Storytelling in Chinatown from Within
Event reflected on the difficulties faced by Chinatowns locally and abroad.
On May 28th, a community film screening event, Storytelling in Chinatown from Within, was held at the Edmonton Chinatown Multi-Cultural Centre as part of Asian Heritage Month. The event was supported by the Centre’s staff and volunteers, as well as Eye Steel Film, the City of Edmonton’s Chinatown Recovery Fund, and the Chinatown Business Association.
The event opened with live harp music. Several booths offered community info and merchandise, including artwork and posters pertaining to the films being screened, as well as a few remaining Chinatown Greetings posters by local artist Ray Dak Lam. Coffee and tea were available, as well as popcorn and snow cones, and mandarin oranges donated by Lucky 97 Supermarket.
The film screening began with a special cut of the first episode of A Portrait of Chinatown, a six-part docuseries by local photographer and filmmaker Jordon Hon. The series explores his formerly tangential but growing relationship with Edmonton’s Chinatown, in contrast to his family’s more intimate experience of it before they moved to the suburbs and then to the Chinese cultural enclave of Richmond B.C.
The second film shown was Bowl Cuts, a short film directed by Alexander Milo, featuring local interdisciplinary artist Vivian Han-Tat as she reminisces on her own changing experience of Edmonton’s Chinatown and of the memory of her mother’s beauty salon there – all of which inspires her current art using photography and 3D renderings.
The third film was the main event: Big Trouble in Little Chinatown, by Karen Cho, screened as part of a coast-to-coast community tour. It details the struggles of four Chinatowns through 2020 to 2022: New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, Cho’s hometown. The film documents businesses struggling through the pandemic, the reckoning of rising anti-Asian violence, and the fights undertaken by each community for their survival – some more desperate than others – as they face the monumental odds against them.
Following the film screenings at the close of the event a panel discussion and Q&A with Hon, Han-Tat, and Cho was hosted by local Chinatown historian Lan Chan-Marples.
Hon said that the genesis of this whole event came through his collaboration with local producer and director Shawn Tse on the project Chinatown Greetings. Later, Tse became the lead organizer of the coast-to-coast tour for Big Fight in Little Chinatown, and he made sure that one of the stops would be in Edmonton. At the same time, Hon had been waiting for a chance to screen some of his own docuseries, having not wanted to put all the spotlight on himself with a solo screening. So, Hon and Tse collaborated to make Storytelling in Chinatown from Within a reality.
“Shawn was kind of the spark for this event and [we] just worked together for the last couple of months to collaborate with all the Chinatown organizations to . . . see if they want[ed] to support [us] in some way and all of them did,” said Hon, “ . . . everyone was so supportive. And just so excited to gather here and I think that’s the energy of the Chinatown that I have fallen in love with and just inspires me to keep working in this community.”
All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will go towards funding future Chinatown community programming.
Beth Storheim is an active volunteer for the Heart of the City Festival Society Board and the Kiwanis Club of South Edmonton. She lives in McCauley.