With the rising success of our documentary SAVING CHINATOWN - THE RISE OF THE DRAGONS, we are proud to announce our second documentary, which explores the forgotten history of the first Chinese immigrants of Montreal, re-telling never-before-heard stories passed down to film producer Jimmy Chan from his elders, the elders of the Chinese community, and similar stories from other families.
This documentary highlights the sacrifices and hardships that the first Chinese immigrants went through to establish a home in Canada as well as highlighting the contributions they made to help build the country. It will connect these past events with the present situation regarding the gentrification of Montreal’s Chinatown, following-up on the issues explored in our first documentary in regard to how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the businesses in Chinatown.
Jimmy Chan a professional actor, film director/producer, performer, choreographer, stuntman, athlete and is a contributor to the community. He is the founder, producer/director, photographer and videographer/cameraman of Dragon Knights Video Production.
He is also founder of the Montreal Chan Lion Dance Club, as well as the Montreal Chan Dragon Boat Sports Club.
Jimmy is also the director of the Montreal Chinese Community and Cultural Center’s Youth Program and has been involved with the Chinese community for over 20 years, volunteering his time organizing events including gathering up members of the community to participate in the Canada Day Parade to represent all the proud Chinese Canadians. Jimmy is a graduate from Art Instruction School in Minnesota USA with a degree in industrial and commercial design. He also has a degree from Herzing Institute (Montreal) as an industrial electronic technologist. Jimmy Chan is a director of the Montreal Chinese Community and Cultural Center; he is also the director of the youth program of the Chinese Community Cultural Center. It is our pleasure to interview Jimmy Chan for MIFF magazine.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
When I tell a story, I always enjoy taking the person through a theatrical journey using my camera and direction. Such as in my documentary, I take love to make the audience experience what I experience, telling the stories from within the documentary. As the director, I have the eyes of the audience. I find it fascinating that through cinema, I can combine many elements to make the audience feel and experience a different world and reality. It is similar to cooking, where you can combine different ingredients to create something delicious for somebody to consume and make them experience sensations. I also love the creative aspect of the cinematic language. I have been producing short films for over 18 years and I love bringing stories to life such as my award-winning short film The Litterbug.
Please tell us how "SAVING CHINATOWN - OUR HERITAGE. OUR LEGEND. THE IMPACT.'' came to life and let us know about the process from pre-production to completion.
This documentary is part of my mission to preserve the Chinese heritage, to remind everyone of the forgotten history of the early Chinese immigrants and their contributions to the Western society. Our ancestors along with their hardships had been forgotten. With my documentary, I wanted to tell the story of these ancestors. This documentary is the accumulation of 30 years of experiences and stories growing up in Montreal's Chinatown. This documentary reveals true stories for the next generation to learn from. It look me a lot of time to research, document and have meetings with historians to make this documentary come to life. It took me 5 years to finally complete this documentary.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this feature documentary? It's like in any other documentary, there are always difficulties to get the right people in front of the camera to tell their stories.
Stories such as the history behind the head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants, the building of the railroad by Chinese immigrants and their sacrifices have already been explored in similar documentaries, so the challenge was to investigate and find stories that had not yet been told. My documentary serves as a memorial. During the making of this documentary, my father became ill and passed away in January 2022. This is a documentary that my father held close to his heart because his story was never told. This documentary is in memory of my father as well.
Another challenge was working with the interviewees who never had experience talking in front of a camera before. The challenge was to direct them to tell their story in a way that could educate viewers and the young generation to help them become better people.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on? My SAVING CHINATOWN documentary series has three parts. The first part was "Saving Chinatown - The Rise Of The Dragons", which explores the racism towards Montreal Chinese people and the threat of Chinatown's gentrification. The second part is "Saving Chinatown - Our Heritage. Our Legend. The Impact" explores the forgotten history of the Chinese people of Canada. The final part which I plan to work on next is "Saving Chinatown - The Next Generation" explores the current challenges that Chinese people face in North America and what they are doing to improve their lives. It will also explore how the current generation will pass on the Chinese heritage to the future generation and how they can continue to remember the history of our people in North America.
What is the most creative part of directing a docu project for you? In some areas of the documentary such as the retelling of the story of the young Chinese railroad workers, I had to create re-enactments using actors to express what our Chinese ancestors went through when they were building the railroad in Canada. Back then, only men were allowed to come to work in Canada.
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why? I approach filmmaking as an art. I believe cinema is the best way to connect past stories with current situations, with the combination of storytelling and impactful visuals, cinema can make the audience see and experience exactly what I want, to take them through a learning experience.
Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your documentaries have on the world?
I enjoy and I find it fascinating that history can be brought back to life through film to educate the audience about how the Chinese helped build the country. I hope that the awareness that the documentary brings will bring the world together and appreciate each other's cultures for better days to come. I hope my films will also show people that Chinatown is not just a place for tourist, Chinatown is not just a place to come for good Chinese food and have bubble tea, but is a place full of life, culture and history. It is a destination not only for the Chinese, but for everyone. I will continue to make films related to these topics. I hope that my documentaries will change the world and bring humanity together.
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