Reel Asian Film Festival Campaign


One of the best things about living in Toronto is the astounding number of film festivals that this city’s arts community can support. The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival is a long-running film fest (now in its 19th year), showcasing everything from the next Hong Kong action blockbuster to small-budget independent shorts by local filmmakers. In recent years, Reel Asian has expanded their mandate to include film programming from South Asia, and they wanted this year’s campaign to reflect their growth into new communities.

Prior to working on the campaign, I had attended Reel Asian and always enjoyed the warm atmosphere that the festival staff and volunteers created. My first step in the ideation process was to interview members of the Reel Asian family (former staff, guests, volunteers and board members) to find out what makes the festival so special. Every person I spoke with talked about the sense of community the festival provides to Asian Canadians, and Asian film lovers, with many people describing the annual event as a family reunion. They also all mentioned how important the social aspect of the festival is, and that you can’t really have the true Reel Asian experience without going to one of the many parties where everyone is invited to mingle, network, and, of course, eat!

So my starting point for the overall tone I wanted to convey was warmth, excitement, fun and diversity. One issue that I worked through with the festival staff was representation: do we represent all the cultures included in the film programming? Does that make the campaign stronger or weaker? If we don’t represent specific cultures, how do we communicate what the festival is about? In my research, I also heard people talk about the role that Toronto plays in the success of the festival, and I thought that the city could be what we represented, instead of other countries. One interview quote that stuck with me through the creative process was “Reel Asian is a dynamic interaction of vibrant ethnicities, unique to Toronto.” So why not try to capture and convey that?

Out of the 3 concept directions I presented to the festival, this one embodied this idea the most. The concept is based on a movie poster look (with a nod to Chinese action film posters), with “Reel Asian” set as the title on a vibrant background. The image collage is made up of a photograph of Chinatown (used with permission from the City of Toronto archives), an image that I took of Dundas Street, and an photo of a woman in a sari (taken by the brilliant Connie Tsang), with a textured overlay, to add some cinematic drama to the whole scene. The result is a dynamic, multi-cultural Toronto streetscape which evokes the energy and atmosphere unique to the festival.

I used the textured overlay to bring the campaign into the pages of the program guide, and it can be seen on the divider pages for the programs and in the date/location box of the screenings. The type from the “headline” (set in Grota Sans) also repeats in the guide as the program headings (e.g. Marquee) to tie everything together. All in all, I applied the campaign to the poster, brochure, postcard, merchandise and program guide. The in-house team used campaign elements on their website, newsletters, ads, invites and more.

Reel Asian 2015 runs November 5-15, with screenings in downtown Toronto and Richmond Hill, and there truly is something for everyone. Check out their schedule online, or better yet, grab a copy of the program guide. I’ll see you there!