The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival started its 26th festival season Wednesday, highlighting the work of innovative filmmakers, storytellers and performers from the Asian diaspora within and outside of Canada.
Over the years, the team at Reel Asian, lead by executive director Deanna Wong, and artistic director Aram Siu Wai Collier, have made it their mission to showcase the work of established filmmakers, such as Chinese American writer and director Cathy Yan, whose dark comedy “Dead Pigs” screened at the festival in 2018, and those new to stepping behind the camera.
That includes creatives like up-and-coming Canadian director Anthony Shim, who took on multiple roles as writer, director, actor, editor and producer to bring his opening night story of immigration, family, acceptance and homesickness in the Korean Canadian drama “Riceboy Sleeps.”
The film is proving to be a festival favourite winning Shim the Jean-Marc Vallée Discovery Award from the Directors Guild of Canada, a $25,000 prize at the Windsor International Film Festival, the Best Canadian Film Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival and a prestigious Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
As a festival Reel Asian offers people from every Asian national, cultural and ethnic demographic the chance to see their own stories being reflected back at them, in a way that is rarely done in North America. And while Reel Asian is dedicated to portraying Asian stories, this in no way means that those from outside those communities are left out, or unable to relate to the films and programs.
Themes of feeling displaced, and confused within our own families, or the fear of disappointing our parents because of specific cultural and gender expectations are universal for people of colour, as is explored in the short film “Lucky Fish” by O’hau native Emily Jampel.
With accessibility being a major concern for many, Reel Asian has created a system where audiences have the option of watching in-person at the cinema, or online. . Below is a list of some of the features, documentaries, and short films showing throughout the festival.
To many, a successful meet-cute in Toronto might be the stuff of legend, but in Renuka Jeyapalan’s (“Kim’s Convenience,” “Sort Of,” “Workin’ Moms”) debut feature film, the stars might be aligned for Grace, played by local favourite Andrea Bang (“Kim’s Convenience”), who wants to break away from her shy and reserved nature to see what new opportunities await. Spending the night walking around downtown Toronto, Grace and new acquaintance Carter (Joe Scarpellino), an NHL athlete also looking for a new direction in life, take the time to get to know each other, their city and themselves in new and unexpected ways.
Directed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer and Emmy-winning documentarian Nausheen Dadabhoy (“The Ground Beneath Their Feet”), “An Act of Worship” follows three Muslim activists; Aber and Khadega, community organizers in New York and Michigan, and Ameena, a civil rights lawyer in California, as they share what it means to be women, mothers, political and religious in a country where all of those things on their own create daily challenges, but in a post 9/11 world, they also mean more scrutiny and prejudice from those outside their community. Through her lens, Dadabhoy shows how these three women, and those around them continue to be resilient and more than people expect them to be.
In this animated debut short film by Emmy-winning storyboard and comic artist Wei Li (Netflix’s “Carmen Sandiago,” “Blue Eyed Samurai”) explores Tahitian culture and identity, from the perspective of a Tahitian woman who seeks to reclaim the meaning of traditional dance be performing on her own terms, in front of an audience of tourists. In its short run time of less than 10 minutes, “Tehura” shows how colonialism, sexism, racism and even commercialization create a distorted view of the women and their bodies.
When the hopes and dreams of a small Japanese island are placed heavily on the shoulders of young fig farmer Keita — played by actor Tatsuya Fujiwara of “Battle Royale” fame — the burden turns out to have more consequences than anyone could possibly imagine. Based on the manga of the same name by Tetsuya Tsutsui, and directed by acclaimed director Ryūichi Hiroki (“Side Job,” “The Egoists”), “Noise,” seems like a murder mystery that reveals the hidden grudges and obsessions of the island’s inhabitants, but below the surface turns out to be a critique of how Japan’s aging population could be in dire straits.
To learn more about the films showing at the festival, and their filmmakers, visit reelasian.com for information and show times.
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