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Up the Yangtze director Yung Chang on local agriculture and film

The following is a guest post by Tanya Koivusalo.

Earth to Mouth, Yung Chang, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

On Wednesday July 7th, the NFB Mediatheque will be hosting Homegrown Films, an exciting FREE event as part of its regular Green Screens series, co-presented with the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy. Join us for a series of short films about local agriculture and organic food, followed by a panel discussion with industry experts and a reception with yummy samples. One of the films being screened is Yung Chang’s (Up the Yangtze, NFB, 2007 ) first film, Earth to Mouth (NFB, 2002).

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. In anticipation of this event, I managed to ask Yung a few questions about the making of his film, as he travels the world working on his next projects.

How did you hear about Wing Fong Farm? What drew you to it?

I found out about Wing Fong Farm through the Chinese supermarkets and grocery stores that my family frequents in Scarborough, Ontario. I was curious about where our Chinese vegetables were coming from and it was shocking to me to realize that there was a Chinese-operated farm in eastern Ontario growing Chinese vegetables.

How long did you shoot there? The film definitely seems as though you became familiar with the everyday rhythms of the farm.

Interesting that you describe it as “rhythms”. Yes, it was my intention to capture the mood and atmosphere of farm-life. I shot over the course of four seasons with periodic visits to the farm. I wanted to focus on Lau King-Fai, the 74 year-old proprietor of the farm. I was also interested in the parallel lives of the Mexican migrant workers.

What were you surprised to learn about the farming process?

It was revealing to learn that farming and being one with the land should not be overly romanticized. It is hard work from sunrise to beyond sunset. It can be back-breaking labour. Also see the NFB classic The Back-Breaking Leaf [1959, Terence Macartney-Filgate]

Chinese vegetable farming aside, did you find that the farm ran in a similar fashion to others in Ontario, in your experience?

I’m not familiar with how other farms are run in Ontario, but I think each farm operation depends on the produce being grown. All I know is that it is hard work. There is very little downtime, perhaps only in the winter.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on two projects. One, a film about peasant pugilists in China called China Heavyweight; the other, a film based on the bestseller The Fruit Hunters about the fruit underworld.

Join us at the NFB Mediatheque on July 7th at 7 pm – the panel discussion will feature Wally Seccombe, Chair, Everdale Farms; Lauren Baker, Director, Sustain Ontario; and Susan Murray, Director of Communications, Greenbelt Foundation. Samples of local food will be provided by Karma Cooperative. For more information, click here or call 416-973-3012.

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