It just got Reel. With a program of some 40 films focused on the themes of memory and archives, this year's edition of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival will be an affair to remember. Here are a few highlights.
They've got (their own) game
9-Man: When one thinks of a popular team sport with nine men a side, baseball comes to mind. Think again. Director Ursula Liang serves up a handy documentary about a volleyball variant involving three extra players, typically played on the asphalt "courts" of major North American Chinatowns. The narrative involves not only a major tournament – a Toronto squad has won 11 of past 14 competitions, who knew? – but a drive to keep a part of their Chinese heritage alive. It's a tough grind on a hard surface, where nine men arrive at a different sort of supreme court justice. (Nov.7, 8:45 p.m. and Nov. 9, noon, the Royal)
Mountain high, music deep
Himalaya Song: One of the stars of this year's fiesta is Gingger Shankar, a classically trained violinist who has performed with such rock luminaries as Cheap Trick and the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as scoring Mel Gibson's epic biblical statement The Passion of the Christ. Here, she spearheads a multimedia performance combining live music – vocals, modern electronic sounds and more ancient ideas – with a visual trip to a grandiose mountain range threatened by ecological change. (Nov. 13, 8 p.m., Aga Khan Museum. As well, Shankar, who scored Monsoon Shootout – below – speaks about film and music, Nov. 12, 3 p.m., AGO)
Monsoon-set cops-and-gangsters thriller isn't all wet
Monsoon Shootout: The closing-night film is a bold, intense and artful effort from first-timer Amit Kumar, in which a rookie cop wrestles with his inner Dirty Harry as a storm rages in Mumbai. Shout out to whoever set up those dramatic rain shots and to the lackey who kept a constant supply of fluffy towels on the set. (Nov. 14, 8 p.m., the Royal)
Manny being Manny (and Liam being Liam)
Manny: "I know what I am. I'm a fighter." When the superstar Filipino pugilist Manny Pacquiao talks about fighting, it's something apart from boxing. A documentary from the American director Ryan Moore charts the rags-to-riches life and times of a highly motivated individual. The film's tone is earnest and overly weighty, with the string-laden soundtrack almost as lush as the calmly hypnotic and heavy-handed narration of the actor Liam Neeson. It's a good story, though, even if this sports doc isn't a knockout. (Nov. 15, 7 p.m., Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts)
Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, to Nov. 16, various venues, reelasian.com.