Author Archive

Irene Cho: A Force of Nature

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

Irene Cho, founder and producer of Daily Buzz, passed away on Thursday, August 17 after suffering a stroke. Her sister, Sunny, says that Irene had returned from South Korea the previous week and was about to embark on a three-week journey to Burma. She was 46.

Born in Lumberton, North Carolina on November 13, 1970, Irene grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Seoul, Korea. After receiving a BA in Economics from Meredith College she embarked on a film career, working for DreamWorks Pictures in publicity and marketing. A multi-hyphenate, she was also an independent producer of film and television. She worked for several years at Sundance Film Festival in publicity and managing press relations before deciding to chart a more entrepreneurial course. She launched her own company, The Daily Buzz, an online radio show covering film festivals and emerging filmmakers.

Irene ChoIrene and I met on the last day of the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival  where she was presenting the Korean film she produced, “Let Me Out,” and I was serving on the Narrative Feature Jury. We were kindred spirits: both of us were parenting young children and freaking out about leaving them to attend something as frivolous as a film festival; we were pursuing careers in a niche area  – festivals, foreign films – of an industry with already few Asians; our formative years were spent in small American towns, and we both loved David Chang’s homemade kimchi.

After meeting her husband, Soo Chyung, she became a year-round resident of Park City. During the Sundance Film Festival, Irene would host meals at a sushi place, one of several popular restaurants she owned with her husband. Her kindness and generosity extended beyond friends to random strangers, so her table would be filled with familiar faces and people she met while walking up Main Street just minutes prior. She would make introductions, tell everyone to sit and enjoy the meal she ordered, pay the bill and rush off with a smile because she had double- or triple-booked her time. Usually this meant she was in hot pursuit of an emerging filmmaker or producer for her radio show, or she had the morning’s recording to cut and publish, or she was meeting a potential sponsor or funder, or maybe she just offered to help someone with their film outreach on top of the dozen other things she was doing. Irene was always busy, yet she was always available to help someone else.

My brother also lives in Salt Lake City and this allowed me to spend time with Irene beyond the January festival, into weeks during spring break, summer vacations and winter holidays. Her son, Ethan, blended into my extended family of multiple siblings and several young cousins. She was a devoted mother who preferred that her son accompany her throughout the day. She would patiently explain her schedule and why they might have a few moments of tedium but all would end with something fun that they could do together. It was easy to observe how her extraordinary skill at being an attentive caretaker for her son also translated into how considerate and supportive she was to friends and colleagues. She was a true and loyal friend, always ready with a hug and a loud, throaty laugh.

Her high-octane energy matched her endless range of ideas. A desire or project would spring from her mind that seemed impossible or crazy, but somehow she would manage to will them into existence. One time, she called me and suggested that we organize a brunch for newly elected mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti – we didn’t know him – because she was sure that “he is going to be president one day.” There was not enough time or money and he hadn’t agreed. Not only did Irene make it come to life, Garcetti played a tune for us on the piano during the event.

The Daily Buzz evolved from an innovative idea Irene hatched about giving a platform to voices from the emerging global film scene as well as dispense advice from experts in podcast form. She nurtured and supported the show with her own steam, tenacity, and funding into a well-respected broadcast program which covered current topics out of the Sundance, SXSW and Cannes festivals. The show introduced audiences to a wide group of filmmakers, producers, festival organizers, and other film industry luminaries, oftentimes before they “broke out” at a festival. In Irene, this community encountered an enthusiastic champion who would carry their message and talk about their work everywhere she went for she was a tireless advocate. She affected the lives of everyone she touched.

She talked about her family a great deal and though she enjoyed much success in her work, it was clear that above all, she was a wonderful mother to Ethan, a devoted wife to Soo, a caring sibling to her sister Sunny, and a loving daughter to her parents.

We will miss you dearly, Irene, and how your wonderful smile and energy lit up the room and our lives.

Rest in peace.

A Farewell To Jonathan Demme

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

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Jonathan Demme is the only person I have ever known who could decline an invitation you made in such a way that you still experienced the joy of his presence, even in his absence. Jonathan enthusiastically agreed to serve as a filmmaker-mentor during my tenure as the executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He would pass on red carpet walks and skip the fancy gala dinners. Instead, he would slip in quietly to a theater to see the new film by an unknown filmmaker, and afterwards, enthusiastically share his excitement about the discovery.

Many will write about his accomplishments as a distinguished filmmaker of Oscar-winning films like Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, and Philadelphia, and my personal favorite, Stop Making Sense, the music documentary about the Talking Heads. I remember him as an artist who brought a holistic approach to sharing his creative gift with others. He engaged with anyone who had a passion for film, art or music—young and old, neophyte and jaded veteran. All held his rapt attention, experienced his endless patience for listening deeply, and benefited from his wisdom and random acts of kindness.

His brought a kinder and gentler sensibility to the world he occupied.

Sometimes, he would write a note to point out an omission when he noticed an artist had been overlooked, or to suggest something he had seen. He loved to lend support to new work and emerging filmmakers. And he was always, always willing to devote time to mentoring and helping young talent. He will be remembered mostly for his many achievements as a film director, but I am sure he would feel no slight to be remembered as simply a great human being.

So in afterlife, as in his life, Jonathan will make us feel his presence, even in his absence. And his presence and influence was, fortunately for all of us, everywhere.

Rest in peace, JD.