Richard Fung, a video artist and an Associate Professor in OCAD U’s Faculty of Art, is the recipient of a major Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight grant for RE:ORIENTATIONS, a project that revisits the interview subjects from his ground-breaking 30-year-old documentary filmOrientations: Lesbian and Gay Asians (1985). The grant is one of two awarded to OCAD U (the other project funded is David McIntosh’s QUIPUCAMAYOC).
Fung’s project will reposition the original film’s themes and examine important shifts both in the community and in the greater international context. The grant will help fund project development for four years and is valued at $149,023.
“In Canada LGBTQ people have come a long way in gaining rights and protections, but these advances, even though freshly won, are being used by conservative elements to justify Western domination of ‘backward nations.’ At that the same time governments in countries such as Uganda and Russia are defining national identity by attacking queer citizens,” says Fung. As a result of what he considers worrying developments and the role of rights in north-south politics, Fung decided to look at his original film again. “For me, as a Canadian of Chinese descent from the Caribbean, it’s important to examine transnational themes.”
Part of the project of the new film and research will also be to re-interview subjects. Fung plans to capture their reactions as they watch footage of themselves onscreen in the original film and ask them to describe who that person was and who they are today.
“Thirty years ago was a very different time. It was before any of the rights were granted in Canada and the community has changed,” Fung says. “In the first video there was a marked sense of optimism around coming out and making a difference. The original film was about sexual desire and representation, but the issues relevant to the LGBTQ community today and how they feel have shifted.”
After 30 years, the 14 original subjects of the film have moved on in their lives and work. Many of the subjects went on to highly successful political careers. Alan Lee became one of Toronto’s leading HIV doctors, works with refugees and undocumented immigrants and was also the first out national president of the Chinese Canadian National Council. Mary-Woo Sims became the head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Tony Souza was the first race relations advisor to the Board of Education. Sadly, three of the interview subjects died of AIDS-related causes.
Fung’s original film was financed with the support of a community grant. “I’m not sure this work would have been supported by the research council in 1985,” he says. “Now SSHRC is interested in how the research information we’re finding circulates as knowledge, so we’re going to travel with the work and produce collaborations. The purpose of the grant is also to look at how university research can inform what’s happening on the ground in communities, which is why dissemination is important.”
Fung is working with a research and creative team on the project including a creative editor and cinematographer together with academic collaborators from the University of Toronto and York University, and both undergraduate and graduate research assistants. The project will culminate in a national tour of the film, together with a website, scholarly articles and a book of interviews and essays, which are all intended to foster collaborations between academia and community.
About Richard Fung
Richard Fung is a Toronto-based video artist, writer, theorist and educator. His film work is intended to challenge and covers subjects ranging from the role of the Asian male in gay pornography to colonialism, immigration, racism, homophobia, AIDS and his own family history. He is an intellectual who pushes forward the debates about queer sexuality, Asian identity and the uneasy borderlands of culture and politics.
Orientations was his first film, created in 1985 as a pioneer project in response to dominant impressions and assumptions about homosexual identity. It featured interviews with 14 lesbians and gay men with diverse backgrounds, lifestyle experiences and outlooks.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
Original Orientations film
Richard Fung website
Richard Fung faculty biography