JANUARY 12, 2021
USA | 10 minutes | 2020

Documentary short film directed by Emily Feng
Featuring Tao Qi, Roberto Vargas Lee

Tao Qi

When Tao Qi went to Cuba for the first time with her father, she didn’t expect that she would end up staying for decades, let alone start a family and a successful restaurant business.


CineAsian Films (CAF): What inspired you to make a documentary in Cuba and how did you meet Tao Qi?
Emily Feng: I went to Cuba on a study abroad program and I had the intention to find stories that I felt passionate about and that I related to. When I found out about a small group of Chinese born people living in Cuba, I was intrigued to find out what their stories were and how they compared to my immigrant experience. I was introduced to Tao Qi by a Chinese businessman who was visiting Cuba and had frequently dined at her restaurant. I was originally going to interview a Chinese restaurant closer to where I lived, but the store had to shut down for renovations and that was where I met the businessman who recommended me to Tao Qi’s restaurant Tien Tan. After many missed phone calls, I eventually went to her restaurant and ate there while waiting for her appearance. Luckily, she was so open to being filmed for a few days and to share her story. 

CAF: What was shooting in Cuba like? What were some challenges that you faced during production?
Feng: Shooting in Cuba was definitely a different experience. I didn’t speak much Spanish, so I needed a lot of help from my translator, who was a local Cuban student helping out with the program, to get around the city, to talk to possible subjects, and to understand etiquette and how things work in Cuba. One main difficulty outside of the language barrier was the lack of communication and technology that we are used to. There were no google calendar invites that we can set up as internet connection was difficult to access, and phone calls and text messages were also limited. We had to rely a lot on just showing up when we had decided and hope they had remembered that we were supposed to conduct an interview. People are very friendly in Cuba, though. Even if they had forgotten, they would still make time and welcome us into their homes for some juice and a chat. Although I thought that finding subjects would be difficult, most people we met were very curious as to why a group of foreign students are there and were very open to helping us find our subjects, giving us referrals to places and people they knew. 

CAF: What do you hope people can take away and learn from Tao Qi?
Feng: I hope people can find a piece of themselves in Tao Qi as I did. Although we have a big age difference and very different life experience, I understood how she felt about moving to a different country, having to learn a different language and culture, and finding herself in that new world. I also hope people will be inspired by her courage and ambition. She embraced her outlier and foreigner identity as one of the few Chinese born people in Havana, and made a successful business out of it. In addition, most people in Cuba know and admire her husband, Roberto Vargas Lee, a famous martial arts master and founder of The Cuban School of Wushu, but not many know of his wife and her successes. I wanted to show her story as a strong woman in a position of power who appears, on the surface, a foreigner in Cuba. 

CAF: Are you working on any new projects?
Feng: Currently, outside of my freelance work as a videographer and video editor, I am revising a feature film script about a Chinese-American family who gets evicted out of their small Chinatown apartment and has to find creative ways to financially support themselves. I also have some ideas for documentaries in mind that I would love to get started on once it is safe!

Watch the full film here.

Tao Qi is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.


Director: Emily Feng
Producers: Matthew Tan, Dylan Wang
Cinematographers: Finley Bernsen, Matthew Tan, Emily Feng
Sound: Madeline Chen

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