What to Watch at the 2012 Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival

By Jef Catapang

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival is back and running from November 6 to 11 in downtown Toronto, with a second round November 16 to 17 in Richmond Hill. This year’s program includes a lot of worthy pictures, and for the first time includes a South Asian feature.

If you can’t make it out to all of them (what’s wrong with you?), check below for a handy guide of five films to catch at the 16th annual Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival.

GRACELAND

A chauffeur for a prominent congressman, Marlon (Arnold Reyes)’s most frequent driving assignments include his daughter, the congressman’s daughter, and the young girls that his boss abuses. When a kidnapping goes awry and his daughter is mistaken for the congressman’s, Marlon finds himself caught in a plot that worms down into Manila’s child prostitution rings. An unsettling, uncompromising thriller that squeezes the morality from its well-drawn characters, Graceland is hard to take and hard to forget.

THU NOV 8 | 9:55 PM | INNIS TOWN HALL

VALLEY OF SAINTS

Valley of Saints traces a low-key romance between a working-class boatman named Gulzar and a young scientist, Asifa, in a Kashmir community near the Pakistan border. The two meet when a military curfew kiboshes Gulzar’s plan to blow town, and he instead takes a job ferrying Asifa as she collects water samples. Naturalistic performances perfectly capture the emotions as Gulzar falls for Asifa and learns about the fragility of the local ecosystem, and director Musa Syeed keeps the threat of political violence bubbling near the surface of the gorgeous, pastoral lake setting.

FRI NOV 9 | 8:45 PM | THE ROYAL

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Racism, Future: Sci-Fi Authors Riff

By Jef Catapang

Poster design by Simon Yau. It would be a cool movie, right?

If you read a fair share of sci-fi (written by someone other than Octavia E. Butler), you might be prone to feeling like all this flesh-wringing about race will be looked upon as nothing more than a quaint marker of our times. A lot of sci-fi teaches us that race just won’t be an issue in the future. Besides, if there is still such thing as racism in the future it will be directed at robots, so who cares? Not us. It doesn’t matter how sexy you are, robots. We’re not buying it.

To get a deeper sense of how science fiction has dealt with the possibilities of human interaction and diversity, we called up some of Canada’s most intelligent and most out-there imaginations to talk sci-fi, race and the future of us.

Derwin Mak

The Shrine of the Siren Stone (in which an otaku anime-nerd falls in love with a Japanese girl dressed as a French maid who turns out to be an android)

On why scientific developments won’t change racism:

The concept of race is rather hard to define to begin with. Even though all the scientific research shows that people have the same DNA, that we have the same ancestors, there will always be some differences. I’m not saying those differences are good or bad, they’re just there and people will notice them.

On why ‘first contact’ won’t bring about world peace:

Often science fiction authors will say that we’ll all suddenly become one unified human race as we realize that we’re not alone. I’m going to take the opposite approach and say that the arrival of aliens will not make us see ourselves any more unified than we already were.

A good example is when the Europeans came to North America. That did not end the squabbling or the warfare amongst the Native American or Canadian First Nations tribes. They still fought against each other, and indeed, they even sought out alliances between the English, French and the Spanish against each other. So I don’t think that the arrival of aliens will make human ethnic groups feel like they have any more or less in common than they do now. Unless, of course, we end up being common prey.

Suzette Mayr

Moon Honey (in which an 18-year-old white waitress suddenly turns Black)

On everyone being beige in the future:

When I go to Toronto, I’m always struck by all these mixed-race couples, children, and people that I see. That it’s actually in ads now, which to me suggests some sort of acceptance in the mainstream of this as being normal—in quotation marks. You don’t see it as much in Calgary. You see it on the street but you don’t necessarily see it reflected in the media. And I remember someone telling me statistics about Japanese-Canadians, about how they’re gradually kind of disappearing as they’re inter-marrying with other races. My feeling is that perhaps what will happen is we’ll have this blending as we go. On the other hand, there’s tons of Islamophobia. I think about the Tea Party, and all the kind of stuff that’s happening in the United States, which suggests a return to segregation rather than an inter-mixing.

On our increasing capability to control what our bodies look like:

Weirder and weirder things are happening for beauty. People are altering their faces and looking more and more like cats. I wonder—there’s a certain kind of aesthetic that goes with bi-racial Asian people that seems to be fetishized and seen as beautiful. And what about these lips that people are getting, these kind of big lips? I don’t know. Are people wanting lips like Black people?

On why racism is here to stay:

There will always be an underclass and there will always be racial undertones associated with that. Think about the historical movement towards the prairie, where the desirables and the so-called whites were English people or Scottish people, and then the Irish came and they were black. And once they were integrated, well, the Italians were black. Then the Ukranians and now it’s the visible minorities. I think that’s just the way we’re genetically engineered: to be mean to somebody, to find justification to exploit somebody else or treat somebody else poorly.

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