REED, the life and works of Roy Kiyooka
When Roy Kiyooka died suddenly and unexpectedly in February 1994, he left behind a legacy of creativity fuelled by a lifelong passion for making art, in all its various guises. Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1926, he grew up in Calgary, Alberta, where he began his studies at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Art). In the sixties, Kiyooka became a seminal force in the New York School of painting, creating critically acclaimed work. At the peak of his career he abandoned painting to become a poet in the tradition of the monk Basho, also delving into photography and music. As Michael Ondaatje said, he, “. . . was like a reed, receptive to every nuance in you.” A well-respected teacher, he taught at several universities during his career, retiring from the University of British Columbia in 1991.
A restless, endlessly curious and mischievous spirit, his life and then his death touched a great many within Vancouver’s arts community.
On May 12, two works—a film by Fumiko Kiyooka and a theatre piece by Yayoi Theatre Movement—will open in Vancouver. Both look at the life and work of Roy Kiyooka but from very different perspectives.
Award-winning filmmaker Fumiko Kiyooka, one of Roy Kiyooka’s three daughters, has spent the past ten years creating the film REED, the life and works of Roy Kiyooka, which will have its west coast premiere at the DOXA documentary film festival in Vancouver Canada on May 12, at 7PM at the Vancity Theatre.
Fumiko Kiyooka studied film and dance at Simon Fraser University and received her MFA in film production from the University of British Columbia. Her documentaries include: REED: the life and works of Roy Kiyooka, The Longed-for Knowing, The Return and a six-part series about Canadian Independent filmmaking called Through the Lens. Her more dramatic films include Says, Clouds, Creation,Turn Me Loose-Astrid and Oh Baby!
Fumiko talked to The Bulletin about her new film.
Your dad has taken on almost iconic status within the Japanese Canadian community and beyond, to encompass the arts community as well, yet many people didn’t know him when he was still alive. Does your new film give any insights into who he was a man and as an artist?
That’s a good question. I never had this iconic relationship with my father, so I see a man with all the foibles of being human. He was not perfect in any sense—none of us are. Why iconize him? This puts him on a pedestal rather then seeing who he was. Does the film give insights into who he was as a man and as an artist . . .? I am not certain of insights or if the film gives them . . . that depends on the viewer.
In your artistic statement, you say that this was the most difficult film you have made. Why was this?
This is the most difficult film I have made because I had to look at what was given to me . . . and I guess like other offspring of people who have been through traumatic experiences, figuring out how it shaped my landscape, this was extremely painful . . . I had to get to my own sadness.
What was the hardest thing about making the film?
Have you shown the film to your sisters and the rest of your family? What was their response?
My father, like many artist parents, wasn’t always present . . . he was engaged in his working on SOME THING . . . I try to be honest about this and mirror these feelings. So far, in its various versions they haven’t had any objections or doubts that what I was working with didn’t ring true to them.
Your dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Did that make it harder to mourn his death do you think, like there were things left unsaid?
I am not sure what you are getting at? Harder to mourn his death? Would it have been easier to mourn his death if he died more slowly and predictably? Somehow I don’t think so because, and you are getting to the roots of something here, it was a terrible loss . . . someTIMES ya don’t know how much a person actually was present for u until you lose them . . .