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Spotlight on Diversity: Asian-Led and Asian-Produced Films at the FascinAsian Film Festival

A Q&A from FascinAsian 2023

Calgary and Winnipeg continue to be the epicentres of Asian-led and Asian-produced production nationally and internationally. 

Celebrating May 2-5 in Calgary and May 24-26 in Winnipeg, the FascinAsian Film Festival embraces the stories of the Asian experience, encouraging future representation of the people who consume media in an industry which has been slow to change. Representation was why FasinAsian President Alan Wong worked to start the festival in 2021 in Winnipeg and then in 2022 to include Calgary as an opportunity to increase awareness around a diversity of films and connect the film community. 

“There was a lot of tokenism in the early days and a lot of incorrect stereotypes and cliches that are in classic Hollywood and classic mainstream media that was proliferated a lot. Nowadays, I think it’s gotten so much better. There’s so much more authenticity in how those characters are portrayed, not just in Asian characters but also in characters of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and abilities… That’s how it should be and how it should have always been. Unfortunately, we’ve had to fight for that, for that normalization.”  

Many feature films at these events are only sometimes available on streaming services or in theatres. The FascinAsian provides an opportunity for festival-goers to experience films they wouldn’t come across, including the plethora of short films available within the festival’s programming. Last year’s highlight at the Winnipeg festival was Rice Boy Sleeps, a Korean mother doing what she can for her son in the suburbs of Canada to provide a life better for him than the life she left behind. Wong says films like this are a no-brainer to be included in the programming; not only did it win a myriad of awards and acclaim, but it was one of the most talked about Canadian films of 2022-2023.

However, films, both feature and short, are just one component of the festival; fostering community and providing experiences to learn and educate are also core elements. Wong acknowledges the COVID pandemic had a massive impact on in-person events, elevating everyone’s sense of social anxiety, “if you weren’t comfortable going before that, you definitely weren’t comfortable going out afterwards.” The arts, in general, have experienced the challenges of attendance, partially due to social anxiety but also the fact that many people have developed comfortable viewing setups within their own homes, but for Wong, there’s nothing like the experience of watching a film with a group of people on the big screen. 

“It’s something different to be able to watch a film in a theatre with other people and have that shared experience. It sparks those conversations after too. A lot of films make you feel things and hopefully reveal things to you that you may not have thought of before. After each of our feature films in the evenings, we do receptions with appetizers and drinks so people can have that chance to talk about the films and share what it is they got from it.”

Workshops and Q&As are another aspect of the festival you won’t get from the typical theatre experience, an aspect Wong is always excited about.  

“When you go to a movie, you don’t normally get the Q&A, and you don’t get the experience of learning more about the film. You can go to YouTube and look at videos after you see a movie. There usually will be interviews with filmmakers and actors. But this way, it’s a little more personal, it’s immediate, and it enhances the overall experience of watching these films.”

Ensuring the festival is accessible to all, sporting a wide array of engagement activities and acclaimed and independent films, the FascinAsian Film Festival is always an exciting weekend.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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