Synopsis: After leaving NYC for his rural hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan, at the start of the pandemic, Asian American filmmaker David Siev documents his family’s struggles to keep their restaurant afloat. As fears of the virus grow, deep generational scars dating back to Cambodia’s bloody “killing fields” come to the fore, straining the relationship between the family’s patriarch, Chun, and his daughter, Jaclyn. When the BLM movement takes center stage in America, the family uses its collective voice to speak out in their conservative community. What unfolds is a real-time portrait of 2020 through the lens of one multicultural family’s fight stay in business, stay involved, and stay alive.
The Siev family patriarch Chun is a Cambodian refugee who came to the US to attain the American Dream. He and his wife Rachel opened a donut shop named Baker’s Dozen. Times were hard, and money was tight, but the Siev family stuck together and thrived. In 2000 they opened Rachel’s, a family restaurant in their hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan.
Director and only son in the Siev pack, David had the foresight to capture the upheaval of his family and their community beginning in March 2020. Like many families, the Sievs found their adult children moving back into their homes to help their vulnerable parents. Bad Axe is a small, tight-knit town with two stoplights. It’s a nice place to raise a family. When lockdown begins, local tension boils over, and the Siev family becomes targets of racism and conspiracy theories.
The eldest daughter, Jaclyn, has palpable anxiety. She tries her hardest to protect her father. The tension and stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The family’s livelihood, quite literally, is on the line. Siblings, Michelle and Raquel, joined by Jaclyn’s husband Mike, Rachel’s boyfriend Austin, and a small handful of Rachel’s loyal employees, work day and night to feed the community and maintain a sense of normalcy while facing political and racial upheaval.
The intimate nature of Bad Axe is visceral. The Siev family could be anyone’s neighbors. They are friendly, hardworking, and respectful members of their community. They bug each other as much as they love each other. They remind me of my holidays when all four siblings invade our childhood home with inside jokes, arguments, and an unconditional adoration for one another.
Chun is a fascinating member of the family. He is a proud man. An opinionated individual, a responsible gun owner, and a survivor of the Cambodian killing fields, Chun’s unresolved trauma reveals itself in harsh words toward Jaclyn. He knows it and owns it. His emotional journey is everything.
The footage of the Black Lives Matter confrontation made my palms sweat. The aftermath of ignorant racist attacks will undoubtedly infuriate you. You will not believe the sheer terror these people have to endure. The courage of the Siev family makes my heart swell. Their bravery to move forward in the face of chaos is astounding. David’s commitment to telling their story gives audiences a peek inside the hatred stirred up by those in politics and the media that I refuse to give fuel by naming them. We all know who is responsible for the uptick of hate. May he lose again and again.
While we witness the many trials and tribulations alongside the Siev family, in the end, BAD AXE is a love letter to an ever-evolving community and an ode to a family that believes love conquers all. I can easily say Bad Axe is one of the year’s best documentaries.
BAD AXE — Directed by David Siev
New York Premiere — Winner’s Circle — IFC Films Release on Nov 18, 2022
Produced by Jude Harris, Diane Quon, Kat Vasquez, David Siev
Executive Produced by Daniel Dae Kim, Jeff Tremaine
Featuring Chun Siev, Rachel Siev, Jaclyn Siev, Skylar Janssen, Michael Meinhold
Online Screening Window – Sunday, November 13, 2022 12am through Sunday, November 27, 2022 at 11:59pm
Run Time: 102 minutes