The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival (a.k.a. Reel Asian) is returning November 10—19, 2021 and this year marks Canada’s largest pan-Asian film fest’s 25th year.
Similarly to last year’s event, Reel Asian’s 25th event will primarily digital, aside from the opening night presentation of Islands, the award-winning film from Canadian filmmaker Martin Edralin on November 10th (it will also be available for streaming online).
Thoughtfully examining family and loneliness while retaining an undercurrent of levity, Islands tells the story of Joshua, a shy middle-aged Filipino immigrant, who has lived in the comfort of his parents’ home his entire life. As their health declines, he longs for a partner, terrified of being alone after they pass.
This year’s festival theme is “here for the bigger picture,” which Reel Asian executive director Deanna Wong says “evokes our multifaceted feelings about film—our nostalgia for the past, but also our desire to experience that communal feeling of watching a film on a big screen again.”
However, Wong adds that seeing ourselves on screen cannot be the only objective.
“These past few years have seen a resurgence of anti-Asian sentiment,” Wong writes in her program letter. “The way Asians have been depicted in media for decades is partly to blame, through demeaning and one-dimensional stereotypes: hypersexualized women; emasculated men.”
“Representation has always been at the forefront of our festival’s mandate,” Wong continues in a statement. “What we are striving for in this, our 25th year, is to push the conversation forward. How do we tell our stories? What is our connection to other communities? It’s not enough to put faces on the screen. We want to facilitate discussion and an understanding of the importance of storytelling.”
Below, everything you need to know about how to tune into this year’s festival.
What is included in this year’s programming and events?
This year’s festival line-up consists of 81 films from all over the world, including Canada, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Norway and the United States, with 59 per cent directed by women and non-binary filmmakers, and nearly all programming will be available Canada-wide.
Programming is split up into a few different sections. For actual films, there’s Features, which spotlights feature films from master storytellers and first-time feature makers and Shorts, which consists of short films curated in a playlist based on a unifying thread. Themes for this year’s shorts include Midnight Snack, Feel the Beat, In the Moment, Familycore, S-Express Myanmar and Unsung Voices.
This year’s Canadian Spotlight celebrates Governor General award-winning artist Ali Kazimi with a focus on three of his feature-length documentaries: Continuous Journey, Random Acts of Legacy, and Shooting Indians. There will also be a live-streamed Canadian Spotlight Artist Talk alongside photographer Jeffrey Thomas.
Reel Asian X (RA:X) — Absence|Presence is a series of panel conversations, screenings and workshops reintroducing Desh Pardesh, a multidisciplinary arts and culture festival that took place in Toronto from the late 1980s until 2001.
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.
Finally, there are the Live Events, which includes the opening night presentation of Islands (Nov. 10 at 7:30pm, in-person), followed by an in-person Q&A with filmmaker Martin Edralin and cast members Sheila Lotuaco and Esteban Comilang, the Awards Ceremony (Nov. 12 at 7 pm) which is co-hosted by Ann Pornel and Angela Sun, the Festival Launch Party (Nov. 5 at 8 pm) hosted by Made In‘s Evy and Jasmine in partnership with ISO Radio & Hot Pot Community, the Centrepiece Spotlight on Hawai’i: Live Discussion (Nov. 15 at 7pm) and the closing night So You Think You Can Pitch? competition (Nov. 19, 6:30pm).
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. For the opening night gala, which features an in-person screening of Islands at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, tickets are available for purchase from the Hot Docs Ted Rogers cinema box office for $26.50.
Tickets to digital screenings (individual features, special presentations or shorts programmes) are $9.49, 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, seniors, arts workers and underwaged individuals for $4.49. 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 film, there is a five for 25 ticket package, which allows for five digital screening presentations for $25 (plus a $2.50 service fee). The industry access package ($42.49, including service fees), designed for members of film and television or media arts industries, provides six vouchers redeemable for digital screenings, plus complimentary access to all Reel Ideas panels and workshops.
Finally, festival passes are also available: the Insiders Access Pass ($52.49, including service fees) gives unlimited video-on-demand access to all digital screenings, plus complimentary access to Reel Ideas panels and workshops, the Shorts Access Pass ($32.49, including service fees) gives unlimited video-on-demand access to all shorts digital screenings, Reel Ideas ($10.99, including service fees) includes complimentary access to Reel Ideas panels and workshops designed for professional development, and the Wee Asian pass (free!) gives access to the Wee Asian programming.
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 10. 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. Films will become unavailable to watch at 11:59pm on November 19.
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.
Individuals who have purchased packages can visit the film index to select the screenings they want to use their vouchers for. Simply click Buy Tickets and log into Elevent using the email associated with your purchase and redeem your voucher following the on-screen instructions.
For more info, visit Reel Asian’s FAQ section.
How will the in-theatre screening work?
The in-person screening for Islands will take place at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto. Seating is strictly assigned and seat changes will not be permitted to reserve minimal social distancing. All guests will automatically have at least one “buffer seat” built between them and other attendees.
Proof of full vaccination is required, either through the Province of Ontario’s enhanced certificate with a QR code, or a receipt from the Ministry of Health showing a second vaccination dosage administered before Oct. 27, 2021. Government-issued photo identification that shows your date of birth will also be required.
In accordance with Toronto Public Health guidelines, all guests are required to wear a mask covering their mouth, chin and nose at all times. Masks may be removed briefly while seated to eat and drink.
For more info, visit Reel Asian’s FAQ section.