Prominent Canadian film director Susan Papp to visit York today

Canadian film director and producer Susan Papp will screen her latest documentary at York University. Titled The Black-Bearded Barbarian of Taiwan, the film documents the life of George Leslie Mackay (1844 -1901), a thin, black-bearded Canadian Christian preacher who walked the mountain trails of Taiwan. Reviled by most Chinese as a barbarian devil, pelted with abuse, threats and filth, Mackay persevered to become the most successful missionary of his generation.

Mackay is considered an important figure in Taiwan’s history, yet he is little-known in Canada outside of the Taiwanese community and the Presbyterian Church. Sent to Tamsui, Taiwan, by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, he began his mission on April 6, 1872, lodging in a rented stable with a borrowed bed and oil lamp. Mackay founded hospitals and schools, married a Taiwanese woman and became one of the earliest voices for human rights and democracy in Taiwan. He was buried in Tamsui.

Right: George Leslie Mackay

The Black-Bearded Barbarian follows Mackay’s life and reveals his extraordinary courage and foresight as one of the first Canadians to embrace a foreign people, not as ignorant heathen, but as human beings worthy of friendship, respect, equality and love.

Papp began her career in journalism at the CBC’s Radio Drama department in 1981 as a historical researcher. In 1988, Papp became a current affairs producer at the CBC. She developed a profile and reputation as an on-camera current affairs reporter specializing in social issues for CBC TV.

In 1991,she was chosen to work as field producer for "The Journal" and its subsequent retitled version "Prime Time News". In 1993, while on leave of absence from the CBC, Papp founded her own television production company, Postmodern Productions. Her first independently produced film, Debris of War, an hour-long documentary on the trauma of the war in the former Yugoslavia, was awarded the Canadian Ethnic Journalists and Writers Award for Best Documentary.

Left: George Leslie Mackay (second from the left) practising dentistry in Taiwan (circa 1890) with assistants A Hoa (centre, in hat) and Koa Kau (right)

In 1998, Papp produced and directed Hundred Something – The World of the Oldest Old, a one-hour documentary for Discovery Channel. In 1999, she produced and directed Monuments in Miniature, an arts documentary for Bravo! She has served on many film festival juries, including the International Emmy Awards.

Papp teaches in the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. She is adjunct scholar at the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.

The Black Bearded Barbarian of Taiwan will be shown today, at 2pm, at the Bethune Gallery on York’s Keele campus. The screening is free and open to members of the York community.