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Asian-Canadian Perspectives in 7 Recent, Memorable NFB Films | Curator’s Perspective

Asian-Canadian Perspectives in 7 Recent, Memorable NFB Films | Curator’s Perspective

Asian-Canadian Perspectives in 7 Recent, Memorable NFB Films | Curator’s Perspective

To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, I’d like to dedicate this Curator’s Perspective to seven recent, impactful NFB films that have brought Asian-Canadian stories and history to audiences here and around the world. All of these acclaimed documentaries and animated films were released online and directed by an Asian or Asian-Canadian filmmaker.

Asian-Canadian Perspectives in Recent NFB Documentaries

To begin this journey, I invite you to watch the first film on my list, Academy Award nominee To Kill a Tiger (2022), by Nisha Pahuja.

To Kill a Tiger, Nisha Pahuja, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Born in New Delhi and raised in Toronto, Nisha Pahuja directed a number of successful projects—including Bollywood Bound (2003), Diamond Road (2007) and The World Before Her (2012)—before making the acclaimed NFB co-production To Kill a Tiger. Winner of 19 awards around the world, the doc is about a farmer in India who demands justice for his 13-year-old daughter, a survivor of sexual assault. This is disturbing subject matter, but Pahuja focuses on the hurdles experienced by the main characters and the outdated beliefs in their village, and her respectful treatment foregrounds the protagonists’ courage above all else.

Jia, Weiye Su, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

A Chinese-Canadian painter, photographer and filmmaker based in Toronto, Weiye Su directed the next two NFB films I’d like to discuss: Jia (2020) and A Passage Beyond Fortune (2022). A short testimonial film, Jia focuses on the experiences of a young Chinese family during COVID as they visit their native region of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic outbreak. Opening with a meta-cinematic sequence (reminiscent of Beverly Shaffer’s 1977 film I’ll Find a Way), and incorporating pictures taken in China and Canada in the middle of the global pandemic, the film beautifully embodies some of the experiences that so many young immigrant families had during COVID.

In A Passage Beyond Fortune (2022), which also makes use of testimonies, photographs and documents to tell its story, the filmmaker explores an intimate episode in the life of the Chow family, who live in Moose Jaw, home to a popular but untrue tale about the city’s underground tunnels, and to an anti-Chinese immigration policy that fractured their family’s settlement in the city. The film follows the Chows as they reflect on this harmful myth and the entanglement of their family’s overlapping roots in the city, which date back to the 1880s.

A Passage Beyond Fortune, Weiye Su, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Indian-Canadian journalist, playwright and filmmaker Prajwala Dixit—who’s also known for an annual fundraiser to amplify diversity in early literacy[i]—has published two plays (The Tales of Dwipa and Log Kya Kahenge) and is the director of the NFB short love, amma (2022). Unfolding in India and Canada, this gently paced essay film/observational doc is about the journey of a young mother with borderline personality disorder, and it takes viewers from her shocking diagnosis through to the path of acceptance. love, amma is captivating in both form and content, heralding a very promising filmmaking career.

love, amma, Prajwala Dixit, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Asian-Canadian Perspectives in Recent NFB Animation

French-Vietnamese filmmaker and illustrator Sandra Desmazières discovered animation at the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris. She’s made four films: Sans queue ni tête (2003), Le thé de l’oubli (2008), Bao (2011) and the NFB-produced short Flowing Home (2021). The latter has won seven awards, including Best Animated Short at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2022. Flowing Home is about two sisters who grow up in Vietnam and find themselves separated for almost 20 years as a result of the war. Told using minimalist animation that includes some anime techniques—e.g., still backgrounds with a focus on character movement—this heartfelt story is about memories, war and the shadow of Vietnamese history.

Flowing Home (Nh? m?t dòng sông), Sandra Desmazières, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Thao Lam is a Vietnamese-Canadian writer, illustrator and filmmaker based in Toronto, whose book The Paper Boat served as the basis for the NFB film Boat People (2023), co-directed with Canadian filmmaker and animator Kjell Boersma. Boat People won eight awards, including Best Animated Short Film at the 2023 Calgary International Film Festival. Boersma also directed Dam! The Story of Kit the Beaver (2017), a CSA nominee for Best Animated Short Film. In Boat People, the filmmakers’ unique aesthetic blends traditional 2D animation, stop-motion multiplane animation and 3D digital rendering to recreate a striking metaphor of rupture and resilience, juxtaposing a lesson in ant behaviour with a very human story. Boat People revisits the story of the 1.6 million refugees who fled the chaotic aftermath of the Vietnam War, crossing the South China Sea in open boats.

Boat People, Kjell Boersma & Thao Lam, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The career of Kurdish/Iranian-Canadian artist and filmmaker Bahram Javahery spans 40 years. He’s written, directed and animated eight films, including the NFB-produced Two Apples (2022), which screened at eight international film festivals, among them the prestigious Animafest-Zagreb fest. This historical yet futuristic film incorporates traditional elements (e.g., the clove apple, or sêva mêxekrêj in Kurdish) as well as fantastical motifs, like flying vehicles in ageless cities. The bas-relief clay animation was created with such precision that one has the sense of watching sculptures in motion; it’s an animation format that’s rarely been explored in cinema, and it brings an arresting, beautiful quality to the characters and scenes. Javahery has described this unique film as a labour of love; its humanism and sense of home and hope will leave a lasting impression.

Two Apples, Bahram Javahery, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Asian-Canadian Cinema at the NFB

The term “Asia” is incredibly broad, encompassing a vast range of countries, cultures and territories. These recent NFB releases are an invitation to understand some of the many diverse realities, perspectives and people contained in the word: remarkable stories about a village in India, Chinese immigration in Canada, the Vietnamese exodus of the 1960s, and Kurdish traditions and views.

What these films have in common, though, is that they were all produced by the NFB, highlighting the amazing contribution of Asian and Asian-Canadian directors to the Board’s collection.

So please join us in marking Asian Heritage Month this May by watching these celebrated films and visiting our rich curated channels, Asian-Canadian Perspectives and Animation by Women of Asian Descent.


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