An old piece from 2009 about “How Far Do Leaves Fall?”, a documentary about the British-Chinese / British Born Chinese diaspora which is one of the smallest overseas Chinese communities.
From One Generation to Another!
What is it like to be a son or daughter of first generation migrants far from the land of your ancestors?
Would you feel more comfortable in the country of your birth or your supposed country of origin?
From China to Malaysia to England, the Chinese have spanned across the globe and made their mark. What traditions and beliefs are passed down? How hard is it to communicate across generations?
The documentary “How far do leaves fall?” by Director Rose Kelly and Co-Director / Editor Christopher Chow delves deep into the topics of immigration, culture and identity. Even though the film features the British Chinese community in the United Kingdom, the theme of finding a true sense of belonging is universal to one and all.
The documentary features the oral histories of the older UK Chinese generations and their stories of moving from Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and the hardships they encountered as they sought to establish themselves in their new homes. The interviews were carried out by the younger British Chinese generations for whom China is a far away distant land. For many, the UK is the only home they truly know. Via the interview process, the elder and younger generations come to have a sense of empathy and a greater respect is forged.
One main topic raised is immigration; which is a hot contentious issue sometimes viewed negatively but legal migration has many advantages:
– A greater supply of unskilled workers
– A younger workforce
– Skilled workers in understaffed sectors
Via the piece, viewers will learn about:
– Chinese and British history.
– Life in the UK as an immigrant.
– The Overseas Chinese Diasporas and their stories of hardship and triumph all around the world.
– Oral History – The verbal process of passing history down from generation to generation.
“How Far Do Leaves Fall” is an interesting look at immigration, culture and the concept of home. As millions move around the world to make a living, the core message of a sense of belonging and identity will resonate with many.
The documentary “How Far Do Leaves Fall?” examines the lives of young second generation British Chinese in the United Kingdom. On the surface, the piece discusses immigration but delves deeper into the importance of culture and identity. Though featuring the British Chinese community, its themes of a sense of belonging and discovering your roots are universal to all.
We had the chance to interview one of the co-directors, Hong Kong born Christopher Chow. A one-time psychology student whom turned to films, Christopher is currently freelancing in London, Christopher has worked for various productions, ranging from corporate films, music videos, feature film (Dream On Films), and TV programmes (National Geographic Channel, TVBS-E). Here, he discusses existentialism, Steven Spielberg and randomly waking up one day to pursue his film making dreams!
Christopher Chow – CC
Interviewer- Chris Lau
How did the documentary “How far do Leaves fall?” originate?
CC: The film was part of a wider oral history project by the London based charity CMHA, and it was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (UK).
The project began with two aims: first is to document the experiences and feelings of the Chinese whom migrated to UK many years ago, and how they and their British-born children feel about integrating into the British society. The second aim is encourage young volunteers to participate in the production of all aspects of the oral history project.
How well was the documentary received? How did young people react?
CC: The young people showed a lot of interest in both the issues raised in the documentary, and some were keen to get involved in volunteering for the next oral history project. A lot of them had the similar feelings as the young interviewees featured in the film, and they felt they could really relate to them.
They thought that their parents didn’t understand them and they found it hard to juggle their tradition Chinese family views, and integrating and blending into the everyday British culture.
The piece analyses culture and identity; how important are these concepts for young people?
CC: Everybody goes through a period of identity crisis one way or another, and it might come at different ages. Many young British Chinese want to blend in more within their British schools and friends, so they reject their traditional Chinese family lifestyle and values, which is totally understandable, because it’s tough enough to be a teenager already, and on top they have to deal with their additional cultural identity crisis.
As the young people grow up and mature, they are much more comfortable with who they are, and they stop rejecting their Chinese background, and some begin to appreciate the beauty of their heritage. Many interviewees in the film mentioned they are now (in their 20s & 30s) making much more of an effort to catch up with the lost years of disassociating with their heritage. They now see their distant families more often, and make more effort when it comes to Chinese festivals.
Do you feel more Chinese or more British? Does it really matter?
CC: I came over to study in the UK when I was only 11. Maybe because of all the TV and films I have watched about the UK, I didn’t feel foreign at all, apart from the fact that I didn’t speak much English, but it was the slower pace lifestyle and the cooler climate, which suited me very well.
On the other hand, I studied in an English boarding school, and I didn’t feel like I totally fitted in. I tried my best, but I guess the British just always saw me as a foreigner. But then majority of the times, things came very naturally to me, and I wouldn’t even think that I wasn’t British.
Personally, I don’t think it matters so much whether you believe you are Chinese or British, because that is a difference between nationalities, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It is very normal to generalize a race or a nation of people, but we should focus more on ourselves as individuals.
Did you ever question your identity growing up?
CC: Yes I did question my identity, but it was more existential rather than cultural. I guess I don’t really see people differently wherever they come from or the shade of their skin tones.
I think there are similar types of people in all continents, and so I just see people as people. Just like when I was in school, I didn’t really see myself as Chinese, not that I was intentionally rejecting it, and nor have I ever felt totally British.
I questioned more along the line, why am I here? Or does it even matter that I’m here? It was these questions that kept me occupied during my shift from adolescence to adulthood.
Did you always want to be a film director? Has it always been a passion?
CC: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist or policeman then when I got older I wanted to become a teacher. I guess I have always been very good at comforting and motivating people, so I thought I could be a good teacher.
I loved watching movies. My parents were always busy, so they rarely went to the cinema with me. I spent many hours of my childhood and adolescence watching movies on TV, VHS, and LD. When I talked to some of my fellow filmmakers, often they are surprised at how well I remember the story lines in older movies, where they would only remember a few memorable scenes and how the characters looked!
So, movies have always been my passion, but it just never occurred to me that I would be making them. Only until I was in university studying psychology; one night I just woke up, with no prior related dreams, I decided to become a script writer. Then my friend suggested to me to take a film making course, and see where it takes me, and that was it. I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.
What steps did you take to achieve your dream?
CC: I guess I have always known what I wanted to do, right from the day when I told my mum that I wanted to study in the UK by myself, and I was 10 then. I like to follow my instinct and my passion in doing particular subjects. One thing for sure is that the path I have been taking has always (unconsciously) steered me towards understanding human emotions, which is where my passion lies.
So I went to London and studied film making for a year, and since then I have been busy working, constantly networking and planning future projects. The key is to keep yourself busy and continue to motivate yourself, and cross your fingers that all these effort will one day come to fruition.
Do you have any advice for budding film makers? Just how glamorous is the industry?
CC: The industry isn’t glamorous at all. The only glamorous bit is the red carpets and the major film festivals. Usually it’s very down to earth, but there are a lot of egos flying around all the time, which is very hard to stand sometimes. Unfortunately, this industry does attract this type of people. Sometimes I do wonder if I am too selfless to be a filmmaker, and my other selfless friends agree with me.
My advice would be, if you have the passion to make films, to tell stories, and to connect with another human being, then just go for it. I think it doesn’t matter whether your passion is in film making or pottery making. You only live once, so why not.