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SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

#012-- September 17, 1998; For immediate release
Contact: Rol Risska, Ligeia Polidora
Phone: 415/338-1665

Award-winning documentary by SF State Professor Emeritus Ron Levaco to be shown in Shanghai Sept. 26 during Mayor's delegation to China.

Levaco, who lived in China as a boy, has made a film about the story of a Russian Jew who in 1949 joins Mao's revolution, is imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, decides to become a Chinese citizen, and lives in Beijing to the present day.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- September 17, 1998 -- When Mayor Willie Brown leads his San Francisco delegation of some 200 to China next week, Ron Levaco, San Francisco State University Professor Emeritus of Cinema, will be among them. Born in China, Levaco has returned twice in recent years--but it will be the first time the San Francisco filmmaker and Haight district resident who taught cinema at SF State for 25 years will see a large Chinese audience react to one of his films.

Levaco's film, "Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom," will be shown in Shanghai Sept. 26 during the highlight of the ten-day trip, "San Francisco Week in Shanghai." Levaco, a delegate whose trip is sponsored by the Office of the President of San Francisco State, will be on hand in Shanghai to introduce the film. The other film to be shown is "Mrs. Doubtfire," starring San Francisco resident Robin Williams.

"Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom" is Levaco's personalized account of Caucasians living in China from the colonialist 1930s to the present. Levaco's parents fled the revolution in 1949, but his father's friend, Israel Epstein, stayed behind, supported the Communist movement, joined Mao in his struggle, was imprisoned for five years during the Cultural Revolution, became a Chinese citizen, and lives there with his Chinese family today.

Levaco concentrates on Epstein's story, referring to his own family as privileged and unconcerned with the "other China." Using what one reviewer calls "..excellent old footage and interviews with Epstein and Sidney Rittenberg--another 'round eye' (or foreigner) who lived in China for decades after the Communist takeover--Levaco draws one into a truly remarkable story."

By focusing on the personal and emotional levels and depicting someone who chose to identify with a culture totally at odds with his Central European, Jewish background, Levaco's film, according to a Variety review, "...avoids becoming simply a propaganda sheet for Chinese communism. Rather, it's about an act of faith that's tested in the fire and not found wanting."

"My goal was to make an even handed film about China," Levaco, who also narrates the film, says. "I wanted to cut myself--and Epstein--a place to stand. Epstein saw the real China and believed in it and still believes in it. I don't believe we (Levaco's family) saw the real China."

"Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom" recently won the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts's SECA Award and will be screened Oct. 22, 23, and 25 at the museum. It has been distributed widely worldwide and is also the recipient of several other prizes and awards, including the Cine Golden Eagle First Prize (Washington, D.C.); the Gold Apple First Prize from the National Educational Media Network, and the Golden Gate Award, nominated for best documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Levaco, who taught at San Francisco State from 1970 to 1995, served as the Cinema Department's chair and also director of both its undergraduate and graduate programs. He currently teaches at the University of San Francisco's Fromm Institute, a center of lifelong learning for seniors. He plans to make a film about the remarkable people who attend the institute with the working title of "Learning to Live." He has also been approached about making a film about Jews living in China.


Editors: A number of photographs from the film are available and may be transmitted electronically. Please call Rol Risska at 415/338-7109 for assistance.

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