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'Alan @ Work' documents the life of a Seattle artist over a decade

 Alan Chong Lau wraps slices of watermelon in plastic wrap. He's wearing a vest and a green Uwajimaya
Lowell Douglas Ing
Alan Chong Lau worked for Uwajimaya for decades in the produce section. Over the years he saw children come in with their parents and eventually they would come in as adults with their own kids in tow.

The Seattle International Film Festival concluded last week and a week of films virtually streaming will end on Sunday. But there's another chance at an in-person screening of one film that premiered at the festival on May 30 at the Bainbridge Island Art Museum.

Alan @ Work follows Alan Chong Lau, a respected Seattle artist who supported himself for decades by working at Uwajimaya Asian Market in Seattle.

Director Doug Ing met Lau decades ago when Ing was a college student. The two kept running into each other at different cultural events around the city. Ing asked to film Lau for what he thought would be his thesis film for his Master's degree. Ing was fascinated to learn that Lau, an artist exhibiting in galleries, had to work a day job.

"Alan is a well-respected painter and poet but he had to toil in a grocery store for over three decades…but he found beauty in the situation that he was in and turned it into art," Ing said.

Ing started filming Lau in 1998 and finished 10 years later. His first attempt at finishing the movie resulted in a couple of rejections from festivals. So he turned his attention to other projects, shelving the documentary. But the pandemic and encouragement from colleagues made him revisit the film.

"What if I pass away? What's going to happen is my family is going to throw away the tapes or put it in the corner and the documentary will never see the light of day," Ing said.

Ing worked on the documentary on and off during 2022. He focused on completing it in time for SIFF's December 31 deadline. And this time he didn't face a rejection.

The film features readings Lau did around the country and also a look into his day job working in the produce section at Uwajimaya. Ing describes the documentary as a concept film or a “poem about Alan,” offering snippets of the artist’s life.

"For me, arts is like the soul of any community. And if you don't have arts and culture, the community I think has it has no spiritual voice and something is really lacking," Lau said.

Up until five or so years ago, Lau worked at Uwajimaya. These days, Lau is the arts editor for the International Examiner, a local pan-Asian Pacific American publication.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.