Monday, November 1, 2010

DESI plays Hamilton

I Want To Be A Desi plays The Hamilton Film Festival on Wednesday, November 3 at the 7:00pm Comedy Shorts program. Come out and have a hilarious time. Tickets and directions:

Pal Uncle (Jazz Mann) welcomes you to The Hamilton Film Festival

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I WANT TO BE A DESI wins 2nd place and premieres at GRFF

My short comedy, I Want To Be A Desi, took second place at the 2010 Grand River Film Festival's BMO SHORT Shorts Competition and premieres there on Saturday.

At a recent ceremony held in Kitchener, ON, the judges praised Desi for its witty writing, assured direction and smart cinematography, and for addressing the issue of identity in modern Canada. "The acting was excellent, the editing thoughtful, and the use of music very clever," announced one of the judges, Phillip Bast, a Kitchener filmmaker and journalist. "I Want To Be A Desi is a delightful film, a comic social investigation into multicultural identity for second generation Canadians in large urban centres, particularly the Greater Toronto Area."

Fellow judge and Toronto filmmaker, Benjamin Rousse, added that Desi is "a solid film with no weaknesses in any area of film production. Writer/director Allan Tong demonstrates a firm grasp of the art of filmmaking."

Desi bride (Tari Joshi on left) and Pal Uncle (Jazz Mann at right) celebrate with wannabe Desi, Roger/Raj (David Yee)

I Want To Be A Desi will screen in a program devoted to the BMO SHORT Shorts on Saturday, October 23, 1:00 p.m. at the Galt Little Theatre in Cambridge, next to Kitchener-Waterloo. The screening will be the World Premiere of I Want To Be A Desi. Click here for schedule and tickets. Waterloo Record article about GRFF.

Click here to see the trailer.

SAVAC launches film program in GTA schools

The South Asian Visual Arts Centre has launched a pilot project to place short films from its annual MONITOR film screening into schools across Greater Toronto. Students from the Toronto and Toronto Catholic district school boards from grades 7 through 12 will be taught these short films throughout 2010-11. A more detailed announcement will be made by SAVAC and the TDSB later this fall.

Allan teaches Tapestry at the TDSB's Asian Heritage Month Symposium at OISE last May (photos: Allan)

SAVAC's Education Officer, Allan Tong, spent the better part of 2010 contacting individual schools in the school boards and wrote the teacher's lesson plans for all 12 short films, which include Rex vs. Singh directed by Ali Kazimi, Richard Fung and John Greyson. Many of the films are documentaries though some are animated and experimental. The themes touch on human rights, immigration, Canadian history, racism and gender roles.

TDSB's Asian Heritage Month Symposium

One of the films, Tapestry directed by Sharlene Bamboat, was already taught at symposiums during Asian Heritage Month last May. Allan taught those workshops himself and wishes to thank Karlo Cabrera at the TDSB for co-writing the Tapestry lesson plan with him and for organizing the TDSB event which take place at OISE in downtown Toronto.

Allan also thanks Christine Jackson, the Program Coordinator of The Arts at TDSB, and his colleagues at SAVAC, Srimoyee Mitra, Koko Kurunathan and executive director Haema Sivanesan. This is merely the beginning of the Films Program at SAVAC.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Planet in Focus Film Festival wraps with sold-out Industry Day

Toronto's Planet in Focus just wrapped, boasting sell-out audiences at its Industry Day of panels, pitches and networking sessions.

Industry Day took place at the Miles Nadel Jewish Community Centre last Friday amid the eleventh edition of North America's premiere environmental film festival (October 13-17).

The morning began with an overflowing Green Networking Lounge, where sudden demand forced Industry Programmer Allan Tong to increase the number of micro-meetings from seven to 10. That meant there were 10 simultaneous one-on-one meetings happening between filmmakers who signed up and industry leaders they wanted to meet. Those industry folk included the heads of Telefilm Canada, Astral's Harold Greenberg Fund, NFB, The Canadian Film Centre's NFB Feature Documentary Program, White Pine Pictures, BravoFACT, Vtape, The Toronto Arts Council and LIFT. Filmmakers pitched ideas and sought career advice.

Joan Prowse, co-producer of Eco Heroes TV/web series and Ron Mann, director of In The Wake of the Flood

Directors such as Peter Mettler (Petropolis), Ron Mann, whose In The Wake of the Flood, opened Planet in Focus, and Liz Marshall whose Water on the Table won PIF's Best Feature Documentary prize, spoke at panels later in the day.

Directors Peter Mettler and Liz Marshall

A special panel was devoted to Green Screen Toronto, a new initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of film productions, notorious to wasting everything from gasoline to plastic water bottles. Lead consultant Melissa Felder moderated the panel that included Avi Federgreen, the producer of Score: A Hockey Musical which recently opened the Toronto International Film Festival.
Green Screen's Melissa Felder and Avi Federgreen (producer, Score: A Hockey Musical)

All panels were heavily attended mostly by those who had purchased the $50 ($40 for students) Industry Pass which include the Networking Lounge, a vegetarian lunch and a licensed reception in the early evening. Filmmakers shed light on how they made their pictures and discussed the nature of today's environmental film, the role of advocacy in films, and non-traditional forms of distribution.

Director Malcolm Rogge pitching green

Industry Day climaxed with the annual Green Pitch in which six teams of filmmakers presented their eco-film ideas to a live audience and jury made up of producers from CBC's The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, TVO and the NFB. The jury was deadlocked and did not arrive at a decision for over an hour. The eventual winner was Katarina Soukup for Under The City, a documentary currently in development about vanished waterways running beneath the world's major cities.

As Industry Programmer, Allan thanks all his PIF colleagues including executive director Sarah Margolius, director of programming Kathleen Mullen, and his assistant Majid Kholdabandehlou.

Given the popularity of Industry Day, perhaps Planet in Focus will expand it next year. I'm purely speculating, but all the written feedback I received suggests this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

LEONE STARS launches campaign

The LEONE STARS documentary team has launched a fundraising campaign at to raise $20,000 to shoot a film about the amputee soccer team of Sierra Leone. Donate anywhere from $5 and $5,000 and receive books, t-shirts, photos and CDs in return.

This project has attracted some of the top film, music and photography talents in Canada and the United States: K'NAAN who has contributed his song, "Fire in Freetown," to this trailer you see; Hot Docs board member WALTER FORSYTH who produced the viral hit How to Be Alone and the feature doc CUBERS; New York photographer FIONA ABOUD, and journalist/filmmaker ALLAN TONG.

For full details, please visit

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Want To Be A Desi finalist at Grand River Film Festival

My short comedy, I Want To Be A Desi has been chosen as a finalist in the Open Category of the 2010 Grand River Film Festival's BMO SHORT Shorts Competition. Details.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In A Better World [TIFF review]

Left to Right: Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen)

They say that a filmmaker tells the same story in all his/her films, with each one refining the last one. That theory would apply to Denmark's Susanne Bier whose After The Wedding (2006) and Brothers (2004) explored themes of male violence and fractured families as contrasted between wealthy Scandinavia and the impoverished Third World. Those films featured strong writing and assured performances. In A Better World surpasses them.

In an unnamed war-torn African country, Anton (Everlasting Moments’s Mikael Persbrandt) plays a doctor stitching up mangled bodies in a refugee camp. His work is noble, yet heartbreaking. Amid a world of pain, he carries a stoic dignity about him.

Back home in Denmark, his estranged wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), tries to protect her son, Elias, who's bullied for being Swedish, wearing braces and being shy. Enter the new kid, Christian, who arrives from London with his dad
Claus (Ulrich Thomsen, seen in Brothers) . Immediately, you know that Christian is damaged. Cold and unsmiling, he's burning with anger over the death of his mother to disease and the apparent indifference from his father. When the bullies attack Elias then himself, he takes matters into his own hand -- with a knife.

The two outcasts bond, but Christian's violent streak escalates when a redneck shoves Elias' old man (back on a sojurn) in a brief sidewalk scuffle. Christian finds explosives and wants to blow up the redneck's car. However, Anton later confronts the redneck with the kids in tow and like Gandhi doesn't strike back at his aggressor. He's a little man, he's saying, and his blows don't hurt me.

Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), the moral compass of the film

However, Anton's pacifism is tested when he returns to the Africa camp and the sadistic warlord -- who takes pleasure in butchering the women and children he tries to save -- demands that Anton treat his leg wound.

Bier constructs an edge-of-your-seat thriller without sacrificing deeper themes and rich characterization. Each character has layers and their actions are unexpected. In A Better World is her best film so far.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Teenage Paparazzo [film review]

Austin Visschedyk is just like any other 14-year-old except he chases celebrities for a living. He photographs them in his native Los Angeles and sells those images for hundreds, even thousands of dollars a shot. You know, Paris-Britney-Lindsay-Nicole, chasing them at three in the morning in dodgy parking lots behind all-night clubs. Adrian Grenier knows how that feels. He became a celeb by playing a celebrity on the hit TV series "Entourage" and decided to turn his own camera on Visschedyk and other paparazzi.

Left to right: Grenier, Visschedyk (center, kneeling), Paris Hilton

This is a very good movie. True, it's not the first documentary to focus on the paparazzi, but it stands out by switching roles with one paparazzo--one that can't legally drive nor enter a club. The two form an unlikely bond, and Grenier becomes a more unlikely shooter. Imagine a celebrity who chases other celebrities for money. Meanwhile, Grenier draws so much attention on Visschedyk that the boy becomes an overnight sensation who stars in his own reality show. The Prince and the Pauper switch is the strength of this movie, full of irony.

Grenier does his homework, however. He interviews Visschedyk's parents who indulge their boy in this profession, yet call him during his late-night stakeouts and worry like all parents do. Grenier also talks to a lot of celebs including Paris Hilton who comes off as sort of smart, yet still ditzy. Alec Baldwin (of 30 Rock) fondly recalls having the Empire State Building "shoved up my ass, one brick at a time" by hostile photogs. And he talks to shrinks who of course warn consumers of celebrity rags and TMZ about how alienated they are (i.e. don't have lives of their own).

In fact, Teenage Paparazzo avoids being fluff by delving deeper. One scene that stands out is where Grenier prods Visschedyk into becoming a serious photojournalist by showing him John Filo's famous photograph of the 1970 Kent State shooting. Whereas his mother will always remember that shocking image, Visschedyk remarks that it doesn't look real enough, because not everyone around the dead body is screaming. Grenier answers that Visschedyk is used to seeing over-dramatization in popular images.

Seeing this movie is like walking into a room full of mirrors with image reflecting image without revealing any truth. Teenage Paparazzo succeeds by smashing those mirrors.

Teenage Paparazzo is released today in theatres across Canada. Images courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Scotiabank's EcoLiving website

Allan was part of the editorial team at Green Living Enterprises that assembled the comprehensive Scotiabank EcoLiving website. It includes a massive database listing every home eco-rebate across Canada, from geothermal heating to attic insulation.

To use this site, select your province and town then find and compare various rebates to improve your home in an environmentally yet affordable way.

Be sure to read the articles written be seasoned Toronto journalists to guide you through the rebates.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SAVAC workshops at School Board's Asian Heritage Month

As Education Officer for SAVAC (The South Asian Visual Arts Centre), Allan conducted two workshops to discuss Sharlene Bamboat's film, Tapestry, at yesterday's Asian Heritage Month Symposium. The Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board organized the event at OISE all day yesterday. Classes of grades 9 through 11 discussed the challenges of maintaining and understanding their parents' traditions in multicultural Canada.

SAVAC is offering Tapestry and 10 other short films to high schools across the GTA along with lesson plans to be taught in classes for the 2010-11 school year. The lesson plan for Tapestry is available here.

To sign up for the Schools Program or to obtain further information, please contact Allan at

SAVAC workshops at School Board

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I Want To Be A Desi 2 to screen at Okanagan Film Festival in July

The West Coast loves DESI. The Okanagan International Film Festival has chosen the short documentary by Allan Tong to play at its annual festival taking place July 21-25 in lovely Kelowna, B.C. Desi2 has already screened in San Diego, Vancouver and Portland.

Screening times will appear on the Okanagan site as soon as renovations are done, but sign up at the festival's Facebook group:

Friday, May 7, 2010


89 min ~ Canada & USA
Director: John Zaritsky

Rating (out of 4 stars):
Hot Docs showtimes

Carla Zilbersmith is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease and laughing all the way to her grave. She's a comedian and singer, and making audiences laugh is her way of fighting death and accepting her fate. This is a touching film with a sad undertone, lightened by laughs. Like all comedians not every one-liner by Zilbersmith is a zinger and some jokes fall flat, but that's not the point. It's her battle against death that's the theme. Her relationship with her son is particular honest and resonant with son switching roles with his mother to be the caregiver. Music cues are one too many and tend to sound sentimental. They are unnecessary, since Zilbersmith's story is strong enough on its own.

Director Zaritsky returns to the theme of death after his successful Suicide Tourist a few Hot Docs ago with another strong documentary.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

David Wants To Fly [Hot Docs review]

96 min ~ Germany, Austria & Switzerland
Director: David Sieveking ~ Producers: Martin Heisler & Carl-Ludwig Rettinger

Rating (out of 4 stars):
Hot Docs showtimes

Young, German filmmaker David Sieveking takes the advice of his idol, David Lynch, and studied transcendental meditation (TM), which was founded by the same guru whom The Beatles embraced in 1968, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. David embraces TM and one days hope to "fly" while cross-legged in the meditative position, which looks like a dodo hopping across the floor.

Problem is, the deeper he delves, the more inconsistencies he uncovers: a power struggle that erupts after Maharashi dies; an estate worth billions; the German yogi who wants to open an institute to make Germany "invincible" again, which sounds like Hitler to some; finding a former assistant who poured his savings into serving TM until he was tossed away; a woman whom Maharishi seduced then abandoned; a disillusioned donor who poured $150 million into TM; and so on.

I don't know if Sieveking set out to expose TM or if it came about by serendipity. What's more convincing is TM being a cult with gurus riding stretch limos, mind control, and lawsuits threatening nosy filmmakers.

Oddly enough, Sieveking uses his rocky relationship with his girlfriend as a subplot and it somehow works. Their rollercoaster romance emotionally grounds the film, which is really an investigative piece but told in a wide-eyed tongue-in-cheek manner. David Wants To Fly won't expand your consciousness, but open your eyes.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Space Tourists [Hot Docs review]

~ 98 min ~ Germany
Directed & Produced by Christian Frei

Rating (out of 4 stars):trailer & showtimes

Cash-strapped Russia is now sending tourists into outer space. Well-helled businesswoman Anousheh Ansari is willing to pay $20-million to don a space suit and orbit the Earth for a week. We cheer her for fulfilling her childhood dream of beholding the world inside her capsule. Back on Earth, Kazakh scavengers salvage valuable, but dangerous rocket debris that tumble from the sky after each flight. What are dreams to one person is dinner to another.

Though an award-winner at Sundance, Space Tourists suffers from a languid pace and muddled storytelling. There are some intriguing threads here and contrasts to be made. However, I found the pacing too slow to hold my interest and felt that the story meandered in the middle, despite breathtaking footage of the heavens and intriguing characters like Ansari.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Disco and Atomic War [Hot Docs review]

78 min ~ Estonia & Finland
Director: Jaak Kilmi ~ Producer: Kiur Aarma

Rating (out of 4 stars):Hot Docs showtimes

The little Baltic nation of Estonia was a pain in the butt of the old Soviet empire, according to this entertaining, tongue-in-cheek doc. Lying across the Gulf of Finland was a bourgeois capitalist country that beamed decadent Western shows into Estonian TVs that were rigged with an illegal antenna. Shows like "Dallas" undermined the Workers Paradise, because those antennae as well as videotapes of those shows spread across the Soviet empire like a virus.

Never mind Reagan and rampant corruption, "Who Shot J.R?" and the soft-porn classic Emmanuelle helped bring down the U.S.S.R. Director Klimi sets the right tone throughout. He weaves together stock footage and excerpts from vintage Estonian and Finnish TV (the disco footage is hilarious) to poke fun at the bad old Soviets, but features interviews with historians to keep his story grounded and complex. Tune in, comrade.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Soundtracker [Hot Docs review]

88 min ~ USA
Directed & Produced by Nicholas Sherman

Rating (out o
f 4 stars):trailer & Hot Docs showtimes

Gordon Hempton collects sounds for a living. It's his passion, his calling. He's an Emmy Award-winning sound recordist who has spent the last 30 years gathering the sounds of nature before they disappear in the face of expanding civilization. He roams the U.S. in his microbus and scours forests wearing his sound recording kit. In this film, he doesn't so much record those sounds, but chases them like rare butterflies.

I have never seen a person react with such bliss upon hearing the sound of a whistling locomotive, or get so excited capturing the howls of coyotes at night. In contrast, the deadening hum of hydro poles grates him like fingernails on a chalkboard. Those hums represent the destructive expansion of humans. Little wonder, because Hempton was a botanist before he discovered his calling, one that may have cost him his marriage. He is an environmentalist, but in a class of his own.

Credit director Sherman for putting us in Hempton's shoes and forcing an audience watching a series of images to hear the world like Hempton does. There are no dead spots in this film. Sherman fills the frame with beautiful landscapes and haunting sounds. A film worth hearing as much as seeing.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Candyman: The David Klein Story [Hot Docs review]

76 min ~ New Zealand & USA
Director: Costa Botes ~ Producers: Bert Klein, Jennifer Klein, Costa Botes

Rating (out of 4 stars):
trailer & Hot Docs showtimes

David Klein made a lot of money selling JellyBelly jellybeans, starting in 1976. He's driven, smart and successful. He's also a super mensch--generous and kind. Maybe too kind. He sold his beloved jellybeans for peanuts and today that company earns millions.

This film nicely captures Klein's personality, and his invention will likely attract audiences. However, Candyman lacks a deeper issue to justify its feature-length running time. Are there other sides to Klein's personality? What exactly was the schism between Klein and his son after he gave away the company and now lives in a modest house? With one of its producers being Klein's son, the film only hints at those threads that it should've explored more. Candyman is too sweet for me.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

The Invention of Dr. Nakamats [Hot Docs review]

~ 59 min ~ Germany
Director: Kaspar Astrup Schröder ~ Producer: Mette Heide

Rating (out o
f 4 stars):
Hot Docs showtimes

Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats invented the floppy disk, a pedicab that runs on water, and an inflatable bra. He boasts 3,375 patents compared to Thomas Edison’s measly 1,093, and received the Nobel Prize for Nutrition after photographing and analyzing every meal he has eaten for the last 34 years. At 80 years young, he has his own fan club, works out regularly, and worships his deceased mother.

This film is lighthearted and could have easily trivialized this man, but director Schröder maintains Dr. NakaMats' dignity while celebrating his many facets. NakaMats is brainy, stoic and charming, but also stubborn and imperious. A highlight is watching NakaMats tear a strip off an entrepreneur wanting to buy his bicycle cart at half the price. Some moments, though, are truly surreal, such as NakaMats swimming underwater to jot down ideas on an inkless notepad.

Overall, what shines through in this film is NakaMats' relentless work ethic and unbounded imagination.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tallhotblond [Hot Docs review]

~ 76 min ~ USA
Director: Barbara Schroeder
~ Writers: Barbara Schroeder, Pat Lalama, Glenn Boozan

Rating (out of 4 stars):
Hot Docs showtimes

A middle-aged man in a loveless marriage meets a lonely teenager on the internet. That sounds like a cliche, but it isn't in this extraordinary film.

When we look for twist endings, we expect them in fictional films, not documentaries. Tallhotblond reminds me of Forbidden Lie$, which started with a common situation that ricochets in unexpected directions like a squash ball. Needless to say, I was hooked watching this suspenseful tale.

I'm not going to say much else out of fear of spoiling the story, but I can reveal that something bad happens in this tale of love, lust and the internet, and the villains and victims are not who you'd expect.

For more Hot Docs reviews, visit REEL 'N' ROCK, or sign up as a Follower to this blog.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Allan joins AUX.TV as movie blogger

Allan joins rock cable channel, AUX.TV, as its new rock movie blogger. Allan's reviews will appear at AUX's Box Office program of the finest rock films from around the world.

First up tonight is Todd Haynes' ode to glam rock, Velvet Goldmine. For more of Allan's reviews and essays on rock cinema, please visit REEL 'N' ROCK.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3 DVD reviews in EXCLAIM! magazine

Spring arrives with some fine comedy and action DVD releases. See Allan's reviews at :

Red Cliff
Directed by John Woo

The Yes Men Fix The World
Directed by Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfehr

Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction

I Want To Be A Desi 2 plays DisOrient

Desi2 plays DisOrient on April 24

I Want To Be A Desi 2 screens at the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon in Portland on Saturday, April 24 at noon as part of the Life As We Know It program. The screening marks yet another west coast screening for the six-minute documentary, following successful festival appearances in San Diego and Vancouver. Full festival details and ticket orders at:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Green Living Enterprises

Allan has started researching and writing on Special Projects for Green Living Enterprises, a leading eco-marketing firm in Toronto that is organizing the upcoming Green Living Show. Live green, save money and save the environment.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Desi 2 plays at 2010 University of Toronto Film Festival

I Want To Be A Desi 2 plays on Saturday, March 13 at the University of Toronto Film Festival. This short documentary questioning South Asian identity and the very meaning of the word "desi" appears in a one-hour program devoted to non-student shorts at 5:45 pm. All screenings at this fest are free and take place at Hart House just west of Queen's Park. Go to the second floor Music Room. Full schedule at:

I Want To Be A Desi 2 continues a successful festival run across North America, following screenings in New York, Washington DC, Vancouver, San Diego and Peterborough. The film consists of research undertaken for the short comedy of the same name that will air on Bravo TV in the near future.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Films by Allan Tong

demo reel

LITTLE MAO (trailer)
~ dramedy ~ 2012 ~ 6 min ~ HD

I WANT TO BE A DESI (trailer)
comedy ~ 2009 ~ 7 min ~ HD

I WANT TO BE A DESI 2 (trailer)
~ documentary ~ 2009 ~ 6 min ~ miniDV

~ drama ~ 2008 ~ 14 min ~ super 16mm

~ documentary ~ 2004 ~ 14 min ~ miniDV