The Fall of the I-Hotel Introduction

March 5, 2009 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983) was written, produced and directed by Curtis Choy.  It is narrated by Al Robles and the cinematography is taken from several people including Emiko Omori and Curtis Choi.  Filming for this documentary began 7 years prior to its release.  It is a documentary of the fight to save the International Hotel in Manilatown of San Francisco.  The film begins with an overview of Filipino American history and develops through interviews with “manongs,” a respectful Filipino term for the elderly.

The original I-Hotel was built in 1854 for wealthy travelers and was moved to the Kearny St. location in 1873.  It was rebuilt in 1907 after the big San Francisco earthquake and fire.  Finally in 1920s, it became the heart of Manilatown and the home for mostly male migrant Filipino workers.  They were forced to live bachelor lives because of anti-Asian immigration laws.  The I-Hotel served as more than just low-income housing; it also served as an important Filipino cultural and social center up until the 1950’s.  San Francisco’s financial district was expanding and Manilatown was in the way.  Manilatown was taken over by this expansion until all that remained was the I-Hotel and its small block.  This takeover started a movement by several activist groups to maintain the I-Hotel as low-income housing for manongs.  The rest of the film documents the process of the controversial and protested eviction of the manongs.

This film is significant in the context of this class because of its representation of community.  Several interesting comparisons can be made between Flower Drum Song and The Fall of the I-Hotel.  They are separated by less than two decades, occur in roughly the same location (San Francisco) but have contrasting representations of the Asian American communities.  Some aspects to consider and contrast between the two films are the representation of family, class, the generational theme and the form and content of the film.

In the context of the class readings (Moving the Image, pp. 10-39), this film is significant as it reflects the period of “socially committed cinema” in Asian American media.  The readings provide some insight into why the documentary form was chosen.  According to Renee Tajima, Asian American cinema was born out of three common experiences: 1) race, 2) culture and history and 3) western domination.  Tajima, also suggest two stages of development in Asian American cinema: the 1960s-70s and the 1980s.  In the 1960s-70s Asian American films were a reactive cinema made for political and cultural purposes; it was a period of activism.  Documentaries were a way to address past and present racial injustices.  Perhaps another reason the documentary form was chosen because “cinema was still too young to concern itself with aesthetics” (p. 15).  Filmmakers were attempting to tell the stories of people who otherwise would not have a voice.  The 1980s were different in that it was a period of more skills refinement and attainment and filmmakers were looking to the industry for a career (filmmaking as a career was not a viable option yet for Asian Americans prior to this period).  The reading leads to more points of discussion concerning the documentary’s form and content.  What period of filmmaking does it fall into?  Why was it in a documentary form?  What are the effects of the documentary form?

The film was updated in 1993 (this is the version we saw in class) and then in 2005 to cover the building of the new I-Hotel.  The new I-Hotel also serves as low-cost housing and as an Asian cultural center.


THE FALL OF THE I HOTEL (1977-83) by Curtis Choy, 58 min.

Moving the Image pp. 10-39

Class Discussion

  • Representation of community — Comparisons with Flower Drum Song (e.g., family, class, generational theme)
  • Form and Content — Why was documentary form chosen? How is emotion created? Who is the audience?
  • Moving the Image readings — What stage of Asian American cinema development does this documentary fall into?

Michelle Fong and Rylee Rubalcava

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Mini-Festival of Recent Asian American Films @ the Claremont Colleges Chan Is Missing Presentation

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