2004, 87:30 minutes, Colour, Eng./Punjabi/Urdu (Broadcast/Educational Version, 57.30)
Continuous Journey is a complex tale of hope, despair, treachery and tragedy. It is a revealing Canadian story with global ramifications set in a time when the British Empire seemed omnipresent and its subjects were restless and seeking self-determination.
In 1914, Gurdit Singh, a Sikh entrepreneur based in Singapore, chartered a Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru, to carry Indian immigrants to Canada. On May 23, 1914, the ship arrived in Vancouver Harbour with 376 passengers aboard: 340 Sikhs; 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus. Many of the men on-board were veterans of the British Indian Army and believed that it was their right as British subjects to settle anywhere in the Empire they had fought to defend and expand. They were wrong…
Continuous Journey is an inquiry into the largely ignored history of Canada’s exclusion of the South Asians by a little known immigration policy called the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908. Unlike the Chinese and the Japanese, people from British India were excluded by a regulation that appeared fair, but in reality, was an effective way of keeping people from India out of Canada until 1948. As a direct result, only a half-mile from Canadian shores, the Komagata Maru was surrounded by immigration boats and the passengers were held in communicado virtual prisoners on the ship. Thus began a dramatic stand-off which would escalate over the course of two months, becoming one of the most infamous incidents in Canadian history.
During their two-month detention in the harbour, Canadian authorities drove the passengers to the brink of thirst and starvation. The stand-off was broken with the intervention of Prime Minister Robert Borden who also called in a Canadian battleship to underline his stance. On 21 July, over two-hundred fully armed local militia lined the shore, while the HMCS Rainbow, prepared for confrontation on the sea. All of Vancouver was out for the spectacle. Major confrontation was averted through eleventh-hour negotiations, and in the end, provisions for the Komagata Maru’s return journey were provided.
The consequences of the incident were dire: informants within the community were murdered, and a key player for the Empire was assassinated. Upon its return to India, the Komagata Maru encountered hostile British authorities who fired on the passengers, suspecting them to be seditious. Over forty people went missing or were killed. Some of the passengers escaped, including Gurdit Singh, who lived to tell the “true story” of the Komagata Maru.
Several hundreds of Indians from Canada returned home to join an armed struggle against the British, that would later be brutally crushed by the colonial authorities.
The Komagata Maru’s voyage and its aftermath exposed the Empire’s myths of equality, fair-play and British justice, and became a turning point in the freedom struggle in India.
By examining the global context and repercussions of a Canadian event, Continuous Journey challenges us to reflect on contemporary events, and raises critical questions about how the past shapes the present.
“I loved Continuous Journey and thought you did a magnificent job making this event seem urgent. The footage that you found of the boat, from a lost amateur camera, made me cry. Astonishing use of still photographs, and a truly moving narration. I was proud to help present such an important film.”
“….brilliant .. rarely has a documentary been so beautifully directed and rendered, shot for shot, image by image, pan by pan, zoom by zoom.”
– Peter Wintonick, POV Magazine
“Canadians often boast about the vibrancy and strength that flows from a multicultural society. But Canadian filmmaker Ali Kazimi’s documentary, Continuous Journey, shatters any illusions that our nation-builders wanted it that way…. Once that story takes shape – through digital enhancement of photos and newspaper tearsheets, old newsreels and a clutch of interviews with historians and socio-political activists – the Komagata Maru episode becomes vivid. The strength of the film then rests in Kazimi’s ability to relate it to systematic racism in Canada’s early immigration policies.”
– Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun January 21, 2005
“Kazimi has gone at the incident from every angle…. (His) interviews with historians both in Canada and India provide a rich context for the fate of the 375 rejected immigrants.”
– Susan Walker, Toronto Star January 21, 2005
“Through archival footage, vintage photographic montage and inventive voice-over performance, Kazimi documents the story of the 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus held on the boat a half mile from Canadian shores without provisions for more than two months. Continuous Journey, is the work of an experienced storyteller and image-maker. Kazimi’s own journey from India (which he recounts here and in his previous films) has been a fortuitous event for Canada.”
– Leah McLaren, The Globe & Mail January 21, 2005
“It’s a complicated story, hinging on Canada’s restrictive immigration policy and fears throughout the empire of (very real) Indian nationalism movements. But Kazimi makes a convincing argument that these people, like most immigrants, bore no ill will and posed no threat to their hoped-for new homeland.
– Chris Knight, National Post January 21, 2005
“Kazimi does a good job of contextualizing the Maru tragedy and providing a potted history of Canada’s immigration policies … and despite the lack of first hand sources, the film is never dull, jazzed up with atmospheric music, 3-D photo montages and tricky editing techniques.”
– Paul Issacs, Eye Magazine January 20, 2005
“It has stayed with me this weekend. First, it makes me realize how the most liberal of us still sit onlayers of denial – its so easy to do that. Your work is salutary for all of us – that, I think is the most important thing about it. And you don’t shock, or push or shove. You’re coming from a deep well of human spiritual being. So when the intelligence of your research gets infused with your poetry, you present us with a profound piece of art. I feel like you gave me a gift, Ali. Many thanks!”
-Rosalind M. Gill Chair, École de traduction/School of Translation Collège Glendon, Université York
“Your film was fantastic – there was almost a full house last night, my friends loved it — we were talking afterward about what an amazing story it is, how well the politics were explained, how the details of the thing were what made it’s impact. To me it was a 2:00 history news item, the kind of thing I am aware of because i am a history nut. But my friends had barely heard of it. How adroitly without exaggeration or sentiment you made the points about the distance we must take today in judging our government. What a marvelous and difficult filmmaking effort, obviously pieced together bit by bit over years. My breath was caught in my throat when you discovered the archive. And I understood Indian and Sikh politics, or started to, effortlessly. No one was a wash of same name, same face. That’s the kind of discourse I want in my world.”
-Julia Bennett, Production Executive Discovery Health Channel, BBC Canada, and BBC Kids
Producer: Ali Kazimi
Director: Ali Kazimi
Writer: Ali Kazimi
Editors: Graeme Ball , Ali Kazimi
Sound: Sunil Khanna , David Adkin
Music Director & Sound Designer: Phil Strong
Music: Shahid Ali Khan , Kiran Ahluwalia , Ravi Naimpally , Brent Grossman, Phil Strong
Produced in association with TVOntario
with the generous support of The South Asian Heritage Foundation
and with financial assistance from: The Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council , The Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, The Toronto Arts Council
Telephone: (416) 351-1317
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 452 Toronto, Ontario M5V 3A8 Canada