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Bloodline and the birth of a chef featuring Bay Area’s Tu David Phu

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Directors James Q. Chan and Santhosh Daniel discuss Bloodline, a documentary about Oakland chef Tu David Phu: 

How do you transform what we might see as negative into something positive? The is the question at the heart of the short food documentary Bloodline--a metaphorical, personal exploration by Tu David Phu of his genesis as a chef, as seen through his parents' memories of the Vietnam War and Khmer Rouge, and how US culture often disregards certain seminal life experiences as “scrap,” similar to how the physical bloodline of fish is often thrown away by chefs, even though it carries the animal’s “essence.”

The story, directed by James Q. Chan (Forever, Chinatown) and Santhosh Daniel, is framed around Tu, just as he returns home to Oakland, California after being a contestant on the competitive cooking series, Top Chef (Season 15). As he and his parents prepare a Saturday dinner, drawing on his mother’s self-taught culinary repertoire (which began in a Thai refugee camp), and his father’s ancestry as a free-diver and fishmonger from Phú Quốc, Vietnam, Tu reflects on his visibility as a “celebrity chef,” tracing how he went from refugee roots and a childhood in West Oakland, to this new life by relying on things learned from his family kitchen--rather than the “formal” skills and training learned in culinary school--including how to turn something “inedible,” such as fish bloodline, into a beautiful dish.

Bloodline is the first release of First Kitchen, a documentary food series created by Santhosh Daniel co-executive produced with Tu David Phu and produced with James Q. Chan and Miles Ito, that spotlights ‘everyday people with exceptional stories.’ At the series’ core is a belief that ‘every voice deserves a place at the table’ and a vision to cultivate greater equity and equality in food media. Bloodline is the inaugural project of this vision and a template for cultural inclusivity and creativity the producers envision for all films in the series.

Production Credits
Directed by: James Q. Chan and Santhosh Daniel
Story by: Santhosh Daniel and Tu David Phu
Editor: Jeff den Broeder
Cinematography: James Q. Chan
Additional Camera: Jeff den Broeder and Kat Ma
Music by: Miles Ito
Sound Mixer: Matthew Kulewicz
Titles by: James DiRito
Production Assistant: Jean O
Associate Producers: Matthew Kulewicz, Kat Ma, Kim Phu and Penelope Wong
Producers: Jeff den Broeder and Miles Ito
Executive Producers: James Q. Chan, Santhosh Daniel and Tu David Phu

Presenting Partners
Center for Asian American Media


Major Funding
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (via Center for Asian American Media)
Private individuals

BLOODLINE is now available streaming online via Truly CA, and is presented by American Public Media and broadcasting on your local PBS Station. Check your local listings.

Bloodline is the first release of First Kitchen, a documentary food series created by Santhosh Daniel, James Q. Chan, and The Center for Asian American Media. Funding is provided by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Directors' and Producers' Statement:

The artistic vision for Bloodline, our first story from the First Kitchen series, is to create a visual and narrative environment that is lush, both in terms of food, ingredients, and physical setting, but also emotion. This is evident in the opening scenes, which feature the family garden, but also pay close attention to skin texture and tone as Tu speaks about his tattoos, as well as lighting and color (i.e. most scenes are lit with direct or reflected sunlight, and include distinct color contrasts with clothing, ingredients, etc). The quiet family moments are juxtaposed by bright and vibrant flavors of the family meal that go together which, James Q. Chan, co-director and cinematographer, refracts through his personal history; living in refugee camps after fleeing war-torn Vietnam where he was born, and memories of his mother’s Vietnamese recipes shape the visceral sensibilities of the film.

The narrative approach was to film in multiple settings that contrast one another (i.e. Phú Quốc, the wharf, etc) and incorporate “found sounds” from those settings into our soundtrack (i.e. BART train, sewing machine, etc) to demonstrate the rich complexity of the family’s story, and how seemingly disparate elements all eventually lead and merge into Tu. And, we built it in such a way so as to mimic how a chef would build a dish—meaning, a five-act structure that begins with the “raw ingredients” of Tu and his parents, upon which we gradually layer elements (i.e. garden, war, marriage, etc) to create a story whose message is not realized until the conclusion, similar to how a dish is not actualized until plated. This approach, captured beautifully by the camera and dressed with original music by Miles Ito, results in a sense of being with the family, in their kitchen and at their table, which we hope everyone experiences as they watch the film.


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