When filmmaker Wayne Wang decided to document pioneering Chinese-American chef Cecilia Chiang, he said he wanted to show another side of her beyond her cooking.
“There is a lot that has been done on Cecilia, but one thing that really hasn’t been done is letting her tell her story,” said Wang, whose directing credits include The Joy Luck Club, Maid in Manhattan and Last Holiday. “Her life in many ways tells the history of China in the past 90-some years.”
Wang focused the first half of his new documentary, Soul of a Banquet, on Chiang’s life story, and the second half on her preparation of an intimate dinner in her San Francisco home.
The film will be projected at 6 p.m. Sunday on the roof of the New World Center, 500 17th St. in Miami Beach. The screening will serve as a closing to the 13th annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival as well as a kickoff to the Miami International Film Festival’s Culinary Cinema series, which continues next month. Sunday’s event is free to the public; VIP tickets are $175 and include a cocktail reception and reserved seats.
“Stylistically, the two separate parts of the film are very different,” Wang said last week from Hawaii. “The first half is very austere and poetic, and the second part is watching her prepare this banquet for 13 or 15 people from her kitchen.”
Chiang cooked the traditional Chinese-style banquet as part of a 40th anniversary celebration of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in 2011.
The seventh daughter of a wealthy Beijing family, Chiang immigrated to San Francisco in 1960 and opened her restaurant, The Mandarin, the next year. Chiang enjoyed a successful 30-year run at the helm of the restaurant before selling it in 1991. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation last year.
Wang and Chiang, whose son Philip co-founded the P.F. Chang’s chain, will attend Sunday’s screening.
Independent distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories bought the rights to Soul of a Banquet last month and plans to release it later this year, Variety reported.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be able to bring Wayne’s deeply touching and wonderfully delicious portrait to audiences,” Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger and David Laub said in a statement. “It’s a late Christmas gift to O-Scope — and what better way for two Jewish boys to celebrate Christmas than with Chinese food?”