People Profiles

Ann Marie Fleming, MFA, School of Contemporary Arts

October 26, 2015
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Ann Marie Fleming tells stories in order to create world citizens.

Fleming is an independent filmmaker and author whose collection of over 30 documentaries, feature films and short films has been recognized nationally and internationally with awards from the Toronto International Film Festival, the Boston Underground Film Festival and many more. She completed a Master of Fine Arts at SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts in 1992.

“Ironically, because of the nature of multiculturalism in Canada, kids here often don't value their own cultural history. I think that there’s a richness to life and a sense of responsibility that is lost when they don’t see themselves as part of a continuum that is connected to other parts of the world. My work is about helping people to recognize that continuum,” she says.

One of the ways she is doing that is through her upcoming animated film featuring the voices of Sandra Oh, Ellen Page and Shohreh Agdashloo. Window Horses follows a young Canadian woman of mixed Chinese and Iranian heritage who goes to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran, to find her absent father.

“Stick Girl, the main character in Window Horses, is naive about her family's background in a way that I think could only happen in Canada,” says Fleming. 

Fleming explains that her drive to explore themes of culture and diaspora is rooted in her own family's experience of immigration.

Fleming describes the character as being naïve about her own heritage in a way that could only happen in Canada.
Fleming describes the character as being naïve about her own heritage in a way that could only happen in Canada.
Fleming describes the character as being naïve about her own heritage in a way that could only happen in Canada.
Fleming describes the character as being naïve about her own heritage in a way that could only happen in Canada.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming, National Film Board of Canada

One of Fleming’s most well-known films, The Magical Life of Long Tack Samchronicles the life of her great grandfather, a traveling magician from the early 1900s who performed throughout China before bringing his act to the US. “His story was an immigrant story but it was such a fabulous one — He didn’t come here as a rail worker or laundry person. He also struggled, but his life was extraordinary. I wanted to celebrate that,” says Fleming.

Fleming’s film received so much attention, particularly among young audiences, that she was invited to write a graphic memoir based on the same story. The book, also titled The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, was listed by the American Library Association’s 2007 top ten list of great graphic novels for teens and won the Doug Wright Award for Best Canadian Comic. But even more gratifying for Fleming were the countless letters she received from young readers sharing their families' stories of immigration.

Now one Canada's most-recognized filmmakers, Fleming notes the role of her SFU MFA in helping shape her practice as a filmmaker. “I was in a really varied group with musicians and dancers. It could be frustrating at times because collaborations never turned out the way you thought they would. I still think about those experiences 20 years later and what they taught me about how people can approach the same material in different ways.”

                                                                                            Author: Jackie Amsden

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