Director: Nancy Kelly
United States, 1991, 105min
Festival Year: 2019
Category: Feature Narrative
||Rosalind Chao, Chris Cooper, Michael Paul Chan, Dennis Dun
||Director, Producer: Nancy Kelly – Editor, Producer: Kenji Yamamoto – Writer: Anne Makepeace – Co-Producer: Sarah Green – Director of Photography: Bobby Bukowski – Production Designer: Dan Bishop – Photographers: Bob Marshak, Jim Tolley
Set in the late Gold Rush in the 1880s, Thousand Pieces of Gold was developed by the Sundance Institute and premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1990. It won immediate acclaim for its portrayal of the real-life story of Lalu (Rosalind Chao), a young Chinese woman whose desperately poor parents sell her into slavery. She is trafficked to a nefarious saloon keeper in Idaho’s gold country. Charlie, a man of different ilk, played by Chris Cooper, wins her in a poker game and opens the door to a brave new world – for Lalu and for himself.
Thousand Pieces of Gold is being shown in a new 4K restoration supervised by the filmmakers in collaboration with IndieCollect, which scanned the original 35mm film negative.
About Thousand Pieces of Gold
Set in a mining town in the 1880s, Thousand Pieces of Gold was developed by the Sundance Institute and premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1990. It won immediate acclaim for its portrayal of the real-life story of Lalu (Rosalind Chao), a young Chinese woman whose desperately poor parents sell her into slavery. She is trafficked to a nefarious saloonkeeper in Idaho’s gold country. Eventually Charlie, a man of different ilk, played by Chris Cooper, wins her in a poker game and slowly gains her trust.
Way ahead of its time, the film resonates even more powerfully today in the era of #MeToo. But Nancy Kelly became a victim of prejudice against women directors within the American film industry, and was never offered another movie to direct in spite of extraordinary reviews from critics, some of whom compared her talent to that of John Ford.
Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times:
Independent in the best sense of the word, “Thousand Pieces of Gold” gives us the Old West through a piece of candle-lit silk, hardship diffused through tears and smoke. The landscapes are clear, the action wedded to emotion. This is classic Western filmmaking: the lucid lyricism of a John Ford, a Budd Boetticher, a George Stevens. But, since Kelly is dealing with different kinds of conflicts, the film always seems to be opening up a new world.
Judy Stone, San Francisco Chronicle:
Kelly’s astute direction is all the more noteworthy because her only previous films were the documentaries “Cowgirls” and “A Cowhand’s Song.” Anne Makepeace’s script deftly touches on the loneliness of the raucous miners even as their anti-Chinese bigotry spills over into violence. The jewel in the crown is Rosalind Chao’s stunning performance as Lalu Nathoy.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times:
Even in moments of terrible anguish, Rosalind Chao projects the character’s steely will.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
Angry and romantic, “Gold” tells a powerful, poignant tale.
After its theatrical release, Thousand Pieces of Gold aired on the PBS American Playhouse series, the UK’s Film Four, and around the world.
About Nancy Kelly
A native of North Adams, Massachusetts, Nancy Kelly is self-taught. As a public health educator, she was hired to produce five short dramas about how to drink responsibly. Having fallen in love with filmmaking, she quit her job and moved to the high desert on the California/Nevada border. Though she had never ridden a horse or made a documentary, she learned to do both, making her living as a ranch hand while she shot A Cowhand’s Song and Cowgirls. Both films won awards.
Kelly discovered Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel Thousand Pieces of Gold while touring with Cowgirls, and immediately saw it as a narrative feature. She and Kenji Yamamoto, her husband and filmmaking partner, spent six years financing the film with support from American Playhouse Theatrical Films, CPB, Film Four International and private investors.
Although Kelly’s career as a movie director stalled — the victim of sexism that stymies the career of so many women — she continued to direct documentary films, includingRebels with a Cause, Downside UP, Smitten, andTrust: Second Acts in Young Lives. She is currently developing When We Were Cowgirls, a feminist adventure story loosely based on her own experiences as a ranch hand.
Kelly’s work has been supported by the Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, ITVS, National Endowment for the Humanities and California Humanities. She has won artist-in-residence fellowships at Yaddo, UCross, the MacDowell Colony and the Banff Center for the Arts. When not in production, she teaches filmmaking at the California College of the Arts.
About Kenji Yamamoto
Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly have been partnered in life and work since 1980, when they decided to make a movie based on the novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold. Yamamoto served as producer and editor of the film. He is currently making his directorial debut with Hacker House, about a Spanish entrepreneur who risks everything on a Silicon Valley incubation hive where he plays “father” to dozens of nascent entrepreneurs, while neglecting his own children back home in Madrid.
A California native, Kenji Yamamoto studied painting, photography and filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute and later made narratives and documentaries, mainly about people on the fringes of society. He participated in the Sundance Institute Documentary Editing Lab with Jennifer Maytorena’s New Muslim Cool and won an artist-in-residence fellowship at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
About Rosalind Chao (Lalu)
Rosalind Chao received the Best Actress Award from the Festival de Cinéma Jeune, Paris, for her role as Lalu in Thousand Pieces of Gold. Since then, she has starred in The Joy Luck Club, Nanking, Six Feet Under, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine , and The West Wing. She gained popularity among Star Trek fans for her long career on two Star Trek series.
About Chris Cooper (Charlie)
Chris Cooper is known for his intense, understated performances. Since Thousand Pieces of Gold, he has acted in more than sixty films, winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role opposite Meryl Streep in Adaptation. He starred in American Beauty, August: Osage County, Breach, October Sky, The Bourne Identity, Seabiscuit, Capote and The Horse Whisperer.
About Michael Paul Chan (Hong King)
Michael Paul Chan, a third-generation Chinese American, is a founding member of the Asian American Theater Company. He has acted in film and television and is known for his role as Lieutenant Michael Tao onThe Closer and Major Crimes. Since Thousand Pieces of Gold, some of his more notable film roles include: The Joy Luck Club, The Wonder Years, Batman and Batman Forever.
About the Restoration & IndieCollect
IndieCollect is a non-profit organization that saves and restores American independent films so they can be seen in state-of-the-art digital formats. Its film restoration initiative is supported in part with funds from Just Films / The Ford Foundation, Weissman Family Foundation, the Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Trust, and Amazon Studios.
The original 35mm negative for Thousand Pieces of Gold was scanned by the IndieCollect team, using a 5K Kinetta Archival Scanner. Gary Coates did the color-correction in Resolve under the supervision of Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto with final quality control and digital delivery handled by the IndieCollect team in New York City.
The original film and sound elements for Thousand Pieces of Gold are part of the Sundance Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.