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This is a story about an Asian Canadian trailblazer.
She was born in the Asian zodiac year of Fire Horse – a year that symbolizes fierceness, independent spirit, and determination. Her parents worried that the first horse element was too aggressive for a woman, and so they changed her birth year in her birth certificate.
Growing up, she didn’t know any of this. But ironically, she went on to pursue her career with all the symbolic qualities of a fire horse.
She found her love in filmmaking and later mentoring other filmmakers. She became one of the first Asian Canadian producers working at the National Film Board of Canada.
In the late 90s, she was traveling the Asian film festival circuit in the U.S, and a seed grew in her mind: how could she build a similar hub for Asian filmmakers in Canada?
Yes. You’ve probably guessed it by now. This is the story of Reel Asian’s founder, TIFF’s Chief Programming Officer, and former Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada’s Ontario Studio, Anita Lee. Anita Lee’s story and legacy is inspiring because it tells us what is possible for BIPOC filmmakers and media creators in this country. It also tells us what happens after BIPOC filmmakers accomplish success and reach leadership positions – they become creators and mentors for the future generations.
We need more Anitas in the Canadian media arts landscape to brace new trails and provide opportunities Anita had put the fire horse spirit in Reel Asian’s DNA. And this year, at the 25th anniversary juncture of Reel Asian, we want to celebrate that spirit.
On the occasion of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival’s 25th anniversary, the festival will establish the Fire Horse Award in honour of Anita Lee, Reel Asian founder and Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada’s Ontario Studio. Signifying the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for Asian Canadian media arts, the Fire Horse Award will recognize an Asian-Canadian member of the film and media arts community who has blazed a trail for others to follow, whose work has been transformational, representational and inspiring.
The name of the award was inspired by Anita’s story — according to the Asian zodiac, she was born in the year of the fire horse, which only occurs once every 60 years. People born in those years are said to be change makers: original and creative thinkers, independent and mission-driven leaders.
The Fire Horse Award will recognize the award recipient’s remarkable body of work and its significant impact on the larger community, and anticipation of future contributions to the fields of film, television, media arts, and other screen-based practices, which have a powerful influence on how Asians see ourselves and how others see us—making the support of authentic voices vital.
We’re currently raising funds for the Fire Horse award and invite you to make a donation to support this cause.
All donors will receive a full tax receipt* and receive recognition on the Fire Horse Award page.
*Reel Asian is a registered charity based in Canada. The tax receipt issued by Reel Asian can only be used for the Canadian tax reporting purpose. For international donors, a gift acknowledgement receipt is available upon request for gift $100 CAD+. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org should you have any questions or request.
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