The Chinese-Canadian Experience

The Chinese-Canadian Experience

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.

Everything Will Be

Vancouver’s once-vibrant Chinatown is fading in the shadow of gentrification. Like most North American Chinatowns, it once provided security and community to overseas Chinese, especially the bachelors who left their families back in China. Today, businesses struggle with increasing rents and diminishing customers. The neighbourhood is highly coveted for its future potential, not for its historic past. Julia Kwan’s film makes the heart hurt as one sees how the history of one of Canada’s most prominent Chinatowns is being erased by aggressive development.

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 Chinese Violin

This moving animated short tells the story of a single-parent father and his daughter, who settle into a new life on Canada’s West Coast. As they struggle to navigate Canadian culture, find stability and learn a new language, their path towards rebuilding their lives is temporarily derailed when their father is robbed and his precious violin is damaged in the altercation.

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

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.

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

Rosie Ming is an aspiring poet whose work gets her an invitation to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran. The visit to her father’s homeland is complicated by layers of cultural misunderstandings, emotional baggage and fractures in her family tree. Rosie’s sweetness, earnestness and vulnerability are endearing, and eventually help her reconcile with some of the unanswered questions about her parents’ separation and her mother’s death.

  • Everything Will Be
    campus 2013 | 1 h 25 min

    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?

  • In the Shadow of Gold Mountain
    2004|43 min

    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.

  • The Chinese Violin
    2002|8 min

    In this animated short, a young girl and her father move from China to Canada, bringing only their Chinese violin along for the journey. As they face the challenge of starting fresh in a new place, the music of the violin connects them to the life they left behind and guides the girl towards a musical future.

    Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

  • The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam
    2003|1 h 28 min

    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.

  • Return Home
    1992|29 min

    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.

  • Earth to Mouth
    2002|41 min

    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.

  • Window Horses
    campus 2016 | 1 h 28 min

    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.

  • Winds of Spring
    2017|6 min

    Unfolding with the rhythm of the seasons, Winds of Spring tells the tender story of a young girl who, driven by the irrepressible need for self-fulfillment, decides to leave the family nest. Keyu Chen employs her signature style of fluid transitions and fine, spare lines inspired by Chinese ink painting in her delicately crafted first film.Keyu Chen makes use of fine lines and fluid transitions in her delicately crafted first film, which tells the tale of a young girl who, driven by the irrepressible need for self-fulfillment, dreams of leaving the family nest.

  • The Zoo
    2018|11 min

    The Zoo follows the parallel lives of a polar bear cub in a popular city zoo and a Chinese boy who visits him until they’re both in their twilight years.

  • Operation Oblivion
    2012|1 h 1 min

    This feature documentary tells the remarkable story of a group of 13 Chinese-Canadian civilians who were trained by the British Secret Service for Operation Oblivion—a covert "suicide" mission that would parachute them into the jungles of the Pacific to fight the Japenese during World War II. Through first-person accounts, archival photos and videos, and animated re-enactments, an incredible story of race, nationality, and armed conflict emerges in stark and fascinating detail.

  • Jaime Lo, Small and Shy
    2006|7 min

    In this animated short, Jaime Lo's father is sent to Hong Kong for a year-long work assignment. A shy Chinese-Canadian girl, Jaime Lo must use her creativity to cope with his absence. This story offers us a lighthearted glimpse into a common dilemma that many immigrant families face, where one parent must work overseas in order to provide for the rest of the family back home.

    Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.