Mention the game Mah-Jongg to a woman who plays it and something very special happens. Her eyes light up, she smiles and may laugh, and then she begins to speak. Even someone at first shy or reluctant to speak suddenly come alive with impassioned stories of her life, and of the bonds that develop between the women who meet ritually every week, sometimes more, to play, to escape, and most importantly, to be together until all hours of the night. Ask members of her family about the game and they speak invariably of the noise of the tiles, the food that gets eaten, the gossip that gets traded, and the sacred place the game holds in their family history, all stemming from her dedication and devotion to the playing of this game.
What is fascinating about this game is the traditional place it has in two seemingly unrelated cultures in America--Asian and Jewish--and the undeniable impact it has on the lives of the players and their families. While Asian-Americans consider the game to be intrinsic to Asian life, most other Americans strongly identify it with Jewish culture and the women who play it.
MAH-JONGG: THE TILES THAT BIND is a light-hearted yet deeply moving portrait of the Asian- and Jewish-American women who play this centuries-old Chinese game, shedding light on the common and uncommon experiences of the players that simultaneously define and transcend cultural boundaries. Along the way, it proves again and again to be a bridge connecting seemingly unlike individuals, spanning generations, continents and cultures, and transcending classification as merely a game.
The film features international best-selling authors Hope Edelman (Motherless Daughters) and Denise Chong (The Concubine's Children), and Jim May, the curator of the Mah-Jongg Cyber Museum. It won Second Prize, Documentary Short at the 1999 FilmFest New Haven, and won Second Prize in the AFI Visions of U.S. Video Competition, and a Juror's Choice Award in the Berkeley Jewish Video Competitionin 1998. It continues to screen in film festivals, museums, and cultural and religious centers all over the world, and is available for sale on home video.
Directed and Produced by Bari Pearlman & Phyllis Heller
Executive Producer - Bari Pearlman
Editors - Lana Lin / Grace McKay / Dan Brown
Original Music - Nathan Holloway
Key Art - Tim Kirkman