The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival (a.k.a. Reel Asian) is returning November 12 to 19, 2020, and this year, it’s going digital.
For the first time ever, Canada’s largest pan-Asian film festival, which is currently in its 24th edition, will be available across Canada and its week-long events will include screenings, live virtual events and, of course, the Opening and Closing Night presentations. The festival will open with the timely and award-wining documentary, Down a Dark Stairwell (which will only be available in Ontario) from journalist-turned-filmmaker Ursula Liang and close with a live script reading of Scarborough, the forthcoming screenplay adaptation of Catherine Hernandez‘ critically acclaimed novel on the same name, directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.
“In translating an in-person festival to online, we focused on how we could carry the strong sense of community we have so that our audiences could still engage with the films, with us, and with one another,” said Deanna Wong, Executive Director, Reel Asian, in a statement. “Representation has shifted beyond seeing ourselves on screen, and as we moved to a virtual festival we wanted to lower barriers to participation to be even more inclusive with ASL interpretation for live events, Canada-wide availability, low ticket pricing, and free event options.”
The RepresentASIAN Project is also proud to be a community partner for this year’s Wee Asian programming (more on this later), one of the many elements of this year’s festival.
Below, everything you need to know about how to tune into this year’s festival (along with our top picks to check out!)
How do I get tickets?
Tickets can be purchased at the virtual box office or using the “Buy Tickets” link on the right-hand side of the film listing. Tickets to digital screenings (individual features, special presentations or shorts programmes) are $8.99, and tickets to Reel Ideas (panels or workshops designed for professional development and interdisciplinary discussions on media art) are $3.49. Discounted tickets are also available for students ($4.99), seniors ($4.99), arts workers ($4.99) and underwaged individuals ($4.99). There are also some films that will be offered for free, including Down a Dark Stairwell, which was made possible with the support of the CBC. You can find more free events and screenings by checking the “Free Events & Screenings” box in the programme schedule on Reel Asian’s website.
For those wanting to watch more than one screening, or attend multiple Reel Ideas panels, Reel Asian offers festival passes at competitive rates. The Insiders Tier ($31.99) provides access to unlimited video-on-demand, all digital screenings and complimentary access to Reel Ideas panels and workshops (more on this later). The Industry Tier ($21.99) provides five vouchers redeemable for digital screenings, plus complimentary access to all Reel Asian panels and workshops, and the Reel Ideas pass ($10.99) includes access to all the Reel Ideas panels and workshops designed for professional development.
How do I watch online?
Once you purchase tickets, you’ll receive a link for virtual access to the film and be taken to the CineSend portal to watch. You can also tune at watch.reelasian.com and enter the 9-digit access code that is included in the virtual access email.
Films can be watched right away starting at 10:00 a.m. EST on November 12. You can still watch if you buy tickets after this! You’ll have 48 hours to complete the film after you click the link, however, if you click the link within the last 48 hours of festival film availability (for example, after 11:59 p.m. on November 17), you’ll have less than 48 hours.
The only exception is the opening night film, Down a Dark Stairwell, which is available for a 24-hour period, from 7 p.m. on November 12, to 6:59 p.m. on November 13 in Ontario only.
Individuals who purchase or receive Insiders, Industry or Reel Ideas passes can go to watch.reelasian.com and enter their email and password under “Member Login.” Insiders and Industry Tier members will see all the festival selections and watch them in unlimited video-on-demand and can also tune into the Reel Ideas sessions (appointment-viewing only, scheduled at specific dates and times). Reel Ideas participants will be able to access Reel Ideas sessions live, as they become available.
Festival goers can also test out the ticketing and view portal beforehand, and Reel Asian is offering technical support via their FAQ section and through their live chat, where you can talk with the team in real-time.
What will this year’s lineup include?
Reel Asian received a record number of submissions this year, and its lineup will consist of 58 films from Canada, Korea, Japan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom, with 59 per cent directed by women and non-binary filmmakers.
Programming is split up into a few different sections. For actual films, there’s Features (formerly Marquee and Vista Programmes), which spotlights feature films from master storytellers and first-time feature makers and Shorts (formerly Pulse Programme), which consists of short films curated in a playlist based on a unifying thread.
Reel Asian is also highlighting three Canadian artists for the 2020 Canadian Spotlight, which focuses on storytelling beyond film. This year’s artists include filmmaker Oliver Husain, artist Sahar Te, and visual artist Howie Tsui, and their works, and live-streamed Canadian Spotlight Artist Talks will be viewable on the Reel Asian website.
Reel Ideas blends education and industry and features panels and workshops meant to nourish growth of Asians in the arts by connecting film industry professionals at different levels.
Wee Asian will also make a return, and offers free programming dedicated to sparking joy, creativity and fun for little ones and families to enjoy together. It includes a pre-recorded video of My Day with Gong Gong author, Sennah Yee, sharing a map-making activity she enjoyed doing with her grandparents, and a collection of short films filled with wonder, love and excitement that will resonate with audiences of all ages.
Finally, there are the Special Presentations, which includes the Awards Ceremony (Nov. 13 at 4 p.m.) which is co-hosted by Lainey Lui and Angela Sun, the Festival Launch Party (Nov. 6 at 9 p.m.), the live script read of and artist talk of Scarborough (Nov. 19, at 7 p.m.) and the screening and live panel of Down a Dark Stairwell (Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.).
Which films/events should I watch?
There are so many incredible films and events to choose from this year’s programmings, and choice all depends on your personal tastes and preferences. However, here are some picks we’re especially excited about:
Down a Dark Stairwell (Only available in Ontario)
The opening presentation and live panel of Down a Dark Stairwell is not to be missed. This documentary takes a nuanced and careful look at the events following the 2014 case where Akai Gurley, a Black man, was shot and killed in a stairwell by Chinese American NYPD officer, Peter Liang. Director Ursula Liang (no relation to Peter) and her crew follow the Black Lives Matter protests rallying around Gurley’s family to support a conviction, while also following various predominately Asian American communities’ protest responses to what they deem an unfair trial. The live Q&A following the screening will feature Ursula Liang, activist and artist Syrus Marcus Ware, editor and co-writer J.M. Harper, and editor Michelle Chang. ASL interpretation will be made available, and an Active Listener will also be available following the screening for additional support. This screening is only available in Ontario and will take place on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m., and the live panel discussion will start at 8:45 p.m.
Emmy award-winning actor Riz Ahmed stars in this film which he also co-wrote and produced. It follows the story of Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper, who decides to fly home to the UK to reconnect with his family, only to find out that he has a debilitating autoimmune disease. As his dreams of international fame are shattered and his condition worsens and medical treatments intensify, Zed goes into a physical and emotional crisis and has vivid hallucinations of his parents fleeing India during Partition, forcing Zed to face re-surfaced drama.
The Greatest Country in the World takes place in a slightly alternate reality where a right-wing government controls Quebec, closing its borders and pushing immigrants to leave. Widower Hiên lives a meager life running a dépanneur. Hiên makes arrangements to leave everything behind, enticed by his daughter Phuong’s move to Vietnam. But when a neighbourhood boy is left under the temporary care of Phuong’s aimless boyfriend, Hiên is driven to solve the mystery of the boy’s missing mother.
Moving On tells the story of teenager Okju, her little brother Dongju, and their divorced father, who must move in with their ailing grandfather at the city’s outskirts as they are evicted from their apartment in Seoul. Soon joined by an aunt reeling from her own failed marriage, they spend the summer getting reacquainted with each other as an ad hoc multigenerational family unit.
Goodbye Mother is a queer story that follows Van, the son of a prominent family in Vietnam who returns from America for the first time in nine years with his partner, Ian. Coming back to a community with expectations of patriarchy and legacy, Van tries to find the right moment to tell his mother, Mrs. Hanh, about his love for Ian. With the heir unable to bear children, the family fights over their inheritance, surmounting to a violent reveal of truths.
In The Taste of Pho, Long, a widower, Vietnamese chef and master of pho soup, tries to find his own path in Warsaw, while trying to raise his daughter, Mia. Their world changes when the restaurant is sold, forcing Long to learn to make sushi. Meanwhile, Mia is frustrated by her father’s caring but old-fashioned ways, while fearing he is moving on from the memory of her late mother.
Unsung Voices will showcase the world premiere of works by four emerging filmmakers who embarked on a summer-long filmmaking journey online with the theme “interior.” This year’s Unsung Voices was supported by a special fundraiser event: a virtual live script read by the casts of Kim’s Convenience and Fresh off the Boat of their pilot episodes.
All six films in Resurgence make a statement to queer histories, presents and futures in front and behind the screen. This collection of shorts includes Vivek Shraya‘s Reviving the Roost, an ode to a closed popular Edmonton gay bar.
As we mentioned before, this closing night event will feature a live script read presentation of Scarborough, the anticipated forthcoming film by REel Asian stalwart filmmaking duo of Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The film is an adaption of Catherine Hernandez’ award-winning novel of the same name and follows three kids in a low-income neighbourhood who find community, compassion, and resilience at a drop-in literacy centre over the course of a school year.
Scarborough is set to be released in 2021, but this special event will give you a sneak preview of select scenes acted out live by members of the cast.
Head to reelasian.com for more information on the festival and to purchase your tickets!