Reel Asian Film Festival

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Reel Asian
16th annual festival of Asian cinema, music, art and new media
Nov. 6-17 in Toronto and Richmond Hill

The fall is a great time for Toronto’s niche festivals and one of the liveliest is on this week and next (in Richmond Hill)—Reel Asian.

Always well curated, the festival’s mandate is extensive. This year, the films being shown are from China, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kashmir, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Tahiti, the Philippines and, of course, Canada.

In a festival full of highlights, here are three:

Prison Dancer, which premieres on Friday night at The Royal Cinema (College and Clinton Street), is a bizarre and engaging mix of music, dance, tough documentary footage and funny fictional elements. Inspired by a YouTube video that went viral, it’s about six inmates at a high security prison in the Philippines who dance their way to personal freedom. The film lets us into the lives of the prisoners; we understand their hopes, which contrast with a very grim reality. At Reel Asian, Prison Dancer will be a piece of  “performative cinema,” combining video, real dancing and audience participation. Definitely different!

Tatsumi, at 11 pm on Friday night at the Royal, is an animated film by acclaimed Singapore director Eric Khoo. In a smart and moving tribute to the great manga artist Yasuhiro Tatsumi, Khoo has combined stories by the artist with the true tale of his life. Rendered in Tatsumi’s style, this is a haunting art film.

Dai Puri Diaspora, at 4:30pm on Saturday at the Royal, is a unusual documentary by Toronto artist Richard Fung, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago. The video explores the roots of one of the world’s great transnational dishes, the roti. Fung’s full length doc includes chefs, food fanatics, restaurant owners and alimentary scholars as he investigates the joyful mysteries of the roti: how it’s made, merchandized, eaten and appreciated in different areas of the world.

Reel Asian is a rich and diverting festival, well worth attending.