Two features at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival focus their lenses on Vancouver Asian Canadian communities.
Both take a historical perspective but while one is a big-budget drama by a foreign director (The Vancouver Asahi), the other is a local documentary made by one of our city's own filmmakers.
Julia Kwan charmed audiences in 2005 with her debut feature Eve and the Fire Horse, a tale about a Chinese Canadian girl who faces cross-cultural and cross-religious tensions.
While that film was fictional, her followup takes a look at today's reality of historical Chinatown in Vancouver.
Vancouverites have watched how the city has undergone numerous, sometimes dramatic, changes in various neighbourhoods over the past few decades due to immigration, development, and gentrification.
Kwan's Everything Will Be takes a look at how change in the city is affecting the businesses and people of Vancouver's Chinatown, which is one of the oldest in North America. It originally evolved from Chinese workers who were brought to Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and faced discrimination and marginalization. The area boomed in the 1970s and '80s but has since been affected by the problems of the Downtown Eastside, such as poverty, substance abuse, crime, and more.
At the VIFF launch event on September 3, Kwan briefly chatted with the Georgia Straight about her film.
She explained she was approached by NFB's David Christensen to make a film, and she collaborated on an idea with him about taking a look at residents and those who make their livelihood in Chinatown.
She observes how condo developments and non-Chinese businesses are supplanting the traditional Chinese community in the area and displacing it as a cultural hub. While Richmond has evolved into a neo-Chinatown, which has in turn affected the downtown Chinatown, Kwan said she didn't delve into that aspect, but rather hinted at it.
Kwan, who was born in Vancouver to parents from China, said she has strong familial ties to the area. Consequently, she has personally seen and felt shifts in demographics and culture.
"I used to spend every weekend because my parents worked in Chinatown and I would take the bus down and my Dad worked at a very popular restaurant called Ming's…and my mom worked at Keefer Laundry," she said. "She would introduce me to people…as 'This is your aunt and uncle'…[even though they were] not related. There was this great sense of community and I really miss that and I really wanted to talk about that in the film or show the sense of community that's…changing."
She said they interviewed about 13 or 14 people for the film, from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from new residents to a 90-year-old woman who sold Chinese newspaper for 25 years to real-estate marketer Bob Rennie, who she particularly enjoyed talking to.
"He was so open and very accessible," she said, "and I sort of related to him because he grew up in East Vancouver, coming from working-class, immigrant parents, and so he has that really strong work ethic that I really appreciate."
Rennie is an exception in the film, as she stated that she mostly focused on people who are focused on their daily survival so that their voices can be heard, and preserved, before they are lost in the clamour of change overtaking the neighbourhood.
The film, part of the BC Spotlight series, will screen on September 29 and October 1 and 3.