This one is going to pretty emotional and raw. So, apologies – but not really.
Last night, at the after party during an amazing Opening Night for the Women Texas Film Festival, I received a text from Minji Chang, one of my fellow co-hosts on The Daily Buzz that my friend and that show’s stalwart of a producer, Irene Cho had suffered a massive stroke and was not going to survive.
No. That’s not how this stuff is supposed to work.
And, then as I’m texting back and forth with Minji, trying to process this news, a second message, this time from the Hawaii International Film Festival’s great head of everything and leader, Anderson Le confirming the news.
And now, twelve hours later, after speaking to my good friend, and Daily Buzz co-host, Kim Voynar, and reading what she then wrote about Irene and what Anderson wrote about Irene, and it’s hitting me full-on.
Irene Cho has passed away.
For me personally, this is yet another amazing person in my life that was such an unrelenting supporter and friend, that is now gone forever. This is devastating. There isn’t an unlimited supply of people that give a damn and think the very best of each of us, so to lose someone like Irene and have her permanently removed from my life, my universe, my personal little Venn Diagram of intersecting people and personalities – That is just a deep wound.
But to hell with my personal shit, Irene Cho was a fucking force of nature, an unstoppable, and indefatigable hustling bowling ball of energy that made things happen, that stitched shit together, that produced and promoted both officially and unofficially. She was the real deal.
We became very good friends and partners as she sought to “save” The Daily Buzz radio show that she produced for NPR’s KCPW-FM in Salt Lake City, and KUT-FM in Austin, Texas. The show had become, frankly, very much a vanity engine for her former partner, despite her efforts to keep it otherwise. She wanted to feature independent filmmakers, industry insiders talking about the latest hot-button topics at the fests the show was broadcasting from, rather than just being a conduit for her partner to meet big stars and famous people.
So, after starting off with a half dozen rotating co-hosts, The Daily Buzz eventually settled on myself and Kim Voynar joining with Irene to lead the show with some cool people like Minji, joining in as well to talk to the filmmakers. She steered the show toward giving more airtime to Asian filmmakers at Sundance – providing a platform and emphasis on them that not a lot of other outlets were doing so as eagerly and enthusiastically as she did.
Her biggest thrill last year was having Dr. Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank on the show. That was a major deal to her – the epitome of the type of person what she wanted the show to score as a guest – and someone her former partner would not have given a single rat’s ass about.
At the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, Irene and I would race around and meet filmmakers and other film people at restaurants, hotel lobbies, anywhere that we could quickly set up our remote recording equipment to nab that interview. Half the time, I didn’t think she’d be able to get the person, and every time, she cajoled, she negotiated, she bulldozed, she somehow convinced the publicists and reps to work with us to make it happen.
And there were a ton of skeptics, so many people – that mocked us and didn’t think we could pull off what we did. And if it was just me, they would likely have been right, but nope, nope, nope, Irene was not going to ever give up on it – we were going to get that interview. And during the interviews she would join me at times to make sure she got the question in that I was neglecting to ask. She was fucking on it. Always.
And while she was doing that, she was spinning more plates, just like the juggler on the old Ed Sullivan Show. She was producing panels at Sundance, she was assisting the great film publicist David Magdael with clients at Toronto, she was working closely with the Korean consulate at Cannes, she was doing all of this – like a crazy woman sometimes – at the very same time.
And I was too. I think that’s why she really got attached to our partnership on The Daily Buzz. Because we had very similar instincts, and very similar “I can do it all – and all at the same exact time” styles. She was always pumping me up, always full of praise and curiosity about what I and my wife, Justina were up to with our film stuff and otherwise. She was relentless about that as well, refusing to allow me to try to diminish what she was saying or be self-depricating, or dismiss it. She was serious and she told me so in no uncertain terms. And we talked about her son, her worries about how he was doing, and the difficulties of balancing all of this and keeping these engines running when, flat –out, they were literally fourth or fifth in line for her attention, with her boy getting the first three slots. She was just a whirlwind – and as much as you might read about people saying how great they thought she was, she never got the credit that she actually deserved. And that’s one of the worst parts about this.
Because Irene Cho deserved much, much more. She deserved better treatment from those people and organizations. Irene deserves absolute credit for the creation and existence of a stellar film interview show. Irene deserves so much recognition for so much that she did and achieved in our film festival universe, our independent film production community. She wasn’t front and center, duct-taping herself to celebrities to boost her ego, she was generating attention and momentum for indie filmmakers, documentary filmmakers, Asian filmmakers,…filmmakers. And they may not realize it, but they all lost a major advocate last night. Maybe someone steps up, maybe someone else takes the reins and pushes for the people that don’t pal around with the bigs, or have a major PR firm calling their shots, or a Film Society wanting to soak in their glory. Maybe another person is out there that has the desire and the motor that Irene Cho did.
I’ll tell you right now, they better hope so. And they should take a moment to respect what Irene literally did for them.
Along with trying to process the loss of my friend, that’s what I’m doing right now.