10 Must-See Movies at This Year’s Reel Asian Film Festival

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival (AKA Reel Asian) returns in-person Nov. 8 to 19, 2023.

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival (AKA Reel Asian) returns in-person Nov. 8 to 19, 2023.

reel asian film festival 2023

(Photo: Reel Asian)

by Rebecca Gao
October 27, 2023

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival is back! 

Celebrating its 27th year, Reel Asian is Canada’s largest pan-Asian film festival and will be taking place in-person from November 8-19.

Their 2023 lineup consists of feature and short films from Canada, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Singapore and more. Aside from a slate of must-see films, this year’s programming also includes Canadian Spotlight First Films (which showcases the first-ever films from award-winning Asian Canadian filmmakers), Reel Ideas: From the Ground Up (Reel Asian’s conference which includes talks and panels from the likes of Vivek Shraya, Fawzia Mirza and Zarrar Kahn), RA:X (a section that introduces audiences to pioneering storytelling modes) and Wee Asian (a collection of shorts for all ages). 

Here are 10 must-catch films playing at this year’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

Queen of my Dreams by Fawzia Mirza (Opening night gala presentation)

Starring Sex Lives of College Girls’ Amrit Kaur, this Canadian film follows Azra, a queer Muslim grad student who travels to Karachi, Pakistan when her father dies suddenly. There, she and her conservative mother Mariam rub up against each other—with Azra not understanding Mariam’s rigidity. But, in flashbacks, we see Mariam’s own life in Karachi 30 years ago. As the two storylines play out side-by-side, Queen of my Dreams untangles their complex relationship. 

Playing November 8, 2023, 7:30PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. 

Get tickets here.

We Will be Brave by Chrisann Hessing

This documentary follows The Good Guise, a Toronto-based artist collective that was created to start conversations about healthy masculinity. We Will Be Brave showcases the artists—who span all disciplines from photography to martial arts—and the upheavals in their personal lives.

Playing November 11, 2023, 12PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3 

Get tickets here.

Tiger Stripes by Amanda Nell Eu

This Malaysian coming-of-age film depicts all the horrors of puberty and menstruation. When 12-year-old Zaffran is the first in her friend group to get her period, she tries to hide out of fear of ostracization. But when rumours of a demonic spirit in her village’s surrounding jungle spread, Zaffran is exposed—and must learn how to embrace herself in the face of exclusion.

Playing November 11, 2023, 7:30PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3

Get tickets here.

Q by Jude Chehab

Directed by Lebanese American filmmaker Jude Chehab, Q follows Chehab on a trip to Lebanon. There, driven to understand three generations of women in her family’s devolution to a secretive matriarchal religious order in the country. Q examines the bond that the women in Chebab’s family share and questions the line between love and devotion.

Playing November 11, 2023, 5PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3

Get tickets here.

Seagrass by Meredith Hama-Brown

Set in the 90s, this debut feature from Canadian diretor Meredith Hama-Brown follows Judith, a Japanese Canadian woman and her white husband who attend a week-long couple’s retreat on a coastal British Columbia island. Judith is grieving her mother and her connection to her Japanese identity, and the couple’s discontent grows when they meet another, seemingly perfect interracial couple. Seagrass is a tense drama that looks at the legacy of Japanese internment and how that affects families still today.

November 12, 2023, 5PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3 

Get tickets here.

Mustache by Imran J. Khan (Centerpiece Gala Presentation)

This comedy from Pakistani American filmmaker Imran J. Khan tells the story of 12-year-old Ilya who is pulled out of his Islamic public school and forced into public school. He hatches a plan to change his parents’ mind. Underneath the scheme to go back to private school, however, Ilya is struggling with the wispy, dark mustache that’s sprouted much earlier than his peers, prompting taunting and self-loathing. 

Playing November 12, 2023, 7:30PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2 

Get tickets here

Relics of Love and War by Keith Lock

Aptly named, this Canadian documentary looks at the history of Operation Oblivion, a top secret suicide mission during World War II—a time when Chinese Canadians couldn’t vote. Mixing family history with national history, Chinese Canadian filmmaker Keith Lock tells the story of his mother and father who met in Australia, as he was training with other Chinese Canadian volunteers for the Operation. 

Playing November 14th, 2023, 7PM at Innis Town Hall

Get tickets here.

Small Fry by Joongha Park

Small Fry follows Ho-jun, a flailing actor who’s found some success as a fishing influencer, teaching his tips and tricks. When a hotheaded hotshot indie director and rising starlet interrupts his live stream, the links between the three and their pettiness and ambition are exposed. 

Playing November 10, 2023, 5:30PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4

Get tickets here.

Wee Asian

Not technically a movie, this programme features family-friendly shorts. From an animation about a lovely traveller to an experimental look at a love story, these wholesome shorts will warm your heart. Plus, there will be fun art activities post-screening.

November 18, 2023 10AM to 3PM, Innis Town Hall

No tickets required.

Shorts presentation: The Strange, The Odd, and the Familiar

This shorts programme is 90 minutes of the strangest, most discomforting short films from around the world. Spanning every genre, from a comedy about an exploitative game show to an experimental animation about a dog and a bus, there will be something odd for everyone.

November 12, 2023, 5PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4

Get tickets here.

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