There are only a few films every couple of years that leave their mark so profound, that I know I will have to ponder over them for weeks and months to come. Cinema has always been (like the other arts) a unique medium to give a voice to people’s stories. But across the history of cinema and ‘images’ in general, there has been a concerted effort to manipulate what is depicted, how it is depicted and who gets to share this limited screen space that our social discourse allows us. I say limited, because till a few years ago, when image creation wasn’t as easy as a tap on the screen, images helped shape not only social discourse, but also how a society and a nation looked at its own past, present and future. And in this process of nation building, we have had large swaths of our history erased, through acts of fellow humans based on notions of ethnic and civilizational hierarchy. I call this erasure sheer genocide, and Canadian filmmaker Ali Kazimi’s film Random Acts of Legacy is a small, yet important attempt to correct this abhorrence.
I had the rare privilege to watch the celebrated Random Acts of Legacy, which left me deeply moved, not just with the story it tells, but the lengths an artist will go to ensure both preservation and longevity of a story that must be told.
Having chanced upon a rare collection of memorabilia created over a lifetime by Chinese-American commercial artist Silas Fung, Kazimi began exploring how and why the images of Chinese North-Americans were literally blurred out, reaffirming their non-existence in representations of popular culture in the past century and before.
Kazimi sifted through decaying reels, frame after frame to reveal through the life of the Fung family a rare repertoire of middle class Chinese-American lives in Chicago and beyond. The film traces the journey of the Fung family, giving us a rare insight into one of the founding communities of modern day North America. While Silas’s passion for videos documents lives of his community, it also includes some of the most important political moments of the time. A stunning example is how Silas would step out of his work day to film a protest march, as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and anti-Japanese rhetoric, propaganda, and hate crimes (including rounding of Japanese people and their deportation) reached fever pitch.
People or colour have struggled and fought for proper representation within the pretend homogenous cultural landscape of the Western world for centuries. I sat watching Kazimi’s film and couldn’t help but conclude that Silas Fung’s fight in the middle of the 20th century, is different merely in degree of what we are living through in 2017. While Silas did his part in documenting everything he could, our generation should be eternally grateful to documentarians like Ali Kazimi, who continue to unearth these erased truths, that provide a unique and non-conformist window of what our past really looked like.
With meticulous editing and images that speak of their fight for survival, as botched up and blurred frames are sown together and guided by exemplary voiceover by the filmmaker himself, this was such a treat to watch.
Ali Kazimi’s documentary Random Acts of Legacy won Honourable Mention—Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs in Toronto. The 7th South Asian Film Festival of Montreal proudly hosted Kazimi and his film as part of its annual film festival.