Now available to stream on TheNFB.ca
Weiye Su is a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker with a goal, and that’s to dispel the myths concerning the underground tunnels that exist underneath the city of Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. What’s offered is a falsehood. After his family relocated here many years ago, what he wanted to discover about the past concerning fellow Chinese as this country was being built is important. He knew very early on their stories aren’t as well known, and he’s given one family a chance to be heard in A Passage Beyond Fortune.
Ultimately, this mini-documentary is about the legacies that those Asians crafted with their own hands. Although the United States is considered a land of opportunities more so than Canada, both have an important place in history. As most scholars know, in those early settlement years and even throughout the Depression, not everyone treated foreigners kindly. This filmmaker’s goal is to explore the proper cultural contexts and reverence, than to present stigmatized notions on what life was like back then. He also recommends reading Brian S. Osborne’s essay, Moose Jaw’s Tunnel Vision: Mystery, History, and the Construction of ‘Canada’s Most Notorious City.’
It excellently deconstructs why people are fascinated with these burrows, whether they be from this city or elsewhere. The cities along the Pacific Northwest are rife with them too, but as for their purpose, no, they’re not truly haunted! In that article, he wrote, “In 1987 two local researchers were commissioned by Moose Jaw’s Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) to better document the origins and past functions of the Moose Jaw tunnels.”
At first, this filmmaker (Su) thought he didn’t really have the skill of a bard to further pen a proper treatment about this subject. But he knew that with the video camera, he can not only film the story but also go further with it by capturing the emotions that comes with detachment. After his work with successful video art instalations and Jia, which looked at life of a family during the pandemic, this latest explores new territories.
The conclusion Osborne’s study reveals a different type of quote. It’s less about why history is often written by the victor, but instead concerns what’s previously recorded. Nothing is set in stone. When new facts emerge, everything must be revisited and that’s what’s Su’s work explores. What’s proposed by Osborne is that “myth, even fantasy or make-believe, can become heritage, especially when acted out over time with the sufficient expenditure of collective action — and a barrage of material prompts.”
And as for why Su’s home town is important, that’s because he believes there’s always been a lack of proper stories about the livelihood of the Chinese people here. He said, “Moosejaw used to be one of the biggest Chinatowns in history; at one point it was even bigger than Vancouver because of the railway.”
He knew they had a story to tell. When he pitched his idea to the local community, they welcomed it with open arms! They assisted in as many ways as possible, including letting him film even the most intimate of gatherings, which ranged from closed door Chinese New Year ceremonies to following one family around.
“They were pretty open-minded. I was hoping to tell all of their stories because they all have very interesting pasts to reveal, but with the budget, we had to focus on just one. Historically, every Chinese immigrant who came here was given low pay….but there’s more to it than just that,” said this filmmaker.
Because of the times, not everyone had equal rights, and the treatment of foreigners (racism) was much worse. Even today, Su agrees there is still a lot of that going on. He responded by saying, “People really need to understand that we are human beings. We share the same joy, desire, and fears in life. Our cultures and their cultures may be slightly different, but it’s still about family, and how we all connect.”
The reason he made A Passage Beyond Fortune is because of the information made up concerning the people living underground in those tunnels. It’s advertised to imply Al Capone’s operations made use of this place in later years. The Chinese connection is another hook and according to Su, the information presented is not true. In order to counter this claim, he shows how the Chow family survived the times and shows how they never lived there. What they offer with what they kept from those times–which are mostly photographs–is a lot more telling.
The dynamic he wanted to spotlight was just right. The lesson he showed concerns what they don’t want to leave behind, or let get forgotten. Their stories are a lot more authentic to reveal what life was like back then, and in this work’s case, it adds an additional discourse. The fear of losing their identity and spirit is key to why this mini-doc should be watched by other Asians world-wide. Ironically, the Chows are moving out of their homestead in order to be closer to their kids and grandchildren. They now live in Regina.
Ultimately, this director wanted his work to show what various families did to not only help build this town but also their family legacy. He might continue with making more shorts with other pillar members of the community, but only time will tell. This visual artist definitely wants to expand A Passage Beyond Fortune into a larger narrative and certainly has a lot of material to draw from. It’s not about how these Chinese people survived those days, but also how they came together to be the strong community that it is now.