About the Film

A TALE OF THREE CHINATOWNS is a feature-length documentary that explores the survival of urban ethnic neighborhoods. Specifically examining Chinatowns in three American cities, the film looks at the forces altering each community and the challenges that go with them.The film profiles Chinatowns in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston and features the voices of residents, community activists, developers, government officials, and others who have a connection to this ubiquitous neighborhood.  Through these perspectives, the film presents the present day pressing topic of urban development and gentrification through the eyes of those on the frontlines. Chicago’s Chinatown is a story of growth where the Asian-American population has increased and its borders have expanded.  In contrast, Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown has dwindled to an estimated population of 300 residents of Chinese descent. The Chinatown neighborhood in Boston finds itself somewhere in between these two extremes as various groups fight for the land on which it sits.

A TALE OF THREE CHINATOWNS is timely as America’s cities are experiencing a sudden change in demographics due to larger social and economic trends. As reverse “exoduses” occur throughout the country with an increased number of people moving back into cities, ethnic enclaves and lower income residents who’ve long sought these communities for social services, employment, and affordable housing are faced with grave challenges.

These challenges include competition for space, residential displacement, increased living costs, non-community developers and overall, their survival. The rapid changes raise questions about broad socioeconomic accessibility to urban areas, responsible development, evolving neighborhoods and citizens’ rights to the city. It also raises questions about the notion of “community” and how it is defined. Through the voices of those involved, this film aims to bring a 360-view of changing populations and the diverse fabric of people and interests that are in constant flux and negotiation throughout the United States and its history.

Trailer
SCREENINGS
NOV
19
2021
Tiburon International Film Festival
A Tale of Three Chinatowns will be screening at the 20th Annual Tiburon International Film on 11/19th at 4:00 PM PT.
NOV
10
2021
The Wharton School
A private screening at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania on 11/10 with a Q&A panel discussion.
OCT
22
2021
Harvard University
A private screening at Harvard University on 10/22 followed with a live in-person Q&A panel discussion. The screening was hosted by the Association of Harvard Asian and Asian American Faculty and Staff (AHAAAFS).
OCT
20
2021
Boston Asian American Film Festival
A Tale of Three Chinatowns was screened at the Boston Asian American film festival on Opening Night 10/20 followed with a Q&A panel discussion. BAAFF is New England's largest Asian American film festival.
SEP
15
2021
Documentary screening & Webinar Discussion
The Chinese American Museums of DC and Chinese American Museum of Chicago hosted a screening on 9/15 followed with Q&A panel discussion.
AUG
10-15
2021
New Haven Documentary Film Festival
A Tale of Three Chinatowns was screened at the 8th Annual NHdocs Film Festival.
JUL
14-25
2021
DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival
A Tale of Three Chinatowns was screened at the 21st Annual DC APA Film Festival followed with a Q&A panel discussion.
Jun
23-27
2021
Roxbury International Film Festival
A Tale of Three Chinatowns had its New England premiere at the Roxbury International Film Festival on 6/23 followed with Q&A panel discussion.
Jun
4-13
2021
FILMFEST DC
A Tale of Three Chinatowns had its world premiere at FilmFestDC in Washington, DC on 6/4 followed with Q&A panel discussion.
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Filmmakers
Penny Lee
Penny Lee
Executive Producer/ Producer/ Editor
Penny Lee is a documentary producer, director and film/video editor. Through more than 25 years in editing and creating original content, she has worked on documentaries, feature and short films, reality television series, promotional infomercials, and educational videos for cable networks, corporate organizations, and associations. Lee produced, directed and edited the award-winning documentary “Through Chinatown’s Eyes: April 1968”. She also produced, directed and edited a collection of short stories about Chinese American Veterans. Her editing film projects include a feature narrative film “A Year and Change” (by Director Stephen Suettinger) and the independent feature documentary “World At War” (by Director Robert Nixon). Some of Lee’s clients include Discovery Channel, TLC, National Geographic Television, Travel Channel, HGTV and Cooking Channel.  In addition to her network projects, her passion for storytelling continues to drive her to create content highlighting the immigrant experience in the United States, with a primary focus on the Chinese-American voice.
Lisa Mao
Executive Producer/ Director/ Writer
Lisa Mao is a documentary producer, writer and director. Her credits include the award-winning documentary “Through Chinatown’s Eyes: April 1968”, Travel Channel’s “Man Vs. Food Nation,” and “Ultimate Factories” on National Geographic Channel. In addition to her Executive Producer role at the Travel Channel and programming role at Discovery Channel International, Mao has headed program development for various production companies. She is responsible for the launch of over 500 hours of programming on channels including National Geographic Channel, HGTV, History Channel, Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and Reelz. Throughout her work, Mao is committed to helping people share their stories to reveal the complex and unique fabric of the human condition. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband Franz.
Stephen Cocklin
Stephen Cocklin
Director of Photography
Stephen Cocklin is an Emmy Award-winning Director of Photography. As an Italy-based freelance DP for ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, Steve has covered major news events in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In addition to covering the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, Steve also filmed the crash of PAN AM Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland; the Racing of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain; and the hijack of TWA flight 847 in Beirut for which he was nominated for an Emmy. Steve served as a Pentagon Pool Photographer covering Desert Storm and has worked on documentaries for Discovery Channel, A&E, History Channel, National Geographic, and PBS’s Frontline. Steve won the National Emmy® Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for the National Geographic documentary “Afghanistan Revealed”.
Anne Cocklin
Anne Cocklin
Production Manager / Audio Technician
Anne Cocklin is a production manager and audio technician. She interfaces with all members of the production team to make sure production runs smoothly from start to finish. As the business manager of Cocklins Digital, the company has been awarded Cine Golden Eagle Awards, Aegis, Telly and Communicator awards for documentary and corporate work.
Andrew Leong
Advisor
Andrew Leong is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department in the College of Liberal Arts at UMass-Boston. He teaches legal studies, Latino and Asian American Studies. Joining UMB in 1990, his specialty is in law, social justice, and equality pertaining to disenfranchised communities, with a focus on Asian Americans. He was supervising attorney of the Asian Outreach Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services at Harvard Law School’s Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center from 1986 to 1990. From 1987 to 1993, he was clinical director of the Chinatown Clinical Program at Boston College Law School. Professor Leong has written about welfare and immigration reform, hate crimes, environmental justice, and community lawyering. Since 2017, he is frequently in the community conducting “Know Your Rights” presentations to immigrant communities across Greater Boston. He holds a JD from Boston College Law School.
Past Work
Documentary
THROUGH CHINATOWN’S EYES: APRIL 1968
Production
Tiger Sisters Productions

The civil disturbance and street violence following the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had a profound impact on the country as well as the nation's capital. It had no less of an impact on DC's Chinatown, a neighborhood of first and second generation Chinese Americans. A community navigating the racial tensions of the time, this is the story of how its residents experienced a pivotal moment in history.

The full documentary is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.

News
“A Tale of Three Chinatowns” raises concerns about neighborhoods’ survival
SAMPAN by SHIRA LAUCHAROEN (June 24, 2021) – “A Tale of Three Chinatowns” is a documentary film screened through the Roxbury International Film Festival, in partnership with the Shared Stories series at ArtsEmerson. The movie, which focuses on the survival of Chinatowns in Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago, will be played from June 23-27. It explores...
theEagle (American University) REVIEW: ‘A Tale of Three Chinatowns’ explores Chinese American identity through their community experiences
By Tristan Au | Tuesday, August 03, 2021 – For those who make their way to D.C.’s Chinatown for the first time, they may find it jarring to see McDonald’s, Chipotle and Walgreens occupying the streets. What’s more, each shop in Chinatown shares a blatantly appropriated chinoiserie aesthetic — which would be fine if the shop was...
Washington Asia Pacific American Film Festival successfully concluded
Chineseindc.com (published 08.05.21) – Washington DC News, the 21st Asia Pacific American Film Festival in Washington successfully concluded on July 25. Although the film festival was basically screened online, the closing ceremony was held at the AFI Silver Theatre American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. The ceremony also screened the movie “Girl Away from Home”...
The DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival returns
WJLA-TVA (ABC) News On Your Side did a piece on the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival. For more, click here: https://wjla.com/features/7news-mornings/the-dc-asian-pacific-american-film-festival-returns
BostonHassle.com Interview with Director, Lisa Mao
DIRECTOR LISA MAO (FRONT) INTERVIEWING ONE OF THE SUBJECTS IN “A TALE OF THREE CHINATOWNS”. PHOTO COURTESY OF FACEBOOK. From bostonhassle.com: A Tale of Three Chinatowns explores the different stages of disappearing Chinatowns across America, but directs its attention to the ones in Boston, Chicago, and D.C. It is the second collaboration between Penny Lee and...
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