A Newbie Filmmaker at the Yorkton Film Festival

“. . . and the nominees are . . .”

These are four little words that big dreams are made of and I actually got to live it in real life.

Like many film festivals the world over, the Yorkton Film Festival is virtual this year due to the pandemic. Kicking off the festival which is being held from May 27th to 30th was the award ceremony which was streamed live on opening night. My documentary Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden was nominated in three categories: Research, Multicultural over 30 minutes, and Documentary History and Biography.  

This documentary is my first. Six years ago I had a story idea and I just knew that it had to be a documentary even though I had no experience making one. So just how did it get to be nominated for three of Yorkton Film Festival’s Golden Sheaf Awards?

I think my training and experience as an author had a lot to do with it. For the past two decades, I have been writing and publishing fiction and non-fiction. I’ve attended workshops and conferences on almost every aspect of the business of writing: how to craft stories, do research, how to pitch a story, how to write a synopsis, copyright and more. With a degree in journalism, I already knew how to interview people. Most importantly, I love documentaries. It’s been one of my favorite genres since I was a teenager. And just like the recommendation that anyone who wants to be a writer should read as much as they can, anyone who wants to make documentaries should watch as many as they can.

I figured that the skills I learned as an author would be transferable to film. After all, they are both about storytelling. So I approached filmmaking the same way I write. I found the heart of the story, and then set about to create a beginning, middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.

It was a ton of work. Maybe even two tons. There were a lot of ups and downs, moaning about who would even watch it (I do the same with my writing “Who would want to read/publish it!?”), evenings spent researching digital libraries for photographs and video footage, checking facts, finding people to interview, transcribing interviews, agonizing over which scenes to keep or cut and figuring out how to change scenes and introduce new characters. I was producer, director and writer and I loved wearing all those hats.

It premiered on the CBC on November 14, 2020, and just like I do at a book launch, I nervously hoped people would like my baby. They did.

So that is how I found myself sitting at my dining table watching the Yorkton Film Festival award ceremony on my laptop anxiously waiting to hear whether my film would win in any of its categories.

It wasn’t a Zoom conference so winners would not give an acceptance speech. The presenters did a nice job of introducing and announcing the awards. To me, it felt like the Academy Awards. Each time they announced one of my categories, I held my breath. The poster flashed across the screen and I was tense with excitement. They announced the other nominees.

And then . . . the winner was someone else.

Of course I was disappointed. The end of that dream is winning the award, but it still feels really good just to have been nominated. This is so much more than I expected for my first documentary.

My congratulations to Captive produced by Antica Productions for winning the award for Research, The Artics produced by Midnight Light Media for winning Multicultural 30 Minutes and Over, and to Mr. Emancipation: The Walter Perry Story produced by The Walter Perry Freedom Foundation for winning Documentary History and Biography. I’m looking forward to watching these films.

It ain’t over folks. Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden was selected by the Austin Asian American Film Festival which runs from June 4-20, 2021. It was rejected by a handful of other film festivals but I’m expecting a response from 17 others throughout the year.

I’ll keep you posted.

If you’re in Canada, you can watch Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden on CBC through their GEM app.

The Story Behind Chinese-Canadian Restaurants

I have only written a couple of posts about my family. There is the one about celebrating Christmas An Old-Fashioned Chinese-Canadian Christmas and one about eating out with my dad in a Chinese restaurant The Writing on the Wall: Ordering a Chinese Meal. A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to tell a bigger story and in a way that I had never done before. It took me six years, but I finally finished my first documentary.   

Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden takes a look at Chinese-Canadian restaurants in the 1950s, the men who owned them and what the restaurants meant to the Chinese and Jewish communities.

 Working in restaurants as a cook, waiter or owner defined a generation of head-tax payers including my father who opened Lee’s Garden on Park Avenue in 1951.

The 1950s was a time of change for the Chinese community. The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed by parliament and the men who had lived in Canada for decades were finally allowed to become Canadian citizens and bring their wives and children to Canada.

The restaurants allowed a relationship between the Chinese and their customers that would not have occurred outside of the restaurants. Those early pioneers were the face of the Chinese community. They made contact with a society that considered them outsiders. By opening their doors and welcoming everyone who entered, other marginalized communities, such as the Jewish community, found acceptance.

In the 1950s, for the Jewish community, the fact that Chinese restaurants were open seven days a week meant they could have family dinners on Sunday, when other restaurants were closed. This brings up the question of why Jewish people eat Chinese food made with pork. The answer is Safe Treyf, the logic by which a Jewish person can eat the pork in Chinese food.

The Chinese-Canadian restaurant and its distinctive menu have earned a place in history and in people’s hearts. Upon closer examination, they also tell the story of the struggle of the Chinese to be accepted in Canada, of Chinese families who were separated for decades because of a racist government policy, and the food that has created a bond between the Chinese and Jewish communities that continues to this day.

My documentary, Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden, will premiere on CBC on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 at 7p.m. on the show Absolutely Canadian. It will also be available for streaming on the internet (in Canada only) with the CBC GEM app.

Five Ideas on Where to Promote Your Self-Published Book

I’ve uploaded my latest book, The Red Pagoda and Other Stories, to Kindle, set it for pre-orders and now for the part that I find is as hard as writing the book: the marketing. Of course, social media is always a good choice, but I thought I’d share some other options that I’ve used, big and small. What I keep in mind is that all magazines and their web sites need content. It’s just a matter of finding them and seeing what works for you.

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