By Michelle Kay
All images by Michael Tijoe
After a week almost devoid of sunshine, a small crowd gathered in The Commons at 401 Richmond on a sunny Sunday, November morning to watch the 13th edition of So You Think You Can Pitch? The pitch competition has been a staple part of the Reel Asian Film Festival and is always an invigorating event to watch. Five teams vying for first prize pitched their film projects in front of a jury and supportive audience. The Gold Prize Award was $4,000 in equipment and an in-kind service package to aid with production and film creation. Second prize was the Silver Award worth $2,800 of in-kind services.
The event was emceed by Angela Sun, an artist and actor who warmed the crowd up and cracked jokes between pitches. This year’s finalists were Rahul Chaturvedi with Namaste, Santa, Shian Grace with The Diversity Awards, Tigris Li with OrHoDa, Andy Wong with Lost in Itaewon and Kristina Wong with Song Hee.
Filmmakers each had six minutes to present their pitch followed by questions and comments from the jurors.
The jury was comprised of Aliya Pabani, artist, podcaster and former host of The Imposter at Canadaland, Teresa M. Ho, filmmaker and producer, and Carolynne Hew, a CBC production executive and longtime advocate for the arts.
All contenders had strong ideas and presented stories ranging from documentary forms exploring heritage and culture to comedy and satire and even a screen dance piece on the universality of dance form in the absence of language!
The filmmaker who eventually took home the Gold Prize was Kristina Wong with Song Hee, a short documentary examining the fate of her grandfather’s building, which is up in the air since none of the grandkids are willing to take it over. The film is interested in what is passed down culturally and perhaps, more importantly, what is lost from generation to generation. This is an immigration story told through the eyes of the building as it and its inhabitants’ age. Wong cited The Giving Tree as an inspiration for this film pitch.
Rahul Chaturvedi and Qais Pasha came in second place with Namaste, Santa, a short comedy film about an immigrant family who has moved to small-town Ontario. They find themselves navigating how to raise their young son, Sidhu, heavily shaped by Canadian and Western influences. He becomes obsessed with the jolly fat man who will bring presents for the town’s children but shows little interest in Diwali and his family’s own holiday traditions. Chaturvedi, who won the pitch competition two years ago, came back this year with a concise, well-articulated and charming pitch. Deliberately setting this film in 1990, the same year Home Alone was released, Chaturvedi pointed out that most holiday movies focus on white families and neglect to tell stories from the perspectives of people of colour, making Namaste, Santa a fresh and self-aware angle.
Another strong pitch came from Tigris Li and her OrHoDa proposal. She opened by saying that the other pitches were human-focused stories but hers was a plant story that happened to also reveal something about humans. It follows the history, usage, harvesting and conservation of ginseng, a medicinal herb of high value in East Asian culture. Her experimental documentary was broken down into three parts using a mixture of animation and live action. The story may focus on the root, but it is also the story of human migration, conservation, economics and ecology. “Ginseng means human root” and Li’s story not only looks at the plant but what it says about humans.
Most people who get up early on a Sunday morning do so to beat the brunch crowds at a trendy restaurant, not necessarily to watch a pitch competition. Yet, everyone who was present at this year’s event was more than ecstatic to be there. After the pitching portion, the genial crowd chatted excitedly, providing their own comments and critiques as we waited for the winner to be announced. There may have not been any poached eggs or Caesars, but we left the competition feeling satisfied.
Michelle Kay is a writer, editor and librarian based in Toronto. She was the features editor at Shameless magazine and currently a contributing editor at cléo, a journal of film and feminism. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @yo_mk.
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