown bedroom floor in 1970. Based on a poem written by Dong, Public tells the story of a child’s response to oppressive societal norms and the culture of violence surrounding him. The five-minute film earned first prize at the California High School Film Festival and was the young filmmaker’s introduction to the power of film. In his award-winning films since then, Dong has continued to combine the art of the visual medium with an investigation of social issues.
As a film student at San Francisco State University, Dong produced Sewing Woman, a documentary about his mother’s immigration to American from China. The film went on to receive an Academy Award® nomination, and the unexpected demand for the film motivated Dong to start up his own company, DeepFocus Productions, Inc, which continues to develop, produce, and distribute his work. In 1984, he was selected a Directing Fellow to attend the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies.
Arthur’s trilogy of films that investigate anti-gay prejudice were released in the collection, “Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” and features Family Fundamentals, Licensed to Kill, and Coming Out Under Fire. His films about Chinese Americans were released in the follow-up collection, “Stories from Chinese America,” and includes Hollywood Chinese, Forbidden City, U.S.A. and three earlier short films that comprise A Toisan Trilogy (Sewing Woman, Lotus, and Living Music for Golden Mountains). In addition to the full-length versions of each film, Stories from Chinese America premiered the newly scored and restored 1916 film, The Curse of Quon Gwon, the earliest known Chinese American feature film that Dong helped rescue during his work on Hollywood Chinese.
From 1991-1992, Dong produced thirteen documentaries for the Los Angeles PBS program on KCET-TV, Life & Times. For PBS’s first national series on gay and lesbian issues, The Question of Equality, he directed the premiere episode, Out Rage ’69, which explored the New York City Stonewall Riots, an event often cited as the catalyst for the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
Among Dong’s over 100 film excellence awards are an Oscar® nomination, the George Foster Peabody Award, three Sundance Film Festival awards, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Award, two consecutive GLAAD Media Awards and five Emmy nominations. His numerous honors for public service include the Pioneer Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, the Asian American Media Award from Asian CineVision, the Historian Award from the Chinese Historical Society of America, and the OUT 100 Award from OUT magazine, which was presented to Dong “for waging a one-man anti-violence project with his documentary on convicted murderers of homosexuals, Licensed to Kill. Indeed “for his continued success in the challenging arena of independent documentary filmmaking and his longstanding commitment to social justice,” San Francisco State University named Dong its 2007 Alumnus of the Year.
Dong’s feature-length documentaries have been theatrically distributed throughout America and his films have and continue to be featured in hundreds of festivals worldwide. In addition to domestic broadcasts on PBS, the Sundance Channel, and Comcast, his films have been televised in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Retrospectives of his work have been presented at the Human Rights International Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland, the Walker Art Center, the Hawaii International Film Festival, and Outfest. For the 2012 CNEX Documentary Film Festival in Taipei, Dong was invited as their “Filmmaker in Focus,” and in 2015, he was honored with Spotlight tributes at CAAMFest, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the New York Asian American Film Festival.
Funding for Dong’s work has been received from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the Soros Documentary Fund, the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and Fund/John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Initiative, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), the Center for Asian American Media, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, American Documentary, the Hugh Hefner Foundation, Cal Humanities, the American Film Institute, the Unitarian Universalist Association, among many others. Dong has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Film and two Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowships.
Besides film production, Dong served as a curator for the exhibitions, Chop Suey on Wax at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum in San Francisco, and Hollywood Chinese at the Chinese America Museum in Los Angeles. In April 2014, he curated the San Francisco Public Library exhibition, Forbidden City, USA, launching the publication of his book by the same name, which was awarded the 2015 American Book Award and the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Award. Dong was also the subject of full chapters in the books Independent Film Production, Travels in a Gay Nation: Portraits of LGBTQ Americans, The Views from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers, and Hostile Climate: Report on Anti-Gay Activity.
Over the years, Dong has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, Outfest, and the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. He has been invited as a documentary juror for the Sundance Film Festival, the International Documentary Festival at Amsterdam, the Morelia International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival, Outfest, and others.
Dong has taught documentary for over 25 years, including classes at Emory University, San Francisco State University, University of Hawaii, University of North Texas, UC Santa Barbara, University of Texas, the CNEX Doc Academy in Taiwan, the Sundance Documentary Workshop in Beijing, and the Sundance Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker. He recently served as Distinguished Professor in Film at Loyola Marymount University where he designed MFA and certificate documentary programs.
Dong’s latest film is The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor. He is now in post-production, with co-producer Rusty Frank, working on a documentary that features interviews with celebrated masters of tap dance from tap’s golden era, such as Fayard Nicholas, Ruby Keller, Ann Miller, and Cholly Atkins.