Preview – Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival 2019, November 7-15

Canada’s premier pan-Asian festival, has announced its full 2019 programming lineup which offers the opportunity to experience the evolution of Asian representation in cinema. First, the Festival will pay tribute to the past with a 100th anniversary screening of the silent film classic The Dragon Painter. Stephen Gong, film historian and Executive Director of the Center for Asian American Media will bring the film to Reel Asian for a special screening, presented with a live performance of a reimagined score by singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura. Then, looking to the future of storytelling in media, the Festival presents East of the Rockies, an augmented reality (AR) experience written by one of Canada’s most acclaimed and celebrated literary figures, Joy Kogawa.

The festival will open with To Live to Sing, the latest from Canadian Screen Award-winning director Johnny Ma, and close with Yellow Rose, the debut feature from Filipinx-American director Diane Paragas which is led by two-time Tony-nominated actress Eva Noblezada. Running from November 7 to 15, this year’s lineup consists of 79 films from regions including Canada, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Cuba and the United States, 59% of which are directed by women.

“This year’s programming represents the unstoppable growth of films and new media in all forms through distinctively Asian storytelling,” said Deanna Wong, Executive Director, Reel Asian. “We are proud of the advancements in Asian representation in media and will continue to nurture this evolution through showcasing the best in Asian cinema, adapting to new mediums and offering industry forums that educate a new generation of creators.”

The festival will also celebrate the previously announced Canadian Spotlight Artist, Yung Chang, writer and director of the award-winning 2007 documentary Up the Yangtze and more recently This is Not a Movie which premiered at this year’s TIFF. Chang’s career as a director and screenwriter has earned him many accolades including a Golden Horse Award, a Canadian Screen Award, a Don Haig Award at Hot Docs and countless others. The festival has curated programming honoring Chang’s career including a live reading of his first narrative script Eggplant, a screening of Come Drink With Me, a 1966 classic martial arts film that inspired the main character from Eggplant, and a screening of his early documentary Earth to Mouth.

The festival’s Marquee section welcomes the stars of the red carpet who are master storytellers that perfect the craft of story, design, acting and adaptation. The lineup includes To Live and to Sing, about a Sichuan opera troupe displaced by gentrification who seek new opportunities in order to survive, and Yellow Rose, following an undocumented Filipina teenager whose dreams of becoming a country singer are put on hold when her mother is arrested in an immigration raid.

Making their Canadian Premieres are Justin Chon’s Ms. Purple, which is set in Los Angeles’s Koreatown and tells a story of repressed trauma and reconciliation; Lucky Grandma starring beloved Chinese actress Tsai Chin; and We Are Champions chronicling two teenage brothers with nothing but each other and their love of basketball. The Toronto Premier of We Are Little Zombies rounds out the Marquee section lineup, following four teenaged orphans bonded by tragedy and their shared lack of grief who form a band and become viral rock music sensations.

Dare to explore outside the box with filmmakers from the Vista section, as they take you through their worlds of fiction and documentary, reflecting on connections with their community and their culture. This year’s lineup includes the world premiere of Gyopo; referring to an individual of Korean descent who has been raised abroad, this first feature by Toronto director Samuel Kiehoon Lee tells stories of young gyopos who travel to Korea in search of a fresh start, only to find that they are also outsiders in the country that gave birth to their parents. The short film Into Such Assembly will precede Gyopo and directors of both films will be in attendance .

Also joining the Vista lineup is John Denver Trending, following a young boy caught in the vicious cycle of cyber-bullying; The Last Stitch, a first documentary feature from Canadian filmmaker Alfred Sung that explores cheongsam and traditional Chinese tailoring; Love Boat: Taiwan, documenting the history of one of the longest-running summer programs in the world, designed for Taiwanese diaspora to fall in love with each other and reconnect with Taiwan; the classic 1919 silent film The Dragon Painter, starring the first Asian American leading man and one of the silent film era’s biggest stars Sessue Hayakawa and presented with a live score by Japanese American singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura; The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan, about an amateur shogi player with hopes of going pro portrayed by Japanese actor Ryuhei Matsuda; and What We Left Unfinished, a compilation of five recovered and unfinished works from Afghanistan’s Communist era pieced together by director Mariam Ghani, who will be in attendance.

The Reel Ideas programme blends education and industry. The program includes dynamic community sessions where emerging and established creative minds come together through panels and artist talks, to envision and inform what the future of Asian cinema in Canada and around the world will look like. Reel Ideas is an extension of Reel Asian’s ongoing mandate to nourish the growth of Asian diaspora in the arts.

Wee Asian returns for its fourth year! Kids can explore the art of moviemaking and fuel their creativity through films, coloring and storytelling sessions from event partner Type Books as well as local author, Thao Lam, reading her recently-released book, My Cat Looks Like My Dad. This free drop-in event takes place Saturday, November 9 from 9:00 am in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Green Room.

This year’s Pulse shorts program features thought-provoking films from around the world that encourage discussions on important topics such as race, gender, activism and anxiety.

Reel Asian X showcases film and video projects that stretch beyond the four walls of cinema. East of the Rockies is an interactive narrative AR experience written by one of Canada’s most acclaimed and celebrated literary figures, Joy Kogawa, who is also a former internee at the Japanese Canadian internment camp at Slocan, BC. Narrated by Kogawa’s real life grandchild, Anne Canute, this interactive story is told from the perspective of Yuki, a 17-year-old girl forced from her home and made to live in Canada’s Slocan internment camp during the Second World War.

For the full program information and ticket booking facility, visit the festival website.