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SFFILM Festival

A Tribute to Joan Chen + “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl”


Sun, Apr 28 at 1 pm

Premier Theater

1 pm: Tribute + Conversation

1:30 pm: Screening


Join us as we pay tribute to actor/director/writer/producer Joan Chen with an intimate conversation celebrating her extraordinary career and special 35 mm screening of her debut feature Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.

Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl

Joan Chen’s astonishingly confident directorial debut spins a heartbreaking coming-of-age melodrama set during the end of the Cultural Revolution as the titular young girl is abandoned in a desolate part of Tibet.


An astonishingly confident directorial debut from San Francisco-based actress Joan Chen, Xiu Xiu is a heartbreaking coming-of-age melodrama set during the later stages of the Cultural Revolution. A young girl, Xiu Xiu, is sent to a desolate part of Tibet to learn horse breeding from her trainer, Lao Jin, a serene Tibetan herdsman. Deserted in such a bleak, uncompromising landscape, Xiu Xiu dreams of a better life, but slowly realizes that the authorities have no intention of ever rescuing her. Her dreams shattered, she is coerced into sex by visiting townsmen and their promises of “help.” But no help ever comes, and the silent, love-struck Lao Jin is left as her only hope. Chen’s slow-building moods and self-assured narrative tone recall the emotional power and underlying social critique inherent in mainland China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers as well as the work of their predecessor Xie Jin (whose 1976 film, Youth, saw Chen in one of her first starring roles). Austere, uncluttered—no unnecessary dramatic pyrotechnics or visual exotica—Xiu Xiu achieves a purity of vision not found in most contemporary cinema. Coaxing gorgeously refined performances out of radiant newcomer Lu Lu and the Tibetan-born Lopsang, Chen weaves a story of love unspoken and love lost, and in so doing introduces an exciting new voice to world cinema. —Jason Sanders, Festival 1998


Joan Chen made her screen debut at 15 with Youth (1976), rocketing to stardom in her native China before relocating to the United States where she broke through to American audiences with roles in The Last Emperor (1987) and the David Lynch series Twin Peaks (1989-1991). She continues to act, most recently appearing in Festival opener Dìdi (弟弟) but she has also built careers as a screenwriter, producer, and director. Her debut feature Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (Festival 1998) received a Film Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best First Feature—Over $500,000 and won five Golden Horse Film Festival Awards, including Best Director and Best Feature Film. She went on to direct Autumn in New York (2000); Shanghai Strangers (2012), a short; The Iron Hammer (2020), a documentary; and a segment of Hero (2022). In 2014, SFFILM honored her as Essential SF.

Film Details

Language Mandarin

Original Language Title Tian yu

Year 1998

Runtime 99

Country China, USA

Director Joan Chen

Producer Joan Chen, Alice Chan

Writer Yan Geling, Joan ChenYan Geling, Joan Chen

Editor Ruby Yang

Cinematographer Lu Yue

Closed Captions Closed Captions are not yet confirmed for this program

Audio Description Audio Descriptions are not yet confirmed for this program

American Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation American Sign Language Interpretation is not currently scheduled for this film