VIDEO: Asian American Distinguished Speaker Series: “Bad Axe” Film Director David Siev

Author: Liu Institute

Filmmaker David Siev, whose Michigan-based documentary Bad Axe was shortlisted for a 2022 Academy Award, screened his film and delivered the keynote lecture for the Asian American Distinguished Speaker Series at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame.

Jennifer Huynh, assistant professor of American Studies, moderated the event, which included a discussion panel with members of the Siev family.  Siev’s family and their restaurant, Rachel’s of Bad Axe, play prominent roles in the film, as does the city of Bad Axe (population 3,000), located in the northern tip of Michigan’s “thumb.” The event was sponsored by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, Department of American Studies, and DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“In creating Bad Axe, David Siev not only captured the complexities and challenges of an Asian American family’s response to Covid-19 pandemic, but also the anti-Asian racism resulting from the family’s allyship with Black Lives Matter,” said Michel Hockx, Liu Institute director. “While this film is universally important, it is uniquely Midwestern and, therefore, especially important for our Midwestern community, which is less than a 5-hour drive from Bad Axe. The Siev family’s Catholic faith, which is reflected onscreen, is another connection to our community.

“The Asian American Distinguished Speaker Series was developed to bring visibility to Asian American experiences, and Bad Axe delivers this visibility in an unforgettable film. It is an honor to welcome David to Notre Dame.”

Bad Axe was filmed when Siev moved back home during the pandemic and started capturing the everyday life of his Cambodian-American father, Mexican-American mother, siblings, and the staff of Rachel’s restaurant as they faced the challenges of the pandemic. The story turns when the family stood up to white supremacy that, among other complexities, tapped into intergenerational trauma from Cambodia’s killing fields.

Bad Axe Vertical Web
BAD AXE film poster

Siev’s film attracted executive producer Daniel Dae Kim and won awards, including the 2022 Critics Choice Best First Documentary Feature and the 2022 SXSW Film Festival Audience Award Winner for Documentary Feature, in addition to being shortlisted for a 2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film.

Midwest-born and raised, Siev studied film at the University of Michigan and spent his early career mastering the versatility of guerrilla filmmaking. His debut short film Year Zero was based on his father’s experience of surviving Cambodia’s killing fields. The film won Best Narrative Short awards from the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival, Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Manhattan International Film Festival, and several others. Siev now lives in New York City and is focused on developing narrative and documentary projects.

​Launched in 2021 by the Liu Institute, the Asian American Distinguished Speaker Series honors innovative, creative, and effective Asian American leaders.

The Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies provides integrated and multidisciplinary research and teaching on Asia. The Institute also promotes general awareness, understanding, and knowledge of Asia through public events and supporting student and faculty scholarship and engagement with partners in Asia. The Institute, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, was established in 2010 by a gift from the RM Liu Foundation that supports the philanthropic activities of Robert and Mimi Liu and their children, Emily and Justin, both Notre Dame graduates.