Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future

Golden Globe, Emmy, and Drama Desk nominee Tina Chen (THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR) and Albert M. Chan (GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST, LAW & ORDER SVU, 30 ROCK) star in this moving story of a multi-generational Asian-American family, and the incredible bond between them all that transcends both time and national boundaries.

Andrew (Chan), the son of Chinese immigrants, is about to become a father to a baby girl. To ease his apprehension about his impending fatherhood, Andrew desperately needs to understand how his mother Ellen (Chen) and her own father could have lived apart for most of their lives. When Ellen finally gains the courage to speak about her father after years of restraint, Andrew begins to understand the extraordinary sense of kinship that binds him to his ancestors and descendants, ultimately sending Andrew on a journey that leads to his grandfather.

  • Albert M. Chan
  • Albert M. Chan
  • Aaron Howland
  • Seth Howland
  • Tina Chen
    Key Cast
    Three Days of the Condor, The Hawaiians (Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress)
  • Albert M. Chan
    Key Cast
    30 Rock, Law & Order SVU, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
  • Cira Felina Bolla
  • Alma Aron Baumwoll
    Production Designer
  • Ryan Leach
    Cold Case, Bee Movie, The Dark Knight
  • Aaron Howland
  • Albert M. Chan
    Executive Producers
  • Richard Possemato
    Executive Producers
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Drama, Asian
  • Runtime:
    16 minutes 18 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 31, 2014
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital (.MOV)
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Boston Asian American Film Festival
    Boston, Massachusetts, USA
    October 26, 2014
    World Premiere
  • Toronto International Short Film Festival
    Toronto, Canada
    November 12, 2014
    Canadian Premiere
  • ReelWorld Film Festival
    Toronto, Canada
    March 2, 2015
  • Asians on Film Festival
    Los Angeles, California, USA
    March 27, 2015
    Best Actor Honorable Mention - Albert M. Chan, Best Actress Honorable Mention - Tina Chen, Best Original Score Honorable Mention - Ryan Leach
  • DisOrient Asian American Film Festival
    Eugene, Oregon, USA
    April 17, 2015
  • Boston International Film Festival
    Boston, Massachusetts, USA
    April 19, 2015
  • Southeast New England Film, Music & Arts Festival
    Providence, Rhode Island, USA
    April 25, 2015
    Jury Award for Best Regional Film
  • NYC Downtown Short Film Festival
    New York, New York, USA
    June 11, 2015
    Best Screenplay - Albert M. Chan, Best Actress - Tina Chen
  • NewFilmmakers New York
    New York, New York, USA
    June 17, 2015
  • Atlanta Asian Film Festival
    Atlanta, Georgia, USA
    October 11, 2015
  • North Carolina South & East Asian International Film Festival
    Cary, North Carolina
    United States
    May 5, 2024
Director Biography - Albert M. Chan

Albert M. Chan is a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker and actor now based in the United States. Among his distinctions, he has been recognized by the National Film Board of Canada, is the recipient of a Puffin Foundation Grant, and was named a finalist for the prestigious Roy W. Dean Film Grant, awarded to films that are “unique and make a contribution to society…stories that can heal and enrich our lives.”

Albert wrote, directed, and produced his first film, FATE SCORES, an experimental silent film which was recognized by the National Film Board of Canada and acquired by Moving Images Distribution (formerly Canadian Filmmakers Distribution West) after a successful festival run. He directed and starred in his follow-up film, THE COMMITMENT, which has screened at over 50 film festivals on six continents and won multiple awards, most notably edging out Oscar®-nominated MOONRISE KINGDOM to win a 2013 NASW Media Award. Albert’s third film, DESCENDANTS OF THE PAST, ANCESTORS OF THE FUTURE, stars Golden Globe®, Emmy®, and Drama Desk nominee Tina Chen and most recently won Best Screenplay and Best Actress at the 2015 NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. His latest narrative film, WELCOME TO THE WORLD, was shot on an iPhone in one continuous 7-minute take for less than $140, and has so far screened in over 50 festivals on six continents. Albert also directed, edited, and produced the documentary MAP FOR HEALTH, 25 YEARS OF ASIAN PRIDE, about a group of young people who banded together to help the largely neglected Asian-Pacific Islander population during the AIDS crisis in the early 90's, which premiered at the 2018 Boston Asian American Film Festival. Albert is currently developing science-based feature projects including the Black List Endorsed screenplay INCARNATIONS as a writer and THE ELUCIDATION OF DR. PARK as a creative producer, the latter a collaboration with writer/director Alice Cox Neff.

Also an accomplished actor, Albert’s film and TV roles include GOTHAM (FOX), JULIA (HBO Max), NEW AMSTERDAM (NBC), LOVE LIFE (HBO Max), GIRLS (HBO), PATRIOTS DAY, 30 ROCK (NBC), LAW & ORDER SVU (NBC), BODY OF PROOF (ABC), GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST, THE MAKEOVER (ABC), and BROTHERHOOD (Showtime). He has been cast by directors such as Spike Lee, Greg Mottola, Henry Bromell, and Mark Waters to act opposite Kevin Bacon, Helen Hunt, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Justin Long, Larry David, Cybill Shepherd, and Mariska Hargitay.

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Director Statement

DESCENDANTS OF THE PAST, ANCESTORS OF THE FUTURE is inspired by my own quest to understand the history of my family’s migration from Asia to North America.

I met my maternal grandfather—or, more affectionately in Chinese, “Gung Gung”—once when I was a baby. He flew in from San Francisco to visit us in Toronto. I seem to have some memories of the encounter, but I’m not sure if that’s only because I’ve studied the photos of me smiling with him in my mother’s photo album. He passed away in San Francisco not long after his visit.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I started asking questions about Gung Gung and our family history. What was he doing in San Francisco? How could he have been apart from my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother for so many decades? Why did my mother seem essentially alright with this arrangement?

As humility is a big part of traditional Chinese culture, the Chinese are not particularly forthcoming about past accomplishments or hardships endured. But over the years, I have been able to piece together a somewhat coherent story of my family history.

In the 1940s, in response to the political instability of the Chinese Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War, Gung Gung moved his family from the Chinese province of Canton to Hong Kong, which was then a British colony. Not long afterwards, Gung Gung left for San Francisco, where he continued to support his family by working a variety of jobs, including teaching and translation. In the 1960s, China descended into chaos with the Cultural Revolution. Although Hong Kong was still a British colony, sovereignty was set to be transferred back to China in 1997. In anticipation of the handover, my mother immigrated to North America to scout out a future home for the rest of her family. By the 1970s, my grandmother, my aunt’s family, and my mother were all in North America.

I had a sense of the tumultuous circumstances, the bravery, and the sacrifices that led my family here, but the key mystery of why Gung Gung was alone in San Francisco remained unsolved. I was unsatisfied because I could not understand Gung Gung’s seeming abandonment of his family in a tangible way. And I remained unsatisfied until very recently, when I came across the Chinese concept of “Ga.”

The Chinese word “Ga” can mean either “family” or “home,” depending on context, but the concept of “Ga,” which has no literal English-language equivalent, is much bigger than these two meanings combined. “Ga” is a strong yet flexible sense of kinship that encompasses mutual obligation, lasting responsibility, and cultural values. Family can be separated and home can be relocated, but “Ga” always remains intact.

“Ga” has allowed many Chinese immigrant families to endure long physical separation and accommodate rapidly changing circumstances in the process of improving the quality of life for future generations. Thus, for many Chinese immigrant families, migration does not mean a break from the past, but the beginning of a new life that incorporates and transcends national boundaries.

I still don’t know why exactly Gung Gung had to be in San Francisco, and I probably never will. But this concept of “Ga” reassures me that Gung Gung didn’t abandon his wife and two young daughters over sixty years ago. Whatever his reasons, I trust that Gung Gung had the best interests of his “Ga” in mind; interests that lay beyond himself, beyond his daughters, and perhaps even beyond me and my generation. My grandmother, my aunt, and my mother must also have supported Gung Gung for the good of their “Ga.”

This film is a love letter to my mother, Gung Gung, and all of my other ancestors and descendants.