I had the pleasure of meeting William Wang Graylin, filmmaker and entrepreneur, while he was visiting San Francisco this week.
Will produced and co-directed an independent documentary about his father, the painter Victor Kai Wang, called THEMES AND VARIATIONS.
Will has a fascinating family history, which he also explores in the movie. His parents seemed to be living the ultimate romance: his father was a young artist, his mother a dancer, when they met and fell in love in China. All seemed to go well until the Cultural Revolution. Will’s family was “sent down to the countryside” because of their “bourgeois” class origins and learned to plant crops and live in a village. Will’s father adapted to village life fairly well and was even able to continue painting. However, Will’s mother is hapa, that is mixed-race, half Chinese and half white, and so was considered to be, in the eyes of the regime at the time, half American. As the P.R.C. and the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations in those days, she was thus considered to be an “enemy.” As a result, she was imprisoned and released only long enough to give birth to Will’s younger brother.
The family eventually immigrated to the U.S. (a relative sponsored them) in 1980, but Will’s mother suffered severe PTSD as a result of her mistreatment during the Cultural Revolution. She was hospitalized for months. His parents divorced eventually, and Will describes his efforts to understand his gifted but seemingly emotionally remote father.
THEMES AND VARIATIONS: A PORTRAIT OF VICTOR KAI WANG is not a bitter film, however. It is contemplative in tone, as Will strives to understand the effects of the forces of history on a family and on an artist. At times the documentary is almost meditative as it focuses on the many painting styles that Victor Kai Wang has explored in his life.
It was certainly interesting to get to meet the filmmaker after learning so much about his early life in China and the U.S.!
For people who are interested in Chinese art and mid-20th century Chinese history, I highly recommend THEMES AND VARIATIONS. It is a fascinating portrait of an artist and his family struggling to live in “interesting times.”
Kristopher Gee is the co-director.
William Wang Graylin is also CEO and founder of ROAM Data, which develops software and applications for mobile phones, including a program that enables any cellphone to become a credit card machine. I can’t explain the technology although Will demonstrated how it works to me. I think I’ve now seen the future! Pretty cool stuff.
Click on this link to learn more about ROAM Data, the company and its technology.
(Special thanks to CBC journalist Christina Wong for introducing me to this film and to Will!)