Sea In The Blood (2000)
Sea In The Blood is a personal documentary about living with illness, tracing the relationship of the artist to thalassemia in his sister Nan, and AIDS in his partner Tim. At the core of the piece are two trips. The first is in 1962, when Richard went from Trinidad to England with Nan to see a famous hematologist interested in her unusual case. The second is in 1977 when Richard and Tim made the counterculture pilgrimage from Europe to Asia. The relationship with Tim blossomed, but Nan died before their return. The narrative of love and loss is set against a background of colonialism in the Caribbean and the reverberations of migration and political change.
“...reminds us that our most personal histories may also contain the most volatile political content of our lives.” (Margot Francis, Fuse)
“Fung’s family chronicles have always been deft, wry and sophisticated. Sea in the Blood is all that the more. This tape tells the story of the illness that took his sister and of his own fear in the face of it. A wise, heartbreaking confession and his best work yet. Another Fung family story that contains the whole world.” (Cameron Bailey, NOW Magazine)
“Essayist and filmmaker Richard Fung has created a lyrical and touching personal documentary on living close to illness. Using old home movie footage from the ’50s shot in Trinidad, England and Canada, he traces his family’s encounter with thalassemia (“sea in the blood” in Greek), a blood disease considered rare in Asians at the time. Sea In The Blood seamlessly meshes this history with a trip Fung takes in 1977 from Europe to India during which he meets his partner, Tim. The death of his sister, Nan, from thalassemia occurred while he was away. The filmmaker examines his feelings about this loss and places it within the context of his partner Tim’s life with HIV/AIDS.” (Centre for Asian American Media)
“Essayist and filmmaker Richard Fung has created a lyrical and touching personal documentary on living close to illness. Using old home movie footage from the ’50s shot in Trinidad, England and Canada, he traces his family’s encounter with thalassemia (“sea in the blood” in Greek), a blood disease considered rare in Asians at the time. Sea In The Blood seamlessly meshes this history with a trip Fung takes in 1977 from Europe to India during which he meets his partner, Tim. The death of his sister, Nan, from thalassemia occurred while he was away. The filmmaker examines his feelings about this loss and places it within the context of his partner Tim’s life with HIV/AIDS.” (Chris Gehman)
“Fung creates an exquisite, dreamlike video with painterly imagery to meditate on his love for his sister, who struggled with a fatal hereditary blood disease, and for his lover, who has lived with AIDS for over fifteen years. At the core of the piece are two trips, the first one in 1962 when Richard and Nan went from Trinidad to England, the second when Richard and Tim made a pilgrimage from Europe to Asia. The piece is a meditation on race, sexuality, and disease, but most of all it is the personal emotional journey that prevails.” (Flaherty Film Seminar)
“For years, Fung has drawn wide-ranging, intimate video memoirs—My Mother's Place, The Way To My Father's Village—from the stories of his Chinese Trinidadian family. Sea In The Blood may be his best work yet. The title refers to thalassemia, an inherited form of anemia that struck Fung's brother and sister. In a gorgeous collage of old photographs, home movies and new video footage, he tells the story of his sister Nan, who died of the condition, to whom he first came out and and against whom he committed an unwitting, but permanent, betrayal. This is a wise, heartbreaking confession. Not to be missed.” (Hyphen Nation by Cameron Bailey, NOW Magazine, Nov. 23-29, 2000)
“Kinship is a topic of lively contestation among lesbian/gay/queer activists and cultural producers internationally. Classic debates about kinship and family are also under critical revision in the light of changing patterns of intimacy (including lesbian/gay/queer ‘families of choice’), as well as new reproductive and communication technologies. A point of departure for this paper is Mary Bouquet’s proposal that photography might be considered a ‘kinship substance’. Bouquet’s work is part of a broader reconsideration of the materials, processes and affinities – including and beyond ‘blood’ and other bodily substances – that produce, reproduce (and undo) kinship. Extending these ideas about photography to audiovisual media, this paper argues that both media are crucial to how discourses of kinship are produced at home, and to how they ‘travel’ as memory-images of relatedness.
While North American television, film and video as ‘technologies of kinship’ often reiterate normative family myths, this paper looks to projects that rhetorically construct/document lesbian/gay/queer kinship–notably recent queer documentaries exploring kinship as constructed/fractured by specific formations of class, race, ethnicity and migration in the Americas. For instance, Richard Fung’s Sea in the Blood (1998) deploys nuanced metaphors of blood and sea water to evoke a (post)colonial family history fractured by illness. As with works by other North Americans Jean Carlomusto, Su Friedrich, Steve Reinke, Lourdes Portillo, Jonathan Caouette and Thomas Allen Harris, Fung’s ‘autoethnographies’ (Muñoz) exemplify how new queer documentary employs embedded photographs and home movies to reconfigure the geographical and affectives structures of kinship. This paper will explore how these artists interrogate ‘visual rhetorics of kinship’ (Sontag), even as they seek new audiovisual languages to capture the intricate ‘substances’ of queer relationality.” (Julianne Pidduck, “New queer documentary and the ‘substances’ of queer kinship” paper abstract for annual meeting of the American Studies Association)
“An intensely moving personal essay about living in the shadow of illness, Sea in the Blood explores two of Fung's closest relationships—with his late sister Nan, who died in 1977 of a rare blood disorder called thalassemia (which literally means "sea in the blood"), and with his lifelong lover, Tim, who has been living with HIV since 1980.
The film begins with the soothing sound of gurgling water and an ethereal image of Richard and Tim swimming between each other's legs as veiny patterns of light dance across their skin. The sea is the central metaphor, an image Fung explores from different angles—some poetic, some medical. But Nan's death is the emotional epicentre. Despite an age difference of six years, Richard and Nan are inseparable as children in Trinidad. They drape fake pearls around their necks and secretly read Mao Tse-tung together. Years later when Nan lies dying in Toronto, Richard is travelling with Tim in South Asia. Believing that his parents are trying to lure him back to Toronto out of disapproval of his relationship, he is left to grapple with the fact of his absence at the crucial hour.
Two decades later, Fung shapes different elements—historical footage, family photos, old letters, travel slides, interviews, home movies, subtitles, cartoons—into a belated elegy to his sister. In contrast to some of Fung's more pedagogical tapes, Sea in the Blood is a highly meditative work. The return to the same image of a rose-coloured sea reveals a sense of endless drifting and suggests a vast space of unknowing. (Tim's HIV diagnosis three years after Nan's death is the shadow text to the narrative.) The final image is taken from an angle that renders the breaking of surface, as Tim and Richard slip from water into open air. The story remains, finally, unfinished, but as John Berger once wrote, ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.’” (Kyo Maclear)
“Local artist Richard Fung’s Sea in the Blood is an eloquent, deeply moving and profoundly sad look at two of Fung’s closest relationships: with his late sister Nan, who succumbed to thelassaemia (a rare blood disorder – its literal translation gives the piece its title) in the late-1970s; and his partner Tim, who has been living with AIDS since the early ‘80s. Nan’s death provides the emotional centre. Fung brings her uncannily close to the viewer through his deft use of old photographs, 8mm home movies and his mother’s commentary. The closeness of brother and older sister while they were growing up in Trinidad and Tobago is palpable. And Fung’s strange experience – living close to illness with the constant expectation of death – can be seen shaping his worldview.
Fate deals cruel blows, and Fung is quick to see the irony. First, Nan’s illness worsens and she dies while Fung is traveling Europe and Asia – and falling in love – with Tim. The pain which arose from his failure to return home before his sister’s death is made all the more harrowing in that it remains essentially unspoken by Fung himself. Instead, it’s obliquely constructed through commentary by Tim and Fung’s mother. Then, shortly after Nan’s death, Tim exhibits his first AIDS symptoms. There is a lot of joy here, however. There is no mistaking the strength that Fung has gained through these two relationships. And Fung finds a beautiful image to express this: underwater shots of Richard and Tim in the sea, swimming between each other’s legs. The final shot – Fung emerging from the water, a giant grin on his face – says it all.” (‘Salty Tears’ by Nick Daavies, Xtra, Nov. 16, 2000)
"Sea In The Blood was to be a meditation on race, sexuality and disease, but after working with the material for three years, it was the emotional story that came through. It's hard to work with such personal material, but in the end the work takes on a life of its own. 'Richard' is a character. Because of the subject matter—disease and death—I wanted to avoid sentimentality. I'd like the audience to think as well as feel." Richard Fung
SEA IN THE BLOOD
Ontario Arts Council