Stitches in time 

Tailor Made: Chinatown’s Last Tailors one of a dozen documentaries to screen at Whistler Film Festival

What: Whistler Film Festival

What: Tailor Made: Chinatown’s Last Tailors

When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 3 p.m.

Where: Rainbow Theatre


Why should we care whether a tailor shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown shuts down or not?

Director and producer Marsha Newbery of Realize Entertainment not only makes audiences care, but also ignites interest and compassion for the 80-year-old tailors in the one-hour documentary, Tailor Made: Chinatown’s Last Tailors screening on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Rainbow Theatre.

“In the beginning, I am not sure I did care that much about Chinatown and I wasn’t that invested in what happens in a tailor shop, and men’s suits didn’t mean much to me. But when I went into the shop there was something about the place and the people that was really effecting,” Newbery said. “I think it is because they figured out something in their lives that other people crave… They’ve created a great life out of the tailor shop and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was really intrigued by Bill and how he might have to be the one to close his family business.”

For almost a century, Modernize Tailors has been open for business in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The Wong family devoted their lives to sewing suits as well as history. Owners Bill and Jack Wong, both in their 80s, are ready to pass their legacy on to the next generation. But the Wong descendants — doctors, chancellors and engineers — are too busy in their own lives. In a world of ready-made clothes, the shop and the art of tailoring are being drowned out by the drones of factory machines.

Two apprentices, JJ Lee, a fashion reporter, and David Wilkes of Holt Renfrew, try the role of tailor on for size, but will it fit?

“I realized as I was watching them that it was too late for them,” Newbery said of Modernize Tailors. “It’s sort of a cycle of life thing. Everyone wanted it to continue and for Modernize Tailors not to fade away. Because they came from a different time, they are too old to change. Coming to the end was really inevitable. The only way JJ and David would have worked for them is if it had changed and been able to evolve into a modern tailor shop.”

The shop remained modern in name only.

“When we went to Savile Row with David, it really struck me: here are tailor shops that have managed to stay around for years. How did they do it?” Newbery said of the film crew’s trip to where tailoring began in London, England. “Why can’t Modernize Tailors do it?

“But Savile Row isn’t what it used to be. It’s not just old tailor shops that make suits for noble men. It’s really upscale retails with totally different suit making and different product. Bill and Jack are in their 80s. They’ve had their success, so why change? What they have is working for them. They don’t want to get busier. They don’t want to grow.”

A few historic photos bring the days of sharp suits and fedoras to life, some donned by Nat King Cole, others by Sean Connery. However, the film stays very much in the present, focusing on the shop’s teetering future.

“There are a lot of historical films out there that are not as engaging,” Newbery said. “I think it is much more interesting to watch someone go through the process of the here and now.”

Tailor Made will precede the documentary, Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel, which follows the transformation of a skid row flophouse to a trendy, arts and music hot spot.

Other Whistler Film Festival documentary screenings include Confession of An Innocent Man, which examines William Sampson’s imprisonment in Saudi Arabia for a crime he didn’t commit; Chichester’s Choice follows a daughter’s search through Guyana and Brazil to find a father who abandoned her 23 years ago; Driven by Dreams celebrates seniors who just don’t stop; Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains follows Carter’s recent controversial book tour for Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid; Lovable explores the challenges of being alone through music and singles; Reservation Soldiers focuses on the relationship between aboriginal youth and the Canadian military; We Are Together discovers how music overcomes the hardships of South African orphans; and Without the King looks at the politics of Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy on the African continent.

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