MCN Columnists

By Rose Kuo rkuo@me.com

Irene Cho: A Force of Nature

Irene Cho, founder and producer of Daily Buzz, passed away on Thursday, August 17 after suffering a stroke. Her sister, Sunny, says that Irene had returned from South Korea the previous week and was about to embark on a three-week journey to Burma. She was 46.

Born in Lumberton, North Carolina on November 13, 1970, Irene grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Seoul, Korea. After receiving a BA in Economics from Meredith College she embarked on a film career, working for DreamWorks Pictures in publicity and marketing. A multi-hyphenate, she was also an independent producer of film and television. She worked for several years at Sundance Film Festival in publicity and managing press relations before deciding to chart a more entrepreneurial course. She launched her own company, The Daily Buzz, an online radio show covering film festivals and emerging filmmakers.

Irene ChoIrene and I met on the last day of the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival  where she was presenting the Korean film she produced, “Let Me Out,” and I was serving on the Narrative Feature Jury. We were kindred spirits: both of us were parenting young children and freaking out about leaving them to attend something as frivolous as a film festival; we were pursuing careers in a niche area  – festivals, foreign films – of an industry with already few Asians; our formative years were spent in small American towns, and we both loved David Chang’s homemade kimchi.

After meeting her husband, Soo Chyung, she became a year-round resident of Park City. During the Sundance Film Festival, Irene would host meals at a sushi place, one of several popular restaurants she owned with her husband. Her kindness and generosity extended beyond friends to random strangers, so her table would be filled with familiar faces and people she met while walking up Main Street just minutes prior. She would make introductions, tell everyone to sit and enjoy the meal she ordered, pay the bill and rush off with a smile because she had double- or triple-booked her time. Usually this meant she was in hot pursuit of an emerging filmmaker or producer for her radio show, or she had the morning’s recording to cut and publish, or she was meeting a potential sponsor or funder, or maybe she just offered to help someone with their film outreach on top of the dozen other things she was doing. Irene was always busy, yet she was always available to help someone else.

My brother also lives in Salt Lake City and this allowed me to spend time with Irene beyond the January festival, into weeks during spring break, summer vacations and winter holidays. Her son, Ethan, blended into my extended family of multiple siblings and several young cousins. She was a devoted mother who preferred that her son accompany her throughout the day. She would patiently explain her schedule and why they might have a few moments of tedium but all would end with something fun that they could do together. It was easy to observe how her extraordinary skill at being an attentive caretaker for her son also translated into how considerate and supportive she was to friends and colleagues. She was a true and loyal friend, always ready with a hug and a loud, throaty laugh.

Her high-octane energy matched her endless range of ideas. A desire or project would spring from her mind that seemed impossible or crazy, but somehow she would manage to will them into existence. One time, she called me and suggested that we organize a brunch for newly elected mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti – we didn’t know him – because she was sure that “he is going to be president one day.” There was not enough time or money and he hadn’t agreed. Not only did Irene make it come to life, Garcetti played a tune for us on the piano during the event.

The Daily Buzz evolved from an innovative idea Irene hatched about giving a platform to voices from the emerging global film scene as well as dispense advice from experts in podcast form. She nurtured and supported the show with her own steam, tenacity, and funding into a well-respected broadcast program which covered current topics out of the Sundance, SXSW and Cannes festivals. The show introduced audiences to a wide group of filmmakers, producers, festival organizers, and other film industry luminaries, oftentimes before they “broke out” at a festival. In Irene, this community encountered an enthusiastic champion who would carry their message and talk about their work everywhere she went for she was a tireless advocate. She affected the lives of everyone she touched.

She talked about her family a great deal and though she enjoyed much success in her work, it was clear that above all, she was a wonderful mother to Ethan, a devoted wife to Soo, a caring sibling to her sister Sunny, and a loving daughter to her parents.

We will miss you dearly, Irene, and how your wonderful smile and energy lit up the room and our lives.

Rest in peace.

3 Responses to “Irene Cho: A Force of Nature”

  1. Melissa Mobley says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute Rose. Her death has left a large hole in so many of our hearts.

  2. Gregg Goldstein says:

    It’s hard to believe Irene is gone. She was one of the sweetest people, always radiating enthusiasm and kindness. She’ll be so missed.

  3. Gary Meyer says:

    This is a shock. I just learned about it a day too late to attend her memorial but I am glad to come across your moving tribute Rose. From it I learned about her personal side and this makes the loss even harder to take.

    I was honored to have been asked to be on The Daily Buzz from Sundance.

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“Don’t work with assholes. Ever. No matter what they’re offering, no matter what they bring to the table. If they’re the sort of person where the phone rings at 10 o’clock at night and you wince because you see that it’s them, then don’t do business with them. One asshole will ruin your life. I’ve managed my entire TV and filmmaking career to work with people I like and respect. If the point comes where I don’t like or respect someone, I don’t work with them anymore.”

– Anthony Bourdain

The Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
~ Steven Soderbergh