The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival is proud to close out this year’s edition with 2000 Canadian Artist Spotlight filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming’s The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. Fleming’s latest feature is a very personal film about her great-grandfather Long Tack Sam, a Chinese vaudeville magician who toured the world in the early 1900s.
Fleming has been a fixture on the Canadian filmmaking scene for the past 16 years, during which time her body of work has grown steadily. Though many of her shorts are personal in nature, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam stands out, if only because of the amount of time (four years) she spent researching her great-grandfather’s life.
A handsome man who shattered the Hollywood image of Chinese as buck-toothed, Fu Manchu types, Long Tack Sam lived a fantastical life. Born in Shandong province, he fulfilled the epitome of childhood dreams by running away to join the circus. Later on in life, he married an Austrian shopkeeper, raised a family with great difficulty and survived the last century’s two major wars. His talent as a magician and an acrobat brought him fame and a circle of celebrity friends that included Orson Welles.
Fleming uses animation to bring her great-grandfather to life – interspersing archival footage with interviews with members of her family and the magic community. She has constructed a fascinating film that illuminates Long Tack Sam’s life and introduces audiences to an unusual world that no longer exists. Using animation to tell the story was important to Fleming because “magic is the grandfather of animation. The first filmmakers [were] magicians.”