The Choi Family
“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood,” says Seung-Hui Cho, in a video he mailed to NBC on the day he opened fire on fellow students on April 16, 2007, an event that became known as the Virginia Tech massacre.
“You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.”
Cho, filled with hatred and pain, spoke directly to the camera, haunting viewers with the words of a dead man who killed 32 people before taking his own life.
But in the short film, “The Choi Family”*, there is no rage or wrath—only the grief and chaos surrounding a family left to pick up the pieces of a world shattered by tragedy. Jason Stefaniak, an NYU film student whose girlfriend was at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting, chose to focus on imagining Cho’s family in the aftermath of the shooting. How would they cope not only with the loss of Cho but also his act of mass murder?
The Choi Family was selected as one of the REEL 13 films , and the film with the most number of votes will be aired on Saturday night, February 22nd of WNET/Thirteen station. You can submit your vote until 5pm EST on Wednesday, February 19th, so please go support this film by voting on http://www.thirteen.org/reel13/vote/
Though the filmmaker’s main intention behind “The Choi Family” was not to discuss the Korean immigrant experience or mental health, these were topics that came into my mind as I watched the short film. Before the shooting, it seemed like virtually no one in my life outside of my family and our small immigrant community in North Carolina knew who Koreans were. But in the days following the tragic event, the name “Seung-Hui Cho” and the pictures of a Korean man were plastered all over the news. It made me uncomfortable and even ashamed that the first Korean I had ever seen featured so prominently in American media would be remembered as a killer who perpetrated one of the deadliest acts of violence in U.S. history.
I would have been more at peace had Cho looked like someone I would never encounter. In that case, I could have distanced myself from the event. But to me, his appearance was not menacing or unfamiliar. Whenever I saw his face, I instantly thought of my friends, relatives, and even my own brother.
During this film, I experienced more unease because I could not help but identify with the characters, all Korean immigrants living in America, just like my family. As I saw how the actions of Cho, who struggled with mental sickness, affected his sister, mother, and father, I began to ask the questions Cho’s family members seemed to be asking themselves. What more could have been done for him and his illness? What possibly went unnoticed or ignored?
In this short film, the actors manage to convey the sorrow and confusion of the family members in the aftermath, as expressed in a public statement made by Cho’s sister mere days after the shooting occurred: “We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person….He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.”
“The Choi Family,” despite being less than eight minutes long, gives us an intimate glimpse into what this nightmare might have been like for Cho’s family after the Virginia Tech massacre.
* “The Choi Family” is a fictionalized account of the family, whose last name is “Cho”, and the events surrounding them after the Virginia Tech massacre.
Starring: EJ An, Alexis Rhee and Sammy Rhee
ABOUT JASON STEFANIAK
Emmy-award winning writer and director Jason Stefaniak uses the art of storytelling to help make sense of the complicated world in which we live. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Jason sees his subjects through the eyes of an anthropologist, immersing himself in the culture of the people whose story he hopes to one day tell. Shaped by his strong female upbringing, Jason is a social entrepreneur and believes in the ability to foster social and political change through the juxtaposition of social activism and filmmaking.
Jason is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Television Production at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. His film credits from that program include the short narrative film The Garden, a short documentary titled The Organizer’s Burden, and the short narrative film The Choi Family, among others. Jason is currently in post-production on his thesis film The Middle Ground, is producing the feature film But Not For Me, and is developing his first feature film as a writer/director.
“We continually tell the story of our life to make sense of the lives we are living.” www.JasonStefaniak.com