Reviews, Awards & Screenings


Sandra Heberer
PBS Director of News and Information Programming

"In an intimate and accessible way, ANCESTORS IN THE AMERICAS tells a sweeping story.... This is history that surprises; its artful presentation is a unique and wonderful achievement."

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

"...The Review Committee thought your two programs and the proposal were phenomenal. We were struck by the breadth of scope of not just the U.S. but all the Americas and not just the American West we conventionally think of.

It was sweeping, touching us all. The historical pattern of immigration and re-migrations from India and China to South America to the Caribbean and then to Queens, Brooklyn, New Jersey is very surprising.

We were impressed most of all with the script itself, the writing in which structurally there is so much information which is not only coherent but poetic, weaving between history and impressionistic feeling for the labor, culture, and lives of people.

The Review Commitee is inclined to support the whole cost..."

Irene Wood, Booklist Publication
American Library Assoc., Booklist Star Outstanding in its Genre

EDITORS' CHOICE Part 1 and 2

"Ages 17-adult. Long before the Chinese immigrated to California to work in the gold mines and on the railroads, there were many centuries of Asian presence in North and South America.

In Coolies, Sailors, Settlers: Voyage to the New World, filmmaker Loni Ding (Color of Honor, Nisei Soldier) unearths--with methodical detail, extensive research, and abundant footage shot around the world--the rich and troubled interrelations of Asians and Americans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

The second title in the proposed three-part series,Chinese in the Frontier West: An American Story, examines the virtual enslavement and widespread exploitation of Asian workers and the relentless discrimination they experienced as they made their way in nineteenth-century America.

All the standard elements of the documentary format are present--both public and private, visual and textual material of the periods--but Ding has adroitly melded them into an impressionistic, personal work. Dissolves and overlays of vintage stills and modern portraits are backed by poetic but incisive narration, which includes memoirlike musings of personal impressions--such as the coolies sent to toil in the guano pits of Peru or the "bachelor" farmers in exclusionary California communities.

Eye-opening for its startling distinct approach to Asian American history, ambitious in scope, and exhaustive in coverage, this extraordinary series presents a fresh, unconventional study of the Asian presence in the Americas.

Studied in tone, this provocative title will reward the attentive viewer and the creative instructor."

-Irene Wood, Media Reviewer, Booklist

Professor Robert Allen, Senior Editor, Black Scholar

"... a wonderful and truly outstanding series. The global approach greatly expands and deepens the context for understanding the experiences of Asians in the Americas, and the role of the European powers and the U.S. in creating the Asian Diaspora? a major achievement -a qualitative leap forward! Congratulations!"

Morton Marcus
Curator, Pacific Rim Film Festival, Santa Cruz
Univ. of Calif. Santa Cruz, SRO screening, Merrill College

"... The way the film was made astonished me. Most stunning is the ability of the film to match word to visual, to create an amazing amount of information being simultaneously conveyed. Your work is highly crafted but seems very intuitive, poetry as much as prose.. The sequences and juxtaposing of images created are startling, unexpected. The intuitive use of images rhythmically, interwoven with the commentaries of contemporary specialists has an astonishing effect, intellectually and emotionally affecting.

"Your work is a major achievement..."

Deidre Boyle
Media Studies faculty, New School University, N.Y..

"...You could feel all around you in the audience this growing awe at what you’ve achieved. Personally I felt a yawning gap where I was suspended between feeling wonderfully excited to be learning so much, and at the same time appalled to not have known. There was wave upon wave of revelations, it did not end.

The dignity of the people, their perseverance in adversity, not their victimization, the complexity of the stories told of why they were able to do what they did, the connections to American history -was inspirational. I was blown away.

Your documemoir is a very interesting balance — personal but not a composite personality- creating a human overvoice, a feeling of intimacy, but no attempt to supplant or get in the way of facts and figures and the commentary of specialists which are still key. I don’t know how you carried it off.

What you’re doing is very different, very remarkable.

When broadcast on PBS your Ancestors programs — if properly positioned and publicized like the Civil War was - will have an absolutely transformative effect on audiences.

The potential for good is endless…"

Professor Gary Okihiro
History, Columbia Univ.,
Editor, Journal of Asian American Studies, John Hopkins Press

"It is splendidly conceived, and emotionally compelling, offering a new history of Asian America, indeed of America. A must see.

The two programs contain a historical vision that is trend-setting. It is significant as art, but also as the writing of history, a claim very few documentary films can make.

It is trail blazing, others will eventually stream behind...."



Prof. Mark Juergensmeyer,
Director, Global and International Studies, UC Santa Barbara

"Remarkable...The best introduction to the Asian diaspora experience we have even seen... Stunning visual images and story line. It makes a strong point with brilliant images and a dramatic story line that appeals to audiences in this generation and beyond, well into the next century."

Prof. Dilip K. Basu,
Dept. of History, UC Santa Cruz

"Stunning! ANCESTORS Crosses ethnic boundaries and presents a breathtakingly beautiful narrative on Asian arrivals in the Americas from an informed world historical perspective."

Prof. John Kuo Wei Tchen
Director, Asian Pacific American Studies and Institute NYU

"The first part of an epic poem....The film emphatically demonstrates (that) we have a shared history to tell and retell for all to hear and understand...

I'm most impressed by your dogged commitment to research. The trade, the goods, the tea, colonial desires, and the opium all weave together. Lots of dignity. These folks do not come off as passive! Lots of strength and pride. You've done a terrific job!!!"

Barbara Abrash
Assoc. Director, Center for Media, History and Culture, NYU

"(An) informative and highly surprising film, which overturns familiar assumptions about Asian American migrations and cultures to reveal the rich and complex realities beyond the cliche's."

Professor Robert Lee
American Studies, Brown Univ.
Panel, Annual Conference, AAAS (Assoc. of Asian American Studies)

"COOLIES (Ancestors, Part 1) is a revolutionizing Asian American history because it successfully challenges four major Asian American narratives:

1. It offers a vividly explanatory convincing presentation of a world system of internationalizing capital with movements of Asian labor, instead of just "push/pull" type explanations of how individuals decide to migrate, or abstract, faceless geo-economic 'forces of history';

2. It offers an understanding of the multiple destinations of Asian migration/immigration/ re-migrations;

3. It offers a vision of the simultaneity of pivotal events, and not just chronological, linear this, then this, then this... ;

4. It challenges the assumptions of the Asian or Chinese familial/ kinship unit (i.e., tragic sojourning bachelors longing only to reunite with/return to the family unit in China. (And when hopelessly failing to do so, presumably disappearing into some unnamed void).

It proposes instead that the Asian presence in the New World was resiliently interracial from the very beginning, (Time traveler: ‘We survived, took root and made a home..'), and also, suggests a rethinking of stereotypes of Asian male sexuality..."


15th Asian American International Film Festival, San Francisco
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
Museum of Chinese in the Americas, New York University
Wing Luke Museum and Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
Asian Studies Center, Hong Kong University
Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
Denver International Film Festival, Denver, CO
Asian CineVision, NY


Editors' Choice Part 1 and 2 , Booklist Publications, American Library Assoc.



Prof. Mark Juergensmeyer
Director, Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

"A gripping narrative with stunning visual images that seamlessly links its rich historical detail to contemporary issues of multicultural society."

Alvin Lu, SF Bay Guardian

"...This eloquent, intelligently framed, meticulously researched PBS-style documentary on Asian American history is another chapter in Ding’s formidable project of correcting the official record, uncovering the often literally buried bits of truth that not only expose racism as a consciously deployed system, but also provide clues that fill the gap between what we know and what we witness...

Ancestors fulfills the original mission of independent Asian American film: to excavate and narrate secret histories and to see what was hidden from view but in plain sight..."

Subject: Thanks you very much for the excellent job

Dear Ms. Ding,

I was brought to tears when I watched your film, "Chinese in the Frontier West: an American Story"

For a long time, I had a misconception that the Chinese Coolie, who struggled with the waste mine... or sweated in the strawberry patch... are just like a bunch of sheep - easy to be kicked and slaughtered.

"Never fight for the injustice, you come I go."

Your film tells me that it is not like that- the frontier Chinese indeed tried to fight and tried to protect themselves.

Although we have suffered and have been looked down upon in this society, this does not mean that we should continue feeling sorry for ourselves. The only thing I feel, is like what Ah Tye said, "bury me here this is my homeland!"

I brought my son to see your film, and I told him this is your country, and mine - we are going to stay.

Best Regards,

David Tsuei

Dr. May Lorenzo, Ph.D., viewer report after presenting
Ancestors #1 and #2 to a diverse group,
National Conference and Institute on Multicultural Competence

"The people were really amazed at the similarity between Black and Asian, the voyage on the ship, the being excluded. You could see they felt very close to this, the comments were really emotional. You could see how they identified with the show, you could hear a pin drop. Very touching. And when they saw that white man in the Frontiers (Part II) show looking at the pictures and couldn’t find the Chinese workers, saying, ' must be on purpose, huh?", they just roared! They laughed in all the right places.

They really felt they needed this...they were so moved, one 13 year old was crying."

Julie Mackaman
former Co-Director, Film Arts Foundation, SF

"Loni Ding’s 'docu-memoir' approach recreates stories that have lost none of their vividness to the passage of time. When the film takes us into a softly-lit apothecary’s shop or a Taoist/Buddhist temple in a remote forest, the feeling is less like stepping back into history than joining a living, breathing story that is somehow still in progress. Throughout the film, we hear off screen the intermittent stirring of Chinese voices as if coming from the next room, reinforcing an uncanny sense of co-existing realities in the past and present.

Emotionally the film is at different points in the story lyrical, fierce, exuberant, devastating...."

Prof. Steven Caton
Chair, Dept. of Anthropology
New School for Social Research, NY

"This is a beautifully wrought film, with a moving story that is intelligently and at times bitingly told. Though much of the film is about the Chinese in California, their history is told in relation to global political and economic forces such that one learns a lot about the West, the US and China. This film will thus appeal to a broad audience interested in American history, race and ethnicity, immigration and the history of Asian Americans."

17th Asian American International Film Festival, San Francisco
5th Chicago Asian American Film Festival
Museum of Modern Art, NY

Silver Apple, National Educational Film and Video Festival
Editors' Choice Part 1 and 2 1999, Booklist Publications, American Library Assoc.

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