Film Festival Captures Rich Diversity of Asia

by Dalia Hashim in Toronto

When Canadian filmmaker Elisa Paloschi decided to embark on a new film project in India, documenting the life of Karnataka’s first female taxi driver, she had no idea it would be a decade in the making.

“At the beginning of the filming I didn’t think I’d be filming for 10 years […] but Selvi’s story was constantly developing and I had to go back [to India several times],” explains Paloschi.

The result of Paloschi’s work was Driving with Selvi, which follows a young woman’s journey running away from an abusive marriage she was forced into at age 14 and becoming a taxi driver. The inspirational full-length documentary will open up the 19th edition of the Reel Asian Film Festival (RAFF) in Toronto this year.  

Paloschi says the driving force behind her documentary was Selvi herself.

Selvi was only 18 when her and Paloschi first met and since then the two of them have grown to know each other very well.

Paloschi says it was an honour to watch and document Selvi’s healing process. “I got to see her transform from being afraid and timid to taking ownership of her life.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“I got to see her transform from being afraid and timid to taking ownership of her life.”[/quote]

Paloschi mentions she is particularly excited to be part of a Toronto festival and have Selvi in attendance for the screening, since 500 Torontonians donated to Paloschi’s online fundraising campaign to make this documentary possible.

Diversity in titles, attendees

Driving with Selvi is one of 72 titles featured in this year’s festival, which received a record number of 1,000 submissions from more than 10 countries.

Since 1997 the festival has aimed to showcase the wide variety of Asian films from East, South and Southeast Asian filmmakers from Canada, the United States, Asia and other parts of the world.

This year includes the most diverse lineup of films to date, coming from regions like Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and the U.S.

Of the 72 titles being shown, 42 per cent are by Canadians and women have directed 50 per cent of the short films.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]This year includes the most diverse lineup of films to date.[/quote]

It’s the festival’s ability to engage and attract diverse audiences that keeps California native Aram Collier coming back every year since 2005 when he first volunteered.

“It’s quite challenging to reach out to diverse crowds around the [Greater Toronto Area], so we are hoping this year by having screenings in Richmond Hill and North York that we will be able to reach wider and more diverse audiences,” said Collier, now the Director of Programming and Education for RAFF, during the festival’s media launch event.

He spoke of how both the festival’s titles and attendees have changed and diversified since he first began his tenure with the organization.

This has particularly been the case since 2013 when RAFF opted to include South Asian titles in the lineup. Previously only included East Asian films so as to not compete with the other South Asian Canadian film festivals.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The move to include films from all across the Asian continent has “brought a lot of diversity to the festival.”[/quote]

The move to include films from all across the Asian continent has “brought a lot of diversity to the festival” Collier pointed out.

He added that in the future he hopes this diversity will continue to grow and the festival can be an avenue to bring communities from all over Toronto together.

What to expect

The RAFF will run from Nov. 5 to 15 with screenings in downtown Toronto, North York, and Richmond Hill. The festival will include galas, screenings, forums, workshops and parties featuring prominent actors, musicians and filmmakers.

This year will feature four new categories of film.

The Marquee genre will include gala presentations with notable directors, actors and writers who have made their rounds on the international film circuit. The Royal Tailor, a South Korean film about a young designer aiming to catch the queen’s attention with his renditions of traditional clothing, is featured in this section.

The Vista genre is reserved for critically acclaimed contemporary Asian titles such as Mina Walking an Afghani-Canadian title about a 12-year-old girl who is left to care for her family after losing her mother to a Taliban attack.

The Pulse genre will focus on short films from around the world, of which there are several titles participating in this year’s festival.

Finally, the Reel Asian:X genre will focus on exploring what the festival calls the Asian diaspora “beyond the traditional”, with titles such as Retrospective on Randall Okita, a series of short films by Japanese-Canadian artist Randall Okita.

These additional genres hope to bring to the audience a wider variety of titles and encourage differing types of film projects for future submissions.

This year’s edition will also include eight awards totaling over $46,000 in cash and in-kind prizes for films and filmmakers. Awards will be presented for categories such as best feature film, best first feature film, best short Canadian film and best films by GTA- based female artists.

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