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The Guggenheim Fellowship..

by Ken Eng January 07, 2015

The Guggenheim Fellowship..

“My Life In China” was made possible because of the Guggenheim Fellowship Award.

 When I found out about the Guggenheim Fellowship, it was after a screening of “Kokoyakyu” in Seattle at a Mariner’s game.  A composer (I forget his name), who was already a Guggenheim Fellow, told me about the award and suggested I apply for it.  Since I was riding the success of “Kokoyakyu” at the time, it was natural for me to apply.  Why not!?

To apply for the fellowship, I had write a proposal/bio and get 4 references to vouch for my work.

Below, I am copy/pasting my award-winning application for the Guggenheim Fellowship.  The purpose of this is to share the work that went into being awarded the Guggenheim.  A lot of credit goes to Jesse Gass, a good friend that performed alchemy on my bad writing.

Kenneth Eng

Since graduating from the School of Visual Arts, NY with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking in 1998, I have worked in the film industry in a variety of capacities, including producing various documentary, music, and film projects; editing for a major television program; and directing a documentary film shot in Japan which aired on PBS nationwide in July 2006.


 My college film thesis, “Scratching Windows,” a documentary film about New York graffiti artists, paved the way for my future in documentary filmmaking. This short piece was locally broadcast as part of Season 4 of Reel NY on WNET, New York’s PBS affiliate, in 1999. Recognition on public television helped me to promote the distribution of future projects. As a student, I co-founded a film and video production company called “PythonAquarius,” which involved me in various projects ranging from directing music videos to editing documentary pieces.


 After graduating from school, I co-founded Projectile Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, New York dedicated to supporting independent artists in creating cross-cultural work. Since its inception in 2000, I have played a pivotal role in the organization’s expansion and production of quality art.


In January 2001, I directed and edited “Take Me to the River,” a documentary film that was organized by and inspired the genesis of Projectile Arts. This project documented the largest gathering of people in the history of mankind, the Maha Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival that takes place every three years in four different cities in India, bringing together members of all castes of Indian society. I was engaged in every facet of the production of the film, which included leading a six-person crew in India and conducting pre- and post-production in the United States. “Take Me to the River” was invited to screen at several international film festivals.


 I have also been involved in film related educational programs at Projectile Arts, such as teaching workshops in editing, camera operation, and DVD authoring. The most significant of these is “Reality Art Class,” an art education program for at-risk New York City youth. In collaboration with the program’s founder, we have created a digital video curriculum that divides time between the classroom and other settings. Students are given the opportunity to visit various locations in the city and document their experiences on film, using video as a tool for learning about art and exploring their place in the world. Through my involvement with this program, I have witnessed first hand the opportunities for empowerment and expression that art can provide young people.


 In 2003, I began a three-year project, in collaboration with Projectile Arts, to make a documentary film about Japanese youth as they embark on their annual pilgrimage to Koshien, a national high-school baseball tournament which takes place every summer in Osaka. This documentary film, “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball,” promotes communication and understanding in an intuitive fashion using baseball, a familiar concept to Americans, as a window into Japanese culture. By observing the Japanese approach to baseball from a “fly on the wall” perspective, the film encourages its viewers to look at Japan and its people on a more intimate level. As director and editor of “Kokoyakyu,” I was involved in every aspect of filmmaking.


Work on “Kokoyakyu” was launched with an initial grant of $50,000 from The United States-Japan Foundation. The project was also awarded grants from The Japan Foundation and the U.S. Government’s Japan-United States Friendship Commission, in addition to receiving funds from a corporate sponsor and other private donors, totaling approximately $300,000 over a three year period. In July 2006, “Kokoyakyu” was nationally broadcast as part of the prestigious Point of View (POV) Documentary Film Series on PBS. The film also screened at the Brooklyn International Film Festival in New York, as well as the Berkshire International Film Festival in Massachusetts. It was reviewed by The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets.


 Currently, I am an editor for a broadcast television show on Court TV called “Under Fire.” I also do a wide variety of freelance film work for various corporate and non-profit organizations. Projects in which I have recently been involved include editing for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, and the Art and Fashion Group PIER 59 STUDIOS; and producing and editing a promotional video for the pharmaceutical company IMMTECH.

For nearly ten years, my pursuits in the film industry have encompassed a wide variety of topics and taken place in different contexts, but with a consistent focus on cross-cultural and educational themes. I have been fortunate to receive the generous support of individuals and organizations, which has enabled me to be involved in a number of very exciting, successful projects. My goal is to continue to work as an independent filmmaker, making meaningful films that promote communication and deepen understanding of other cultures.


 “Four Seasons – Portraits of Modern Day China”


 My intention is to use the Guggenheim Fellowship to launch work on a documentary film about life in modern day China. As a Chinese-American filmmaker with substantial experience making documentaries in international settings, I bring the necessary skills, knowledge, and passion to this endeavor. The film that I would like to make will seek to bring about a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and society. Depicting the lives of four people living in different parts of China, I hope to paint a realistic portrait of life in a country undergoing rapid and unprecedented change. The timeliness of the subject and the background that I bring to the project make this an ideal opportunity to produce a film that both informs and inspires its viewers.


 Illustrating the dynamics and diversity of life in modern day China, the film’s subjects will serve as a prism through which to view the shifting cultural and social landscape in which they live. Segmented into four pieces or “seasons,” this film will follow the daily lives of four people living in four different parts of the country. The first section of the film will profile a young adult coming of age in Hong Kong, an experiential portrayal of youth culture in one of China’s most thriving metropolises. The second vignette will focus on the effects of rapid industrialization on the country’s agricultural landscape from the point of view of a rural farm worker and his family. The third will profile a Chinese pop star; one candidate for this piece is Wu Tong, a young musician who is his generation’s most visible proponent of traditional Chinese music. The fourth section of the film will feature a member of my family living in the southern city of Gong Zhou, working for the family owned shipping company. In recent years, with the construction of four lane highways in China, this business has more than quadrupled in size and I hope to examine the effects that this financial success has had on the family. Ultimately, four individuals will comprise the heart of the film; a fifth person under consideration is an Olympic athlete preparing for competition in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


The Guggenheim Fellowship will enable the pre-production of this project. Once a crew has been established, we will conduct research from New York on substantive aspects of the film, identify our subjects, as well as plan out the logistics and a timetable for the project. The next step will be a fact-finding trip to China, in which my crew and I will meet and film the subjects of the documentary and lay tracks for the actual production phase of the project. The footage that we shoot on this month-long trip will provide content for the film, as well as for a trailer that will be used to leverage future funds. Another agenda for this award will be to research options for distribution in different forms of media, for example DVD and television, or for use in educational settings such as universities or libraries. We will then raise a production budget, which will lead to the production phase of the film.


 As a filmmaker who has experienced the process of starting a film project from scratch and successfully seen it all the way through to distribution, I have both the background knowledge and commitment to succeed as a Guggenheim Fellow. The film that I propose to make will take more than a year to complete. The Fellowship would enable me to lay the groundwork for the film and complete the crucial pre-production phase of the project.


 Having directed documentary films that took place in two other Asian countries, I am extremely enthusiastic about now focusing my lens on China. In this time of uncertainty and frequent instability, I believe it is important for countries and individuals to make a concerted effort to understand one another across cultural boundaries. This project will contribute to these efforts; a documentary film represents a dialogue between the artist and his/her environment as much as it creates a connection between the subject and viewer, promoting communication, understanding, and a greater knowledge of the world in which we live.


 Revisiting the application reminds me of how far this project has come.  I’ve chipped away at it for 4 years and I can see the finish line.  Music is being composed and final tweaks are being made.  When this film is done, it’s purpose will be to inspire people to think about their own unique family story.


For me, that’s what makes this film special…

Ken Eng
Ken Eng


Kenneth Eng is a director, editor and executive producer. After graduating from Boston Latin School, Ken left for New York in 1994 to study film at the School of Visual Arts. His thesis Scratching Windows, a short documentary film about graffiti writers, was broadcast as part of the doc series REEL NY on WNET - NY PBS. In 2001, Ken directed and edited Take Me to The River a feature length documentary about the Maha Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India. Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball, his film about the famous Koshien Tournament in Japan was nationally broadcast on PBS as part of POV and continues to play in Japan on NHK-TV. In 2007, Ken was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to launch My Life In China. Recently, he edited Tested for director Curtis Chin, and is currently developing projects on post-genocide reconciliation in Rwanda and the rise of baseball in China.

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