Need to ‘Unravel’ a little’?

Unravel starewell

Since the earliest cave drawings discovered in the PyreneesMountains of southern France, to One Thousand and One Nights – a story so good it is fabled to have seduced the King and saved the famous storyteller Scheherazade’s life, to more recently Steve Jobs delivering persuasive keynotes, the ability to tell a good story is what has bound and divided humanity. The medium is now through Hollywood movies, snapchat stories, WeChat, and creative commercials but the intrinsic desire to understand the world through stories remains the same.

Clara Davis, an American expat and storytelling enthusiast, is trying to remind Shanghai of this innate human trait.  Earlier this year she created, Unravel, a live storytelling platform where individuals share their memories and experiences based on a given theme.  Live storytelling means there is no hiding behind Instagram filters, prepared statements, or edits, it’s just the person and their story laid bare to the public.  The platform is gaining traction despite, or perhaps because of, the raw and vulnerable nature of live storytelling.

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Clara Davis, creator of Unravel  

The first event was held this February 2017 in District Bar off Wulumuqi and Yuyuan, a bar Davis opened in partnership with the Belgian brewery group Duvel Moortgat.  Seven volunteers took their respective turn on the small stage to share their prepared stories to a packed crowd of expats and Shanghai locals squeezedin the bar.  The theme of the first nightwas ‘Impressions’.  The turnout exceeded Davis’s expectations.

Riding on the high of this success, Davis moved forward and planned the next Unravel event for the end of March.  The second event was hosted at the poke cafe Little Catch.  Davis says she always intended to hold the event at different venues, allowing the storytelling platform to mix and mold to the city’s different neighborhoods.  She also wants to ensure the voices are coming from diverse backgrounds so she set up an email account (unravelshanghai@gmail.com) for storytellers to pitch their stories this way,to assure she is reaching out beyond her network.

The theme for the second event was ‘The Line: Crossing it,walking it, toeing it’.  It dumped rain that night but a good crowd still filled up the brightly lit second story poke café.  This time six storytellers took the microphone and revealed a little bit about themselves to the interested attendees. There was plentiful seating and better sound this time, but the ability to captivate an audience is more than just having a perfect set up oreven an interesting story to share.

Unravel speaker

Photo credit: Keith Esposito

A central component of any good story is the individual’sability to craft the tale. “If you don’t take into account story telling techniques” Davis explains “you can lose the value of the story”. A narrative needs to have a natural flow, a clear beginning, middle and end.  People should certainly tell stories that are meaningful to them but also understand how to cater thecontent to the particular audience.  Davis hopes in the future there could be the opportunity for more experienced storytellers to share their expertise with novices interested in getting up onthe stage.

The interaction between the storytellers and audience isalso a component that intrigues Davis about live storytelling events.  Unlike watching a movie or listening to a podcast, the listener is an active participant in the story.  Davis commented, she enjoys watching the audiences’ reaction to the storyteller – how the audience laughs with, smirks,or cringes as the storytellers “give a piece of themselves”.  The purpose of the events are in some way as much about creating a space for people to share their stories, as they are also about people coming together for a brief moment to form a whole new story.

Unravel top view

Photo credit: Keith Esposito

The third event is already planned for April 27th at recent Shanghai transplant TRIBE.  The theme of the stories will be centered around ‘Chance’.  Davis is already going through pitches to select the next round of storytellers.  In some ways this topic is the most fitting to describe her own story.  Landing in Chengdu, China to teach English, the culture and energy of China rolled her one year into five going on six years.  Now, equipped with a masters’ degree and a few more years of China experience, she has launched one of the most popular storytelling platform in Shanghai to date.  Admittedly, she chuckles there was also a bit of good luck and chance that brought her to this point.

Like Davis continuing to weave her own narrative, the Unravel storytelling platform is in its formative stages.  From all perspectives though, storytellers and listeners, it is certainly a story worth taking part in.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

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PIGMAN: Halloween

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The Japanese Schindler

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Director Cellin Gluck’s Persona Non Grata tells the remarkable story of Chiune Sugihara.

“I may have disobeyed my government but, had I not done what I did, I would be disobeying God”, said Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat whose selfless actions saved thousands of Jewish lives during World War II. Director Cellin Gluck’s latest feature film, Persona Non Grata, tells Sugihara’s remarkable story.

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(foreground) Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and (background)General Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Germany Hiroshi Oshima (Fumiyo Kohinata)

In 1939, Chiune Sugihara was posted to serve as Vice-Consul for Japan in Kaunas, Lithuania. As the Nazis and Soviet Union seized more land across Europe, persecuted Jewish refugees, finding no unoccupied nation willing to take them, came to Sugihara seeking an escape route to Japan. When Tokyo refuses to issue them entry visas for Japan, Sugihara knows that compliance will condemn the refugees to their fate under the Nazis. A solution presents itself when he learns that the Dutch consul was issuing documents stating that the bearer could enter the colony of Curacao, a territory where no visa was required. Provided with a final destination, it gave Sugihara excuse enough to provide transit visas through Japan, a type of visa he was never explicitly told not to issue, and the refugees a means of getting through the Soviet Union. To buy time, he writes to Tokyo seeking clarification of the original refusal, giving him a grey area in which to act in the meantime. As Gluck explains, “It’s plausible deniability to use a 21st century term. It’s the way diplomacy should work… It’s all games and I think that’s the beauty of the story.” Sugihara’s actions saved an estimated 6000 lives but cost him his career.

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Cellin Gluck (left) directs Fumiyo Kohinata

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Cellin Gluck first become interested in the story after reading The Fugu Plan, a book about proposals to resettle Jewish refugees in Japan. “You can’t write this stuff, the truth is stranger than fiction… the story blew me away”, he explains. In 2014, Japanese studio Nippon TV decided to make a picture to unofficially mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, casting Toshiaki Karasawa to play Sugihara. Karasawa, who had acted in Gluck’s 2011 movie Oba The Last Samurai, insisted that if the film was not going to be in Japanese, nor shot in Japan, then there was only one director with the multicultural perspective that could do the story justice.

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Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and Wolfgang Gudze (Cezary Łukaszewicz)

“I speak the language fluently and I understand the Japanese psyche to a certain extent, I can do both. I can make films the American way… but I still have Japanese sensitivities”, says Gluck.

The director was born in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, to a Jewish American father and Japanese American mother. After graduation from college in the US, his first film job was carrying the mirror for famously volatile eccentric Klaus Kinski on avant-garde Japanese director Shūji Terayama’s Fruits of Passion. He moved to New York to become an actor but instead found work directing commercials for a Japanese advertising agency. In 1988, he returned to Japan to work as an Assistant Director on Ridley Scott’s Black Rain.

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Cellin Gluck (right) directs Michał Żurawski

His American-Japanese background has frequently informed his movie career, which has included roles as Japanese unit production manager on Godzilla (2014) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) as well as the 2nd unit director on The Hunted (1995) and Into the Sun (2005). His directorial highlights include Saidoweizu – a 2009 Japanese remake of the Academy-Award winning US comedy Sideways – and Oba The Last Samurai, his co-written film about the survival of a small group of soldiers after the Battle of Saipan at the end of World War II.

In 1998, Gluck co-founded production company, P.I.G, which now has offices in L.A and Shanghai.

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Irina (Agnieszka Grochowska)

One of challenges in building the story was the limited amount of first-hand information from Sugihara. The fact that he never wrote an autobiography and rarely talked about his actions is telling of the humble character of the man, who acted purely because he felt it was the right thing to do.

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(Left to right)  Dariusz Krysiak (Make up artist), Borys Szyc and Cellin Gluck

In an attempt to accurately capture the diplomat’s character, the Japanese writers Tetsuro Kamata and Hiromichi Matsuo did enormous amounts of research, including spending time with Sugihara’s eldest son’s widow and granddaughter. For the scenes with religious overtones, Gluck consulted with rabbis and Russian orthodox priests. The cast of characters also reflects reality, with Sugihara’s driver Pesch an amalgam of the three or more Polish agents that worked for the diplomat, while love interest Irene is a nod to his Russian first wife.

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Avraham Goehner (Zbigniew Zamachowski) and Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa)

Produced by Cine Bazar and Nippon Television Films, the 42-day shoot was initially planned to be in Lithuania, but an insufficient domestic supply of equipment and crew negated the rebate incentives. Instead the US$6m production moved to neighbouring Poland, an appropriate choice given 90% of those Sugihara saved were Polish. It also brought a wealth of top Polish acting talent, including Borys Szye (Pesch) and Agnieszka Grochowska (Irina). The DoP was Academy Award nominated Hollywood veteran Garry Waller.

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Cellin Gluck (Director), Michał Magoń (DIT), Garry Waller (DP), Paweł Dylik (Grip), Hubert Koprowicz (1st AD), Marzena Wojciechowska (Costume)

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Sugihara’s story has brought inevitable comparisons with 1993’s Schindler’s List. In fact, there were ‘Schindlers’ who helped save Jewish lives in many territories – Estonia, Sweden, Austria, France, China and beyond – the stories of whom started emerging after Spielberg’s movie. “Schindler became a catalyst to get the stories out,” says Gluck “The irony is, Schindler did his work in ’44, whereas all these other guys were saving Jewish lives in 1940 and ’41”.

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Yukiko Sugihara (Koyuki) and Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa)

Sugihara’s actions saw him dismissed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after World War II. Various menial jobs and a life of obscurity working for a small trading company in Moscow ensued. Though the Israeli government named him ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ a year before his death in 1986, a Japanese reluctance to talk about World War II meant he was not formally recognised by his own government until 2000. His name has now been submitted for inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

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Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and Wolfgang Gudze (Cezary Łukaszewicz)

The positive reaction to Persona Non Grata has brought a fresh wave of recognition for Sugihara’s story. At its world premiere in Kaunas last October, the film received a five-minute standing ovation and it has been seen by over a million people in Japan, taking $12m – a substantial achievement in the domestic box office for a historical film. It has been screened at the Atlanta Jewish and Washington Japanese Film Festivals, on Holocaust Remembrance day at the YIVO Institute in New York, and won the Special Jury Award for Cinematic Excellence and Social Justice at the Oregon DisOrient Film Festival.

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(Left to right) Hubert Koprowicz (1st AD), Toshiaki Karasawa, Koyuki, Cellin Gluck (director)

Father Of Photography, Purveyor Of Pornography

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In the West, Louis Daguerre (d.1851) enjoys a distinguished legacy as an esteemed photographer, accomplished painter and inventor of the diorama theatre.  Why then is his name in China synonymous with pornography?

Mr Daguerre owes his dubious second lease of renown to porn peddlers Cao Liu, the Chinese equivalent of US site Pornhub.  Cao Liu runs a popular platform entitled ‘Daguerre’s Legacy’, which allows users to post their own saucy selfies.

Though there is no evidence to suggest Monsieur Daguerre didn’t enjoy perusing images of an explicit nature, it’s probable that he wouldn’t be delighted that his good name has been reduced to a by-word for smut.

We were unable to verify why poor Louis was selected for titular honours 150 years after his death, but it seems likely it’s for little more than his championing of the still image.

Pornography is strictly forbidden in China, with anyone caught spreading or even looking at it risking heavy penalties.  One such example is Chinese media player Qvod, currently on trial for allegedly circulating porn, despite simply displaying search results of videos uploaded by others across the internet.

In spite of the risks, a torrent of porn continues to flood the web, even spreading into live events.  Netizens frothed themselves into a frenzy recently when retired Japanese porn star, Sora Aoi, appeared at the annual company meeting of Chinese company Jing Dong.

Pigpen cinema presents: IRIS

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Screening on Tuesday November 17, 2015
Doors at 9 | Movie starts at 9:30
65-4 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials on beer, wine, and cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn snacks
Space is limited to 35 seats
First come, first serve

More on the film: Iris (2015, 80 min., dir. Albert Maysles)
IRIS pairs legendary 87-year-old documentarian Albert Maysles with Iris Apfel, the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even in Iris’ dotage, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire. IRIS portrays a singular woman whose enthusiasm for fashion, art and people are life’s sustenance and reminds us that dressing, and indeed life, is nothing but an experiment. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, she continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression. “I feel lucky to be working. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.” (C) Magnolia

See trailer here on youku or youtube

Eugenio Recuenco Gives Niccolo Hotels a Five-Star Debut

New P.I.G. director Eugenio Recuenco has just collaborated with luxury branding firm Yang Rutherford to create “New Encounters, Timeless Pleasures,” a classy, lushly-lit spot for the new upscale hotel chain Niccolo Hotels. The wordless, racy ad visually tells the story of a man and woman finding their way to each other, finally to meet and spend their first night together in a deluxe suite at a Niccolo hotel. On their way to one another they wander through the beautiful corridors of the hotel, and experience top notch service from its staff. “New Encounters, Timeless Pleasures,” is dripping with Eugenio’s glamorous signature aesthetic–more of which you can see HERE.

Pigpen Cinema Presents: Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary

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Film Screening Tuesday Aug 18, 2015

Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn snacks
Drink specials on beer, wine, and cocktails

Doors at 9 | Movie starts at 9:30
65-4 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Space is limited to 35 seats
First come, first serve

More on the film:

Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary (2015, 95 min., dir. Daniel Junge & Kief Davidson)

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How did a small toy brick manufacturer from Denmark evolve into a global empire spawning countless franchises, blockbuster movies, hit TV shows, and even amusement parks? In their detailed documentary, filmmakers Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson explore the little-known origins of Lego in the 1930s ,and track the toy company’s evolution into a staple toy of childhoods across the globe. The documentary also chronicles the fans and professionals who’ve devoted their lives to creating and expressing with Legos, and showcases some of the most jaw-dropping Lego sculptures ever seen. Hosted by comedic actor Jason Bateman in a Lego figurine-form, Beyond the Brick is a fun, eye-opening examination the Lego phenomenon.

Dove and P.I.G. Show You Some Real ‘Real Men’

Dove Men and Ogilvy London recently asked director team J+J and P.I.G. to travel all over Shanghai, and film a montage that celebrates real men in today’s world. The film we came back with is a quietly scored and moving tribute to our fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and boyfriends, and the crucial roles they play as our mentors, caretakers, and companions. We welcome you to see the director’s cut of this poignant piece by J+J, exclusively here on our website.

Director Spotlight: Jessica Sanders of P.I.G. China Awarded $150,000 Sloan Grant

2005 Sundance Film Festival - "After Innocence" After Screening Party

Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award-winning documentarian and P.I.G.- repped filmmaker, and she recently received $150,000 from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation to make her next film, Picking Cotton. Jessica’s film will be based on the true story of Jennifer Thompson, a rape victim who unintentionally imprisoned an innocent man by identifying him as her assailant. The man would go on to be exonerated by DNA evidence, after which Torneo developed a close friendship with him. We at P.I.G. are ecstatic for Jessica’s success, and await her finished film. See some of Jessica’s commercial work HERE.