Monday, November 05, 2012

Reel Asian Review: It’s Not What You Think

Outside of the numerous feature films screening at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, there are also six unique short film programs that offer a little something for everyone. While all six of the programs sound great, one of last year’s So You Think You Can Pitch competition winners has a short in the It’s Not What You Think program which made it a must see in particular. Here are some brief thoughts on the films in the It’s Not What You Think program:


Real Talk (Dir: Patrick Ng)

The Skinny: It’s inevitable–friends drift apart. But when your former BFF treats you like a chump, it’s time for some ‘real talk’ from the streets of Manhattan’s Two Bridges neighborhood.

Reaction: At first glance Patrick Ng’s film seems to be about a young man, Pax (Sk Wong), who loves hip hop culture, but struggles with the Asian stereotypes that society puts on him. However, Real Talk reveals itself to be an extremely engaging film about friendship and the pain of losing it. Pax and Iggy (J. Mal McCree) may be from different cultures, but they share a bond that transcends race. This is what makes the decline of their friendship so captivating. Ng’s strong visual eye really captures the urban beauty of New York and the cultures that reside within the city. While he creates his own unique style, Ng is not shy about showing were some of his influences come from. In one particular scene Ng uses a free-floating dolly shot that is commonly associated with Spike Lee films. Although it was the first short to play, Real Talk ended up being the highlight of this particular program. It is a smart, and extremely well made, film that demonstrates Patrick Ng is a director who you should be keeping an eye on in the future.


Tengri (Dir: Alisi Telengut)

The Skinny: This meticulously painted animation reveals a unique traditional Mongolian burial practice.

Reaction: It is a beautiful film that uses painted animation to that highlight the act of Wind Burials, the process of finding the right burial ground/ tomb for a corpse. Alisi Telengut’s film is not one that can easily be summed up in words. Tengri is a film that really needs to be experienced. It is a fascinating look at how mankind, life, death, and nature are all intertwined.


Little Miss Jihad (Dir: Stephanie Law and Jessica Wu)

The Skinny: Afghani Canadian Sally Khan is an average 10-year-old girl who wants to be just like her daddy. But her curious career aspirations lead to paranoia amongst her cul-de-sac community.

Reaction: Sitting in the audience of the 2011 So You Think You Can Pitch competition Little Miss Jihad was the film I was equally excited and apprehensive about. Though the premise was outstanding, it sounded like a risky film that could be a disaster in the wrong hands. Fortunately Little Miss Jihad delivered on everything Stephanie Law promised in her pitch a year ago. The film is a charming tale that often hits the right comedic notes. Jasmine Chan is perfectly cast as the precocious Sally who has a grand, and misguided, vision of what it means to be a terrorist. While entertaining for the whole family, Little Miss Jihad feels a little too cutesy at times. Granted, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise enjoyable film.


The Lost Years (Dir: Vivienne AuYeung)

The Skinny: An epic journey from land to sea is depicted through mixed forms of animation using felt and cellophane in this adorable short about never giving up.

Reaction: At a brisk running time of two minute and fifteen seconds, Vivienne AuYeung offers up a wonderful visual treat. Through the use if puppets, 2D and 3D animation, and stop motion AuYeung creates several great “how did they do that?”moments from a visual standpoint. Delightfully charming, it is hard not to have a huge smile on your face after watching The Lost Years.


Friday Diary (Dir: Xiao Yang)

The Skinny: As usual, it’s a dark and snowy Friday night in Montreal, and cats are everywhere at the shelter where the filmmaker volunteers every week. Tonight, though, director Yang explores what the noise is coming from upstairs in this documentary about cats, community and thin walls.

Reaction: Friday Diary is a rather peculiar film in the sense that it has several interesting ideas that do not always connect the way you would hope. Yang does a nice job juxtaposing the events at the church next door with the cats reactions in the shelter. In one particular shot, Yang captures all the cats staring at the wall as if they are listening to the sermon. Aside from a few brief diary entries, Yang lets the images and actions tell the story. However, at times it feels like Yang had two separate films on his hand, both of which could have been explored much further.


The Spirit of Nihonmachi (Dir: Greg Masuda)

The Skinny: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is infamous for crime and poverty. It is also the home of the Powell Street Festival, a cultural event devoted to celebrating and preserving Japanese Canadian culture that also commemorates the city’s pre-internment Japanese Canadian community. Through food, music and sumo wrestling, this doc shows the lasting legacy of community on two men who live in the neighbourhood.

Reaction: The Spirit of Nihonmachi is a film that celebrates both Vancouver and the Japanese culture. Instead of merely focusing on the history of Japanese immigrants in Vancouver, though there is some of that in the film, director Greg Masuda opts to highlight how Japanese culture is uniting an impoverished community. Told through the eyes of two non-Japanese men (Kevin Sleziak and Abraham Jones) who live in the community, The Spirit of Nihonmachi is as uplifting as it is educational. Masuda finds two great subjects to follow in Kevin and Abraham. Despite being from different backgrounds, Kevin is a Caucasian from Saskatoon and Abraham is an African-Canadian former football player, both men know what it is like to fall on hard times and to be homeless in the Eastside community. The film does a good job of juxtaposing the daily struggles of both men with their current quest to partake in the sumo wrestling competition at the Powell Street Festival. Sumo wrestling is not only seen as an important facet to Japanese culture, but more importantly, a sport that promotes fellowship regardless of your status in life. The Spirit of Nihonmachi is an enjoyable documentary that shows that Japanese culture can unite and be a source of inspiration for even the most downtrodden areas of life.

It’s Not What You Think is screening on Thursday November 8, 2012 at 1 pm at AGO Jackman Hall

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