Reel Women: Sophia Wong Boccio, Festival Director

Sophia Wong Boccio

Sophia Wong Boccio

Sophia Wong Boccio, 王曉菲, was born and raised in Hong Kong by parents who were part of Hong Kong’s film industry from the 1950’s through the 70’s.

Her father (Wong Tsao-she, or Wang Zhao-xi 王朝䂀) was an award-winning editor with the Motion Picture and General Investment Co.Ltd, (國際電影懋業有限公司, MP & GI/電懋 in short) later reorganized as Cathay Organization (HK) Ltd. (國泰機構(香港)(一九六五)有限公司).

Her mother (Yu Wan-fei, 余婉菲), an actress with Sil-Metropole Organization Ltd. (銀都機構有限公司) Growing up “on the sets” of these film studios, Sophia became both interested in, and an advocate of, Asian film.

Sophia’s business career first took her to China where she spent almost a decade working for Marc Rich & Co., a large Swiss multinational corporation. As Managing Director of its Hong Kong and Beijing offices, Sophia was responsible for over $400 Million (U.S.) in annual trading activity.

In the early 1990’s, while working as the Beijing-based Country Director of a U.S. agribusiness trade association, Sophia launched a SOPHIA’S CHOICE movie series in Beijing, setting the stage for this current endeavor. In collaboration with the China Film Export & Import Corp., SOPHIA’S CHOICE brought Chinese films and cultural exchange with the films’ actors and directors to Beijing’s expatriate and diplomatic community.

In the late-1990’s, during a two-year residency in Sydney, Australia, Sophia curated two independent retrospective Chinese and Hong Kong film festivals on behalf of the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office and the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Sydney. In 1999, Sophia also became the Hong Kong Consultant for Italy’s Udine Far East Film Festival (FEFF) and continues to support the festival as the official Cantonese (and also Mandarin) Chinese translator for the festival’s VIP guests.

In 2000, Sophia relocated to Chicago with her husband, Michael, and they have made Chicago their permanent home. Inspired by Chicago’s diverse and vibrant culture, Sophia applied her business acumen to supporting Chicago’s arts community as Managing Director of the Chicago International Film Festival (2000-2007), Executive Director of Fulcrum Point New Music Project (2007-2013), and Managing Director of Redmoon Theater (2013-2014).



How did you get into the business? Born and grew up in a filmmaking family in Hong Kong, I was exposed to the filmmaking business at a very young age. I remember that I used to visit my Mom at the sound stage when she was being filmed in different movies. Being a character-drama type of actress, she had over 65 films credits during 50-70’s in Hong Kong. My father, being the head editor of one of the major movie studios in Hong Kong, I also saw him at work. Growing up I read a lot of “scripts” that my father brought home. I have also had the opportunity of working closely with the Udine Far East Film Festival as one of their consultants since their first edition 20 years ago.

Since my relocation to Chicago in 2000, (after my successful-full blown business career in Asia), I took on executive roles with 3 different not-for-profit cultural organizations in Chicago. I was able to use my for-profit business acumen to manage the non-profit companies that I was involved with. I was disappointed to see that in 2015 there was still not a pan-Asian Film festival in Chicago. I believe that we are living in a more diversified, socially and culturally connected world compared to just 10 years ago. We see global fusion everywhere, in our food, our music and even more so in our schools who, are now teaching Chinese language to our students. In order to be a culturally pro-active citizen in the new world we are living in, and for Chicago to be perceived as an international city, I believe it’s time for Chicago to embrace an Asian Film Festival. It’s also time to change people’s perception about Asian films as one genre only with Martial Arts or Kung Fu movies. There are stories to be told from Asia the same way our filmmakers here are making movies with all the other genres.

As a result, Sophia’s Choice was born and incorporated as a 501 C 3 not-for-profit cultural organization in May, 2015. The vision of the organization is fostering appreciation for diverse Asian cultures. Using our signature program, Asian Pop-Up Cinema, we are realizing our vision through a multi-pronged mission:

1) Cultivating an interest in and understanding of Asian cultures via a diverse offering of Asian films;
2) Connecting the Asian film industry with local Chicago film professionals, educators and students; and
3) Promoting Chicago as a destination for international visitors.

Based on my past experiences as a staff member as well as an audience of various international film festivals, I decided that a film series held over a season is more suitable then another conventional jam-packed film festival for everybody’s busy schedules; and it’s more flexible for the festival to partner with other organizations.

What obstacles have you faced specifically because of your gender? No, never.

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are a woman? When my husband proposed to me at the Taj Mahal, India; and being loved.

Work you are most proud of? Founding Sophia’s Choice and presenting a bi-annual Asian Pop-Up Cinema from ground-zero, and being sustainable, without any major funders, has made me extremely proud.

By the end of the current Season Six (March 5, 13 – May 16), Asian Pop-up Cinema would have presented 100 special screenings of films made by filmmakers based in PRC China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, India, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. By premiering new films from the entire Asian diaspora to multicultural audiences including students, Asian Pop-Up Cinema brings a new international dimension to the Chicago’s cultural scene. Live discussions with visiting directors, producers, actors, and critics add to vitality of each and every program presentation.

Our program also does not necessarily end at the end of the public screenings. We want to ensure each film, each filmmaker coming with their film, also get exposed to Chicago side of the “stories” and make some meaningful connections.

Having lived in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney, New York, we have found Chicago offers beautiful architectures; river walks; multi-cultural events and live performances for everybody to enjoy; and relatively affordable. The free concerts/events held at the Millennium Park in the summer; at the Navy Pier and all the major public parks are very inclusive with something for everybody to enjoy! Showing off Chicago to Asian Pop-Up Cinema’s diverse guests, which has also made me super proud. Most of our guests are first-time visitors of Chicago, it is included in all our guests itinerary to have time to enjoy a Chicago Only experience!

How do you describe the most significant #metoo moment of your life? As the equivalent chief operating officer of Sophia’s Choice including providing the artistic direction of the film festival, I feel that every day, every moment is significant.

How have professional attitudes towards women evolved during your career? I do notice more women are occupying senior/decision making positions in most industries than 30-40 years ago.

Trapped on an island what essentials must you have? Water.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? I have enjoyed every phase of my past life. If I go back I would say to my past self, “work hard, stay on course, follow your heart, that many good things waiting for you down the road!”

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? I happen to believe that at different times and circumstances there’s always one person matters most to me at the time and that’s the person I want to have a one-on-one. I consider APUC is my third career, I am inclined to value all my one-on-one time with people collaborating and interacting with APUC professionally.

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