Still from Boat People

Belonging and Identity: Short Docs at the Canadian Film Festival

Three short documentaries share the challenges of identity and belonging in Canada

6 mins read

Three short films about identity and belonging in Canada bring new perspectives. Featuring the stories of immigrants and refugees, these documentaries share just some of the many experiences that people face in the country. Take a look at these short docs during the Canadian Film Festival to understand the different lifestyles and challenges of these Canadian citizens.  

Yvonne Sung, the director of Hello Anson, takes a glimpse into Anson Ng’s life as he paints the outdoor landscapes of Toronto and, specifically, Chinatown. Anson, who is originally from Thailand but moved to Toronto with his mother 30 years ago, uses painting and digital art as self-expression. He recognizes that there is a lack of Asian artwork and uses his skills to fill in the blanks. Anson tends to focus on the Asian diaspora with his work as it gives him a sense of belonging and lets him feel connected to his home land. He is also an amazing cook, which is another art form he often refers to, since it brings the flavours of his culture into his kitchen. 

Hello Anson

Sung captures Anson in his day to day life, from cooking in his kitchen to setting up an art stand in the streets of Chinatown or by the waterfront, creating a lighthearted and ‘home away from home’ atmosphere for viewers. The film evokes the connection Anson has with the city of Toronto and his passion and freedom of being an artist. Sung also includes some of Anson’s archival photos from when he was young, specifically his mother’s Thai restaurant, to really understand his upbringing. This film not only gives other Asian artists a sense of community, but also a sense of belonging. 

Meanwhile, the NFB short Boat People, directed by Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma, is an animated documentary based on Lam’s family, who fled from Vietnam during the war. Lam uses her mother’s story about a memory of rescuing ants from bowls of sugar water to drive the narrative of her family’s journey away from Vietnam. The depiction of an ants’ survival and lifestyle is reflected in a metaphorical way, creating a beautiful blend of fact and storytelling. It shares the loss Lam’s family made, and the burden some of her family members carried living in a new country. 

Boat People is aesthetically animated with patterned and textured paper, using stop motion multiplane animation, 2D animation and 3D digital rendering. Lam and Boersma tells a compelling story of a refugee family that fled from their country and does so in an artful, accessible way. Boat People really showcases the strength a family carries and what parents do to protect one another and their children, even if that means sacrificing their own sense of belonging so that future generations can flourish in a new land. 

One more short that relates to identity and belonging is Here and There (D’Ici, d’ailleurs) directed by Chadi Bennani. This film explores the lives of three high school students who are second and third generation immigrants from different families. Each teenager seems to struggle with their identity as they were born and live in Quebec, but come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Their identity is a puzzle to them as they compare their stories to their white Québécois classmates, so they start to gain insight on their backgrounds by asking their family members more about their culture and way of living back ‘home’.

Bennani follows each teenager into their homes as they spark these conversations with their family members. The shots remain up close and personal to create an intimate feel for the viewer. It really captures the closeness each teenager has with their family, yet the unknowing void they have within themselves about their identity.   

Being a first or second generation immigrant or even a refugee can have its challenges when it comes to finding your place in a different country. However, Yvonne Sung, Thao Lam, Kjell Boersma and Chadi Bennani share stories to give these types of people support and a community. These films also allow viewers to understand that no one is alone, and that a sense of belonging and healing will come with time.  

Here and There | L:es Films du 3 Mars

Catch these shorts at the Canadian Film Festival:

Hello Anson screens with the documentary Kite Zo A on March 19.

Boat People screens in Homegrown Shorts 2 on March 20.

Here and There screens in Homegrown Shorts 3 on March 21.

Alejandra De La Huerta is currently completing her studies at York University as a Media Arts student. She is with POV Magazine as a field placement student to learn more about documentaries, directors and the film industry. Alejandra has a strong passion for sharing stories on environmental issues and social justice and plans to make her own documentaries in the future. She enjoys photography and using 360 video to capture narratives through a new lens.

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