For his Luce Year, current Luce Scholar Alfonso Morgan-Terrero was placed with the Tian Zhuangzhuang Film Production company in Beijing, China. But like the rest of the 2019-2020 cohort, his experience in Asia was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morgan-Terrero returned to the US in mid-February, as cases of the virus were beginning to take hold globally. Although he has not been able to travel back to Beijing, his recent work has built on the projects and relationships he developed while working in China. Morgan-Terrero was invited to submit his feature film “Verde” to the 13th Annual First Forum Xining Film Festival. He also contributed footage of the Bronx—the area he grew up in and one of the hardest hit parts of the country by COVID-19—to a documentary on the pandemic’s impact on the world.
Morgan-Terrero’s interest in Chinese cinema stretches beyond the start of his Luce fellowship. In a video essay he created entitled “Centralizing the Periphery: My Journey through Chinese Cinema,” he credits Chinese and Taiwanese filmmakers with shaping how he tells stories in his own work, especially those of his roots. Morgan-Terrero grew up in a Carribean household in the Bronx and Harlem neighborhoods of New York City, and yet he saw his own family and experiences reflected in these foreign films.
In this short piece, Morgan-Terrero shares how he learned specific approaches to filmmaking by studying the works of Chinese directors—ways of conveying a sense of place or depicting nuanced relationships between people, styles and techniques not typically seen in mainstream or Western cinema. “I wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am without Chinese films. They really showed me how to depict where I come from, and I am forever indebted to them for that,” shared Morgan-Terrero.
This project, conducted entirely in Mandarin (with English subtitles), is a message of thanks to those who have shaped his storytelling. “If they ever happen to see it,” he said, “I would like for them to hear it in their own language.”