Thoughtful, Quietly Moving Drama about an Older African American Couple

For Immediate Release 

Jeffrey C. Wray / Tama Hamilton-Wray 517/333-3474,
Nancy Fishman, ITVS, 415/356-8383, 

(San Francisco, CA)—ITVS presents Jeffrey C. Wray's CHINA, an original drama starring Von Washington and Sheila Stewart, which will air nationally on PBS stations in February 2003 (check local listings). Filmed on location in Lansing, Michigan, CHINA tells the story of Rudolph and Evelyn Jackson, an older married couple whose lives radically change when Rudolph suddenly decides to take up martial arts. 

Evelyn (Sheila Stewart) and Rudolph (Von Washington) are living a settled if unexciting life. Comfortably married for more than thirty years, Rudolph is a mailman trying to make it to retirement. For years now, Rudolph's health and spirit have been in decline, and Evelyn's main role has been taking care of him—making his favorites foods and massaging his sagging soul. Although she has weathered her own ailments and disappointments—lost pregnancies and failing eyesight—she sees herself as the stronger of the two. After yet another health scare, Evelyn attempts to relax Rudolph with an impromptu afternoon at the movies. Although Rudolph dozes through the film, a trailer for an upcoming martial arts film festival grabs his attention and an idea begins to take shape. Rudolph decides to sign up for lessons. But Evelyn thinks he's crazy. He's in no shape to suddenly become Bruce Lee and she's certain he will die even sooner attempting this foolishness. Convinced by her hairdresser friend Shelberdine (Cecelia Birt) that Rudolph's martial arts infatuation is simply a midlife crisis, Evelyn prepares to soothe Rudolph's physical aches and his emotional humiliation after his inevitable failure. 

Though constantly battered and bruised, Rudolph does not quit—in fact, he becomes more and more consumed with his training. A new Rudolph begins to emerge—he has new young friends, rejects Evelyn's soul food for health food, and finds himself drawn into a new, disciplined, contemplative life. But the more Rudolph begins to find himself, the more Evelyn feels lost, angry, confused and displaced. With Rudolph's now frequent meditations, Evelyn demands to know the mystery of what is going on in his head. Rudolph explains that in looking inward he examines his old failures, his old burdens and his old ways of thinking. He tells of no longer believing in God or the Devil, shaking their shared devout Baptist upbringing. Finally he tells Evelyn of emptying himself of everything. She takes it as a sign that she has completely lost her place in Rudolph's life—past and future. The day comes when Rudolph is ready to participate in his first contact match. Though this is a new Rudolph, Evelyn fears that her old Rudolph will get beaten, hurt or even killed. But what happens at the match rekindles Evelyn's love for this man she has known for so long. With insightful performances and a quiet subtlety, CHINA is a delightful and inspiring story about the endless adventure of marriage and life. 

* * * 

Based on the story China by Charles Johnson
Produced by Dominique Brown and Tama Hamilton-Wray
Directed by Jeffrey C. Wray
Director of Photography: Joe Williams
Music by Rodney Whitaker
Edited by Austin Allen and Michelle Davis 

Von Washington (Rudolph Jackson)
Sheila Stewart (Evelyn Jackson)
Cecelia Birt (Shelberdine Lewis) 

About the Filmmakers 
JEFFREY C. WRAY (Director/Writer) 
Jeffrey C. Wray is a co-founder and a partner in Jazzy Tam Films. Since 1992 he has worked as a writer and director on five Jazzy Tam Films projects, including CHINA. Jeff has also worked as a freelance director and writer. Thoughtful independent filmmaking is his goal and passion. The Evolution of Bert, a feature narrative with experimental influences is currently in post-production. Eclipse, a historical drama of political actions in conflict with family, will be the next project from Jazzy Tam Films. Wray earned a master's of fine arts in film from Ohio University in 1994 and is currently assistant professor of English and co-chair of film studies at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. 

Tama Hamilton-Wray, the co-producer of CHINA, is co-founder, along with Jeffrey Wray, of Jazzy Tam Films and has filled many production roles on past Jazzy Tam Film projects, including August, The Beautyful Ones and the upcoming The Evolution of Bert. Over the past decade, she has programmed film festivals, served on film and media panels and coordinated media workshops. Currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University, Tama's film scholarship focuses on entertainment-education media and global African cinema. 

Dominique Brown is co-founder and partner of Beezley Films. He has worked in virtually every aspect of filmmaking. For the past 14 years he has worked as producer/director on projects ranging from network commercials to film and television projects. Dominique recently produced music clips for Snoop Dogg and Wu Tang and the Showtime comedy Catfish & Gumbo. He has been instrumental in developing award-winning shows for MTV, ESPN, Palomar Pictures and Propaganda Films. 

JOE "JODY” WILLIAMS (Director of Photography) 
Joe Williams works primarily in Chicago and New York but currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. For the past eight years he has worked as a cinematographer on projects ranging from big budget features to experimental shorts and music videos. He has shot music videos and documentaries, but he most enjoys shooting independent films. Joe received his BS in Communications (1991) from Ohio University. He earned his MFA (OU '96) in film with an emphasis in cinematography. He has taught at Ohio University and Cleveland State in the African American studies and film departments respectively. He has also lectured on film production at Harvard University. 

About the Cast 
VON WASHINGTON (Rudolph Jackson) 
Dr. Washington has written, directed and/or performed in more than 300 theatrical productions. He has worked as an actor, playwright, professor, director and theatrical consultant at various theaters across the country including the Missouri Repertory Theatre, The Meadow Brook Theatre and Los Angeles Theatre Center. Von and his wife, Fran, are founders of the Washington Production, Inc. (WPI), a professional theatrical and educational video company that has produced the historical dramas Rosa Parks, Seven Stops to Freedom, and Kentucky at Sunrise. He has appeared in commercials, industrial and feature films, and television programs, including A Different World. 

SHEILA STEWART (Evelyn Jackson) 
Sheila Stewart was born in Philadelphia and studied dance at various local academies and performed as a chorus girl for 13 years at the famous Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She then worked in the legal field for 20 years, although show business was always her first love. After semi-retirement, Stewart began to study acting in Philadelphia and New York. She has appeared in several commercials and industrials and describes her role in CHINA as "the highlight of my short but exciting and satisfying life as an actor.” 

About ITVS Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by the vision of media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. Contact ITVS at or visit ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. 


Posted on January 17, 2003