New Asian American Documentary and its Archives

Curator's Note

Through various archives, Asian American documentary filmmakers discover evidence to fortify stories we imagine as true and those we deem totally unimaginable. The footage proves us so wrongly about what we think we know and stuns us into new understanding of how much we do not know about Asian diasporic life.

Ali Kazimi’s Random Acts of Legacy (2016) finds the home movies of Silas Fung, an ordinary creative man, who provides rare record of Asian American life in the 1930s. Seventy years later, through interviews, we learn how Silas was part of an artistic tradition outside of Chinatown as well as the emergence of a Chinese American middle class. The rescued footage remedies the loss of history—such as in two examples: one of Chicago’s 50 interracial couples, a Chinese man and a white woman, casually holding their baby outside a church and children’s integration among whites in neighborhood birthday parties. Kazimi proves how unless we make films, we indeed lose our history.

In a different use of the archive, Robin Lung’s Finding Kukan (2016) unearths previously unimaginable historical facts. By finding the pioneering filmmaker Li Ling Ai, an Asian American woman’s deprivation of the role of author is made clear. The filmmaker Lung establishes Ai’s work as a producer, and claims her place in history as the first Asian ever to win an Oscar in documentary. Forgetting is in every family, but there are systemic and structural conditions that prevent people from expressing themselves or garnering credit for their work. We are made aware of the historical limits of family but also national culture in disabling women of color’s accessing the role of author, even of her own film.

95 and 6 To Go (2016) by Kim Takesue takes seriously the enterprise of creating an archive of one’s ancestors. She documents her grandfather challenging his body in the process of aging, as he conducts push-ups or walks with a special contraption in the backyard. Touching are their mutual attempts to connect with each other across generations through the sharing of memory, grief and creativity.

Thirty years later, Richard Fung’s Re: Orientations (2016) revisits the subjects of his film about gay and lesbian Asian Canadians to show how changing subjectivities become unrecognizable even to ourselves. Through his filmmaking, Fung fills the glaring need for Asian diasporic perspectives in the archive of queer movement and identity today.

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