ITVS’s Showcase Serves up Anatomy of a Springroll

Posted on September 14, 2011

The documentary by filmmakers Paul Kwan and Arnold Iger will stream free from September 14 to 16 on ITVS’s Indies Showcase.

Anatomy of a Springroll is an award-winning documentary that follows one man's journey to reconcile his Vietnamese roots with his current American life. In 1973, Paul Kwan's father bribed a customs official to allow the youngest of his 24 children to flee the political chaos that was Saigon. Living in San Francisco 20 years later, Kwan looks to the language of food to best reconcile his past. BTB spoke with filmmakers Paul Kwan and Arnold Iger about the film, earlier this week…

On the documentary…
Paul: We were doing experimental theatre in the Bay Area at the time we saw ITVS’s Open Call announcement. So we decided to switch our career paths to do a PBS documentary!
Arnold: We felt that Paul had a good story — a story about family. And the idea came from using the idea of the family recipe of the spring roll. From observing Paul and his family, I could see that the spring roll was an occasion for celebration and that cooking really brought the family together. If we made that the MacGuffin of the film, it would be a way to tell the story. So we pursued that as a visual theme and the spring roll became not just a thing but a way of cultural knowledge and family — really the crux of the film. 

On the filming process…
Arnold: When we were making the film we would also do stage presentations. It was a way of working on ideas and it was like a rehearsal for the film and we would create a stage performance and continue with the film. It was the way that we were used to working. When we were doing a lot of the stage work we were using a lot of multimedia (puppetry, slide projection) and we continued working that way throughout the film. 

A Family Story…
Paul: In terms of the filming it was very emotional for me because my father died shortly before the trip to Vietnam. So going back was a way of saying goodbye to my father. He couldn’t leave Saigon after the war. My mother left by boat but my father couldn’t leave. So that was very emotional and it meant a lot for me.
Arnold: Paul’s family was really very giving and they became a part of the process. Over the years they were always a part of the process. They just became part of the ebb and flow of the family dynamic so it was very interesting. I think that Paul’s family story has a lot of universal touchstones. The struggle of his family to establish themselves in a new country and remain connected. And the way we saw that was through the spring roll. It might sound facetious, but it really was the emotional attachment around food that made family members connect. And through that love of food, a love each other. 

Where are they now…
Paul: Now my mother is 93 and living in Oakland. She still brings me food every two weeks! 

Anatomy of a Springroll will stream free from September 14 to 16 on ITVS’s Indies Showcase.Check out the trailer below...


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