For over ten years, Clif and I have been on a committee that organizes a winter film series held at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine. At first the film series was called MIFF in the Morning, but it is now called Cinema Explorations. And explore cinema we do, choosing foreign films and documentaries that would not normally be showing at a cinema near you. The film series starts in January and runs every other weekend until March. (For specific information about the movies and the times, here is the link to Maine Film Center.)
The first film in the series, the documentary The Search for General Tso, was shown last weekend, and Clif and I went on Saturday, on opening day. How gratifying it was to see the lobby full of people and to hear the happy hubbub of people as they ate bagels, courtesy of Bagel Mainea. It was a good thing The Search for General Tso was shown in the largest cinema because the house was three quarters full, and people who came late had a hard time finding a good seat.
As the title suggests, The Search for General Tso is about one of the most popular Chinese dishes in America. That is, General Tso’s chicken. The filmmakers ask the question, who was General Tso, why do we Americans love his chicken so much, and where did this dish come from? During the course of the film, we find out that General Tso was indeed a real person in nineteenth-century China, and he might have loved to eat chicken. The film also explores the history of Chinese immigrants in American, the extreme prejudice they faced, and how opening restaurants and laundries were two of the limited options available to them to earn their livelihood.
I’m not going to spoil the mystery of The Search for General Tso. I encourage readers to watch this snappy doc for themselves. It is well filmed, the pacing is great, and the animation used to recreate scenes is really nice and not at all cheesy, the way non-animated re-enactments often are. On the General’s website, there is a list of cinemas showing this movie, and it is also available through VOD.
After the film, there was a brief skype discussion with the engaging Jennifer 8 Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Unfortunately, she was getting ready to board a plane when we skyped, and we didn’t hear half as much from her as we would have liked. Still, it was good to hear her comments about the film, however brief those comments might have been.
What to eat after the film? Why, Chinese food, of course. Clif and I, along with our friends Joel and Alice, the unofficial chairs of Cinema Explorations, went to Jin Yuan on Temple Street in Waterville. Clif, Joel, and I ordered General Tso’s chicken. (Alice broke rank and ordered and a curried dish.) The three of us thought the chicken was very tasty. A good end to a good film.