Filmmaker Peiqi Peng shares one foundational belief with all people who achieve something great; a self-belief which rebukes any notion that they cannot achieve their goal. This tenacity is essential for an artist in particular because an industry of critics has grown around the concept that only perfection should be found in art. Of course, any artist will confirm that it is the imperfections which give character and style to any great work. With an armor of confidence, talent, and skill, Peiqi has been the driving force for many films, including the recent A Roadside Banquet. This story held great personal meaning for her as it did for audiences and critics alike, proven by the deluge of nominations, awards, and film festivals it appeared at. As writer/director/co-producer of A Roadside Banquet, Peiqi lent not only her abilities, but personal moments from her own life; moments which deeply moved audiences across the planet. Numerous awards and recognitions have been cast upon A Roadside Banquet from the Durban International Film Festival, the CineGear Expo LA, New Orleans Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, and the FIRST International Film Festival (the largest independent film festival in China, often referred to as the Chinese Sundance). Peiqi has also been shortlisted for the 2023 Young Director Awards for this film. A Roadside Banquet will soon be accessible to a wider audience due to its broadcast on KCT and PBS streams on Sep 29 as a part of the Fine Cut Festival of Films series. This film is culturally specific but emotionally expansive and its status as an official selection of numerous esteemed film festivals, including ones that are Oscar, BAFTA, and Canadian Screen Award qualifying, attests to its recognition by the industry as a remarkable film.
As unintuitive as it might seem, vulnerability can lead to strength and admiration. This is evidenced in the resonance of key story moments found in A Roadside Banquet that originate from real experiences in Peiqi’s life. She divulges, “There is a scene in the middle of the film, where the mother casually tells Mai how her father was so disappointed she was born a girl, that he couldn’t talk for an hour in the hospital. This scene is directly inspired by my own experience as a child. I’m an only child but when I was in elementary school, there was a year when my parents were seriously considering having another baby. I was very against the idea. One day at a restaurant she was trying to convince me and said essentially what the mom in the film said to the protagonist, that my father was so disappointed to find out I was a girl that he couldn’t talk for an hour. She said it casually and I almost immediately came to tears. It changed my relationship with my father forever.” This excruciating moment is depicted on camera with crushing gravitas in the film when eleven-year-old Mai (Sarah Zhai)’s mother (Eon Song) reveals casually that her dad (Jizhong Zhang) always only wanted a boy. Mai is devastated, when a strange sensation takes over her, and turns her into a feather duster. In the midst of a celebratory party, this theme communicates the idea of a girl, overlooked, sidelined, silenced, and minimized into a role of domesticity; transformed into something as unremarkable as a feather duster.
Many scenes throughout A Roadside Banquet resonate with a female Chinese audience but Peiqi professes her belief in the medium to emotionally educate with those of different backgrounds. She informs, “Although we did not make this film thinking about how it would be received, it is always such an amazing experience seeing it connect with people. As a filmmaker, my goal is to make films for audiences and to create work that combines unique artistic visions with commerciality that can be viewed by as many people as possible. I feel very fortunate that we've received many warm and kind words from people who watched the film. Many audience members have come up after a screening to share their own experiences in relation to the film. People seem to be really connected to the journey of Mai and Sarah's amazing performance as her. It's particularly heart-warming when we hear people who have siblings telling us they find the dynamic of the siblings to be authentic. What surprised me was the amount of young Chinese women who told me they heard the exact same things from their parents, about how their parents were disappointed that they birthed a girl. I thought it was a singular event that happened to me, but it seems more like generational trauma.”