Long Tack Sam was an acrobat, magician, performer and vaudevillian who was one of the most amazing performers of all time. He’s also Ann Marie Fleming’s great-grandfather and the star of The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. Thanks to her search and travels around the world she pieces together the story of the man who performed around the world and influenced magicians and performers for decades, but he didn’t make the leap into film as he always believed that the portrayal of those of Asian heritage on the screen should be positive.
The film is a visual feast with a dizzying array of animation styles and approaches to tell the story. Presenting stills in an interesting way is a challenge, but Fleming rises to the occaision with subtle touches such as people in photographs blinking and animation of documents and comic books. It’s a wonderful journey that seems to combine just about every visual way of capturing an image from video to photography to drawing to painting to cinema.
The personal documentary is a tricky thing as what may be interesting to the filmmaker may not be interesting to the viewer. As it says in the end credits, “History is relatives.” Luckily in the skilled hands of Fleming the various stories of Long Tack Sam are revealed to us as she smoothly uses whichever technique works at any particular point in time. You can’t really categorize the film as it combines so many elements together in a skillful way that it’s just about everything you could hope for.
The film is distributed by the NFB and is screening at the Atlantic Film Festival on Sunday, September 14 at 7:05pm. There is also an NFB Master Class with Ann Marie Fleming on Monday that I’ll be enthusiastically attending.