Montreal graffiti artist FONKi returns to his 'Roots' in powerful documentary

Montreal-based graffiti artist FONKi's extraordinarily emotional return to his ancestral Cambodia is the subject of Jean-Sébastien Francoeur and Andrew Marchand-Boddy's documentary The Roots Remain. The film — which has been screening across the country since last November — makes its Toronto debut on April 5 as the final screening of Cinema Politica's winter program.

Plus, the artist chooses his favorite works

Through out this article, we'll highlight some of FONKi's works, as chosen by the artist himself. This is "The Rising Phoenix," created in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Says FONKi: "Painted in 2014, on my trip back after shooting 'The Roots Remain' in 2012. This mural is at the exact same spot where they erased my first version of Kbach Khmer graffiti you see in my movie." (Photo by FONKi)

Montreal-based graffiti artist FONKi's extraordinarily emotional return to his ancestral Cambodia is the subject of Jean-Sébastien Francoeur and Andrew Marchand-Boddy's documentary The Roots Remain. The film — which has been screening across the country since last November — makes its Toronto debut on April 5 as the final screening of Cinema Politica's winter program. FONKi himself will be in attendance, and spoke to CBC Arts about the film (as well as offering us a few of his favourite works, displayed throughout this article).

"This movie is important because of its universal messages illustrated through the lense of my friends Andrew and Jean-Sebastien," FONKi said. "It is a message of resilience, family values, hope and love."

On the left is "Add Colours to the Present, if Your Past Seems Grey," painted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2012. Says FONKi: "The most important mural I ever did. The first mural I didn't do for myself, and by that I mean for the pleasure of simply painting my name or enjoying the process of painting. It's a tribute to my lost grandfather (on my mother's side) and grand-parents (on my father's side) as well as a tribute to my great-grandfather and to the life he lived. I had the privilege to grow up with him by my side and this mural was made to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of his death." (Photo by Savary Chhem-Kieth.)

To put things into context, consider the fact that the country's once-thriving culture was essentially destroyed by the brutal reign of Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide of the mid-to-late 1970s. Through Cambodian film archives and new original footage, The Roots Remains brings to light what FONKi's family went through during that period as he reunites with them. It also offers a hopeful glimpse at how Cambodia's youth are utilizing hip-hop culture to help revitalize their once-fractured country. FONKi himself tries to instill a passion for street art within that youth culture by taking on his largest mural to date: a tribute to the relatives he lost during the genocide.

The third mural chosen by the artist is called "Trapped in Time" and was made for FONKi World, an online documentary series directed by Thomas Szacka-Marier and produced by Claude Bastien that can be viewed at lafabriqueculturelle.tv/webseries/246/fonki-world (Photo by Thomas Szacka-Marier)


"For me, the whole process of making this film has enabled inner peace within my family and my country's history," FONKi said. "Not only for myself, but [also] within the people who watched it — starting with my own siblings."

FONKi said the strong emotional reactions he's seen from the film made him realize that The Roots Remain goes beyond his own personal family story — a thought seconded by the film's co-director Andrew Marchard-Boddy.

"We have had a lot of feedback from the Cambodian community around the world telling us how the film has helped them to cope with their pain, or to help in their healing process," Marchard-Boddy said.

Also made for FONKi World, this mural is called "The Witness" and was painted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2014. (Photo by Thomas Szacka-Marier)

The Roots Remain. Directed by Jean-Sébastien Francoeur and Andrew Marchand-Boddy. 77 min. Tues, Apr. 5, 6pm. Hot Docs Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor W. Toronto.

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