Stu Dawrs (1999)

Auld Lang Cinema by Stu Dawrs
(Honolulu Weekly, Vol. 9, No. 43, October 27-Nov. 2, 1999)
Richard Fung is in position to comment on the state of indie film and video as we prepare to roll over the millennial odometer. Like the art, this artist covers a vast territory. Born in Trinidad, the Toronto-based video maker, critic, educator, curator, writer, activist and grandchild of indentured labourers speaks in many voices.

“I am Chinese from the Caribbean living in Toronto. And I’m gay,” he said via e-mail last week. “So although I don’t really feel like an ‘outsider,’ much of the insight in my work – if I can be so immodest – comes from being to a certain extent outside the mainstream of cultures and communities.”

Like the rest of us, Fung is also a viewer, and as one living beyond the borders of the world’s de facto Image Factory, he raises questions that will resonate with many in Hawaii.

“Even as Canadians, we have a sense of looking at Hollywood film and American television and being aware that these images that define our world are not from or about us,” he commented. “Whenever they attempt to depict Canada it comes out strangely romanticized or farcical. The situation in Trinidad is a thousand times worse, and I imagine there’s something of this dynamic of being on periphery of media production in Hawaii as well.”

There is, however, a critical difference between Canada and other points beyond the American movie machine. While most Americans are still only familiar with large-name Canadian filmmakers like Naked Lunch’s David Cronenberg or Oscar-nominee Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Fung points to a large body of work being produced in film co-ops and supported by the country’s arts councils.

“This support creates a very interesting infrastructure that allows artists access to sophisticated equipment with an emphasis on artistic rather than purely commercially driven exploration,” he said, noting that the system also places a large emphasis on getting tools into the hands of those that have long lacked access to the media.

As proof of the vitality of Canadian indie film and video, Fung has programmed Millennial Funk, a series of 13 film and video shorts. Like all of his curated work, Fung’s Funk circles around a unifying theme – though each of the pieces comes at it from a remarkably different angle.

“When I started looking around at videos and films for a kind of Canadian sampler, I was struck that so many artists are tackling the theme of death,” he said. “They’re now making downers; in fact, some are quite funny. But there is a kind of thoughtfulness that I think is spurred by all this talk about the end of an era – there’s a social reality to the notion of millennium that no doubt effects even the most cynical of us.”

As such, the works in Millennial Funk cross all communities and boundaries. In Positiv, videomaker Mike Hoolboom uses a four-way split screen to draw connections between HIV, autobiography and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Meanwhile, Dana Claxton uses the art of grinding buffalo bones to make porcelain as a means of commenting on the damaging relationship between Western culture and aboriginal ways. And Wayne Yung’s Angel details the fall of a leather-bound Asian angel disillusioned by dominant gay style.

Funky indeed. Richard Fung will be in attendance this week when Millennial Funk gets a single playing, as part of the UH-Manoa Department of Art “Intersections” series.