ReelWorld Film Festival Explores Cross-Cultural Connections

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It's easy to perceive differences between cultures and conclude the challenges of our own cultures and families are unique. ReelWorld Film Festival provides an opportunity to explore the similarities between families and cultures around the world.

ReelWorld was started by Tonya Lee Williams, the professional actress of Jamaican heritage who launched her career in Toronto and eventually landed the role of Dr. Olivia Barber Winters on The Young and the Restless. The annual film festival, now in its 14th year, provides a showcase for Aboriginal, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, South Asian and West Indian filmmakers.

The films represented a range of cultural perspectives yet, a number of them explored similar themes including conflict between couples, family dynamics and the proverbial skeletons in the family closet.

It took personal sacrifice by their creators to bring to the screen Destiny, a feature produced and directed by Jeremy Whittaker, a Jamaican filmmaker living in Toronto, and Pretty Rosebud, the work of Cuban-American actor Oscar Torre (Hangover II, Eenie Meenie Miney Moe) and his wife, actress Chuti Tiu (Chasing Life, Raising Hope). Destiny was primarily financed by Jeremy Whittaker and his family. Pretty Rosebud was self-financed by the husband and wife team. The screenplay was written by Chuti Tiu (who also played the lead role of Cissy Santos) and produced and directed by Oscar Torre.

Both films had multi-cultural casts and crews. For example, the female leads of both films are of mixed heritage. Raised in Canada, Jamaican-born Karian Sang, who plays Lisa Collen in Destiny, is of African, Chinese, Scottish, and Cuban heritage. Like Cissy, the lead character she plays in Pretty Rosebud, Chuti Tiu is of Chinese and Filipino heritage.

Legendary Jamaican actor Munair Zacca who is of Syrian heritage, plays Mr. Baxter, the lawyer in Destiny. Kerstin Whittaker, who plays Lisa's aunt, is a White Jamaican actress and writer.

In Pretty Rosebud, Phil, Cissy's husband, is played by Kipp Shiotani, an American actor of Japanese heritage. Her father is played by Dana Lee, a Chinese- American actor.


Destiny, a romantic drama filmed in Toronto and Jamaica, features some of the most stunning panoramic views of Jamaica filmed in a long time. Destiny follows the journey of twenty-something Lisa. Of Jamaican heritage and born and raised in Canada, Lisa, is in the process of extricating herself from an unhealthy relationship with her cheating boyfriend.

When she travels to Jamaica to sort out the estate of her parents who were killed in a car accident, Lisa discovers that her father had been unfaithful to her mother and fathered another child. While she is attempting to cope with the stress of the claim on the estate that the child's mother has laid on behalf of her son, Lisa uncovers another family secret.

Pretty Rosebud

Pretty Rosewood explores the strained relationship between Cissy, an achievement-oriented woman marketing professional and her husband, Phil, an unemployed architect who has lost his drive for success. Aching from the lack of fulfillment in her loveless and childless marriage and trapped in a role reversal that she does not desire, Cissy engages in a series of extra-marital affairs. She finally confronts her father about his infidelity which her parents had gone to great lengths to conceal.

A crisis is precipiated when Phil follows Cissy one night and jumps to the incorrect conclusion that she is cheating with a co-worker. Cissy assumes that Phil has discovered her "real" secret. In desperation she throws her self into the ocean and thrashes about in the waves, a metaphor for her personal struggles. The couple decides to end their marriage and marks it with a ceremony of dissolution.

It has been said that all families are dysfunctional to one degree or another. ReelWorld has selected a number of films that are an important reminder that, despite our perceived cultural differences, couples, families and communities around the world face similar challenges and struggles. It is reassuring and a source of optimism that, in both Pretty Rosebud and Destiny, faith and spirituality were a source of comfort to the protagonists and their families. These films provide an opportunity to open the dialogue that is needed for shared understanding, reconciliation, growth, and healing at the personal, familial and community levels.

ReelWorld Film Festival continues in Markham from April 11 - 13, 2014. Destiny will be screened again on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 2:30 PM at Cineplex Odeon First Markham Place.