Monday, March 8, 2021

Far East Deep South - 2021 SAAFF Documentary Review

The Documentary: Far East Deep South

The Director: Larissa Lam

The Story: When a Chinese-American family travels from California to Mississippi to visit the grave of their ancestors, they stumble upon surprising revelations.

The Review:
I would imagine that anyone reading this review, myself included as the author, knows little to nothing about Chinese and Asian American history except for what you might have seen in a movie or two. The people who record and preserve history for mainstream and educational purposes have sort of swept it under the rug to the point where white and black history are the dominant factors and every other ethnicity is ignored. What we are shown is often more like propaganda than real history which is why there has always been a problem of hate and violence against Asian people in this country. It stems from ignorance and a narrative that creates opposition rather than just allowing us all to be humans.

After centuries of this sort of neglect and and a culture based on inherently racist values, it's high time we take a look at how this country was really created, shaped, and evolved by human beings from all over the world. Movies like Lee Isaac Chung's Minari are giving us a taste and documentaries like Alice Gu's The Donut King are going deep into immigrant history and now this film, Far East Deep South, has gone down an unexpected rabbit hole of discovery that has unearthed people, places, and artifacts from Chinese culture buried deep in the recesses of Mississippi's seemingly unknown history. What started as a family film project by producer Baldwin Chiu and director Larissa Lam to find a family grave site eventually turned into a short film called Finding Cleveland and has since been expanded to this full length feature.

While there is a lot of history to unearth and explore, this is still a family story at it's core and Lam's direction and storytelling keep that as the heart and soul of the documentary. She brings us along through every wave of emotion as discoveries are made leading to some seriously life changing moments for the entire family. I mean, would you believe that Baldwin and his father Charles Chiu are members of six generations of Chinese history in the US? How many families do you know that have been here that long. My own family only goes a couple generations deep on either side. Kind of makes you rethink what it means to be American and who qualifies in what ways under the historical structure we have all grown up learning.

I really hope that these types of stories and all of the history behind it become more commonplace and we can teach future generations about all of the valuable contributions from all the different people who have come here from all over the world to live the American dream. A dream that should not exclude anyone from its record or from any opportunities that might be available in the future. This documentary, and the people who made it, give me hope that we are on the right track.

The Verdict:
Far East Deep South is essential American storytelling. The documentary is heart wrenching because of the generations of history the Chiu family has lost and it is also filled with hope because of how much of that history has been recovered for future generations to learn from and appreciate.

Bonus Content:

To keep track of all my reviews and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at SAAFF 2021.

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