REEL CANADA's Deanna Wong reflects on her time at the 2012 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, the importance of the festival and REEL CANADA's history with Reel Asian.
Last week, REEL CANADA co-presented two screenings, DAL PURI DIASPORA and UNSUNG VOICES, at another “REEL” festival – the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Partnerships with other local festivals are important for two main reasons: as sources for new films to include in our programme, but also a way for us to promote what we do to an audience that might not hear about us otherwise – in this case, primarily fans of Asian film.
DAL PURI DIASPORA
Reel Asian is a 16-year-old festival whose mandate is to promote the film and video works of artists of east, southeast and south Asian descent from Canada and all over the world. The festival was founded in 1997 by Anita Lee – now a successful producer at the NFB – who discovered the world of Asian American film festivals when one of her first short films did the festival circuit back in 1995. Profoundly affected by the feeling of community and support from the audience and fellow filmmakers at these events, some of which had already been around for decades, Lee returned to Toronto and established Reel Asian as a way to showcase the works of Asian film- and videomakers, so many of which never see the light of day in a Canadian theatre.
Toronto is a city of festivals, and the question is often asked: why are all these “niche” festivals necessary? To me, the answer is simple: community. My own experience just as someone who loves film and television is that I get ridiculously excited when I see an Asian face like mine on screen. But that feeling can turn to one of isolation on the other side of the camera – often the lone Asian face at larger festivals like TIFF, Lee recognized the importance of creating a network of support for filmmakers of Asian descent, many of whom are on a career path that is not traditionally supported by their families. After 16 years, the festival has become like a family reunion that filmmakers and others in the industry come to year after year, presenting new work and reminiscing about the past, but it is also a place where relationships are established that can lead to new collaborations and new projects to present at future festivals.
REEL CANADA’s relationship to Reel Asian goes back to REEL CANADA’s first year – in 2005, the animated doc- feature THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM had been programmed for the very first festival at Wexford CI, but filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming was based in Vancouver. LONG TAK SAM had premiered at Reel Asian, and, wondering if there was anyone connected to the film in Toronto, Executive Director Jack Blum contacted Reel Asian’s then Executive Director – me – to ask. I recommended Reel Asian board member and local filmmaker Keith Lock, who attended the event at Wexford, addressing questions about the craft of filmmaking. Keith’s latest short, the charming MAGICAL COINCIDENCE, debuted at this year’s Reel Asian.
Back to this year’s festival, I am happy to report that I saw so many great things by talented Canadian filmmakers, including a live show featuring Romeo Candido’s unique, interactive web series PRISON DANCER, which won Reel Asian’s award for Best Canadian FEATURE; a spotlight program on NFB animation producer Michael Fukushima, who produced last year’s Oscar- nominated short DIMANCHE; Richard Fung’s funny and enlightening doc about the origins of roti DAL PURI DIASPORA; and the beautifully rendered AnimAsian award–winning REQUIEM FOR A ROMANCE, by Jonathan Ng. And even though closing night has officially come and gone, it’s not quite over yet: Reel Asian continues for one more weekend with screenings in Richmond Hill, ON, including the Toronto premiere of THE FRUIT HUNTERS, the latest doc by UP THE YANGTZE director Yung Chang.
See the full festival program here.