Posts in Film

Chasing The Six

Work continues on The Six, the new feature documentary from LPDocs, directed by Arthur Jones. The film traces the lives of the Chinese passengers on Titanic, six of whom survived before disappearing completely from the history books as anti-Chinese sentiment stirred up prejudicial immigration laws for the first half of the twentieth century. Arthur follows historian and frequent collaborator Steven Schwankert (The Poseidon Project) as he travels the globe to uncover the lost stories of Lee Bing, Fang Lang, Chang Chip, Ah Lam, Chung Foo and Ling Hee, and finally give them their place in history.

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It has been a year since Arthur and Steven traced the son of one survivor to Wisconsin, USA. Further clues led them to a remote village in Guangzhou, China. Meanwhile, at our base in Shanghai, the research team have been trawling through old archives in search of clues about The Six, and have been asking tough questions about the immigration policies which made life so difficult for Chinese migrants to Europe and North America as recently as 60 years ago.
Research of this nature is littered with obstacles. Chinese genealogy is notoriously difficult, particularly in English language documents such as shipping records, where names are often inconsistently transcribed. But there are a surprising amount of documents which have survived in archives around the world. The most exciting recent development has been the discovery of a new batch of records which tell us exactly what happened to the six upon arrival in New York aboard the rescue ship Carpathia. After months of speculation about the immediate aftermath of the accident, we are now able to verify why they were aboard Titanic, and where they were headed for the next few years.

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We find threads of the six in USA, Canada and UK, all countries which offered their own Chinese Exclusions Acts. Perhaps the most pernicious of the bunch was UK, where post-war anti-immigrant sentiment saw thousands of settled Chinese men forcibly deported. For many, this meant leaving behind British wives and children, most of whom never knew what had happened to their husbands and fathers (you can read more about the impact of these deportations on Liverpool families from Yvonne Foley at the Half and Half Project)

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Researcher Matthew Baren took a trip to London’s Limehouse earlier this month to visit various listed addresses of one survivor. Like Liverpool, London’s dockland areas became a home for the first Chinese migrant workers in UK, with Limehouse becoming the countries first Chinatown and the basis of pulp hysteria Fu Manchu. Much of the docklands area has been repurposed for housing and the Canary Wharf financial district, and today’s Limehouse retains little of what stood 100 years ago. Gone are the boarding houses which were home to Chinese seamen. But the streets on which the six and so many others lived are still there.
The next stop on our journey in making The Six is Bangkok, where Arthur and producer Julia Cheng will follow up their success at GZDoc in 2015 with a trip to documentary industry event Asian Side of the Doc. Be sure to check out our updated trailer for the film, available on our online channels.

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Art Brightens Our World

The first thing that happens when we arrive at Yang Cheng Wei’s home is he presents us with cookies, little plastic wrapped ones. He is courteous to a fault, in spite, perhaps, of his shyness. His mother smiles with pride. Their living room is decorated with art books, pens and photos. A vast Gongbi style scroll leans half complete against the window.

“When he was little, he was so sweet, everyone loved him,” she tells us. But when, by the age of three, he still couldn’t speak, she began to realise something might be wrong. He was taken to the Shanghai Mental Health Center, where he was diagnosed with autism. “We were devastated,” she continues.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental intellectual disability which, along with other Autism Spectrum Disorders, affects roughly 2% of the global population. Whilst symptoms can vary from individual to individual, it typically manifests as inhibited communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal), leading to difficulty in perceived normative social interactions. This can lead to difficulties in education and employment, with many autistics unable to live completely independently in adulthood. However, our understanding of ASDs is constantly expanding. Today, some argue that these conditions should be seen as differences, rather than disorders, and that society should adapt to better accommodate autism.

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This is the thinking behind the Special Olympics, our reason for visiting Weiwei. The organisation was founded in 1968 by Eunice Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, who noticed a lack of sporting opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities. Today, it operates in 170 countries, providing a constructive program to build skills, confidence and opportunity for 4.5 million children and young people. The organisation has brought together global policymakers and influencers in it’s campaign to end the ‘cycle of poverty and exclusion’ on people with intellectual disabilities.

We’ve been working with the Special Olympics since 2007, when the games came to Shanghai for the first time, but didn’t see Weiwei out on the track. In fact, he has forged his own path with support from his mum. The artbooks and paintings around the room? All his work.

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“When they found out he couldn’t talk, no kindergarten would take him.” Then, his mum explains, one headmaster noticed he could draw, ‘…extremely well for his age.’ Weiwei has been painting ever since. He is particularly fond of Gongbi, a realist style based on intricate lines or ‘boundaries’ and dating to the Han dynasty. His work has caught national attention. A profile in Youth Daily was followed by exhibitions at Shanghai Contemporary Art Theater, Liu Haisu Museum and the prestigious Rockbund. He has donated a piece to Special Olympics for a fundraising auction.

Weiwei’s mum shows us the family photo album where she keeps his newspaper clippings and show programs alongside pictures he painted as a young child. “If he hadn’t studied painting, his quality of life would be very different now. He is proud to be himself,” she says.

“Art brightens our world.”

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You can watch our video profile on Weiwei by visiting LP Film’s official Vimeo channel.

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