Resilience and perseverance are common elements found in the experiences of the Chinese diaspora. Chinese-Canadians, in particular, have had to navigate various levels of politicized racism, emotional turmoil and financial hardship in their adopted country. What emerges from each of these films and the stories they tell is the dignity, good humour and resourcefulness of their subjects.
In the Shadow of Gold Mountain
The history of the Chinese in Canada begins with hardship and hard labour. Migrant workers from poor rural communities arrive in Canada to work in some of the most dangerous conditions while building the CPR. When the job is over, many decide to stay in Canada, and their presence is met with resentment and racist government policies designed to prevent subsequent immigration from China. Decades later, the campaign for redress turns out to be an unexpectedly polarizing movement within the community.
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam
A wondrous ode to a man who was a magician, circus performer and vaudeville act. Sam’s life is an epic rich with colourful adventures that would seem unbelievable had they not all actually happened. His life choices, including his marriage to his Austrian-born wife, take him and his family across the globe as travelling performers and eventually result in some tentative moments when they become displaced by war, conflict and nationality.
Return Home is a highly personal documentary by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Michelle Wong, whose grandparents settled in St. Paul, Alberta. In making this film, Wong discovered an emotional depth and complexity to her grandparents’ experiences that were unknown to her before. Their life as a couple begins with an arranged marriage that takes them from rural China to a new beginning in a rural Alberta community.
Earth to Mouth
“Ma” Lau King Fai and her son run Wing Wong Farm, which specializes in vegetables typically used in Chinese cuisine. Farming in Newcastle, Ontario, is lonely and hard, yet Ma finds contentment and joy in her solitude. The agricultural workers at the family farm are not that dissimilar from their employers; they are far from home, and the exhaustion of farm work distracts them from feelings of isolation.
Filmmaker Karen Cho travels from Montreal to Vancouver to uncover stories from the last survivors of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, a set of laws imposed to single out the Chinese as unwanted immigrants to Canada from 1885 to 1947. Through a combination of history, poetry and raw emotion, this documentary sheds light on an era that shaped the identity of generations.
This feature documentary by Sundance award-winning director Julia Kwan captures the subtle nuances of a culturally diverse neighbourhood—Vancouver’s once-thriving Chinatown—in the midst of a transformation that plays out across many ethnic enclaves in North America. The community’s oldest and newest members offer their intimate perspectives on the shifting landscape as they reflect on change, memory and legacy. Night and day, a neon sign that reads “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT” looms over Chinatown. Everything is going to be alright. The big question is—for whom?
This documentary tells the personal story of filmmaker Jari Osborne's father, a Chinese-Canadian veteran. She describes her father's involvement in World War II and uncovers a legacy of discrimination and racism against British Columbia's Chinese-Canadian community. Sworn to secrecy for decades, Osborne's father and his war buddies now vividly recall their top-secret missions behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. Theirs is a tale of young men proudly fighting for a country that had mistreated them. This film does more than reveal an important period in Canadian history. It pays moving tribute to a father's quiet heroism.
This feature documentary offers a whimsical tour through the history of Chinese magicians and performers in the Western world. Long Tack Sam was an internationally renowned Chinese acrobat and magician who overcame isolation, poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers, extreme racism and world wars to become one of the most successful acts of his time. Filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming travels the globe searching for the story of her great-grandfather, the cosmopolitan Long Tack Sam. A celebration of the spirit of Long Tack Sam's magic and art, this richly textured first-person road movie is an exhilarating testament to his legacy and a prismatic tour through the 20th Century.
First-generation Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Michelle Wong returns to her birthplace, St. Paul, Alberta, to get reacquainted with her aging grandparents. Her visit becomes an emotional journey into the past and into herself as she documents their stories, their lives. Return Home touchingly explores intergenerational relations while capturing the spirit and experiences of early Chinese-Canadian immigrants and their role in Canadian history. Also available in a Chinese version.
Filmed at the Wing Fong Farm in Ontario, this documentary follows the tilling, planting and harvesting of Asian vegetables destined for Chinese markets and restaurants. On 80 acres of land, Lau King-Fai, her son and a half-dozen migrant Mexican workers care for the plants. For Yeung Kwan, her son, the farm represents personal and financial independence. For his mother, it is an oasis of peace. For the Mexican workers, it provides jobs that help support their children back home.
This feature-length animated film centres around the story of Rosie Ming, a young Canadian poet invited to perform at a Poetry Festival in Shiraz, Iran. Rosie lives in Vancouver with her over-protective Chinese grandparents, and has never been anywhere on her own. But once in Iran, she finds herself in the company of poets and Persians, all of whom tell her stories about her past, the Iranian father she had assumed abandoned her, and about the nature of poetry itself. This is a film about love, finding your own path, and learning how to forgive.