Li Dong's dark comedy stars Celine Tsai as an Asian-Canadian university student on trial for plagiarism, with Reign's Jonathan Keltz as her accuser
Li Dong’s Stealing School is a dark comedy about an Asian-Canadian student accused of plagiarism and forced to prove her innocence before an academic tribunal one week before graduation. The film makes its virtual debut June 19 at 8 pm on Vimeo On Demand, and will be available to rent or purchase on Apple TV and iTunes June 23. NOW Magazine is proud to present the exclusive premiere of the film’s trailer.
“Racial injustice has always been an issue in this country, but it’s much more pressing now – and the movie deals with that in its own unique way,” says writer/director Dong, who makes his feature directorial debut with the film. “So hopefully that will resonate with Canadian audiences.”
The film’s origins reach all the way back to Dong’s years as a law student at Dalhousie.
“I would hear about these academic tribunals through whisper networks of people who were on them or had been on trial at them and whatnot,” he says. “They were a bit of a dirty secret in academia, which of course only made them more interesting to me. So I dug a little bit more and I found they ran them like mini-trials. And I realized I could use the scenario of a courtroom drama to explore these themes and ideas that I was very interested in.”
Dong also cites the 2014 Israeli drama Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem as a key inspiration.
“That movie is also set in one courtroom,” he says. “It’s about a woman trying to get a divorce, and it’s absurd and dramatic and funny and there’s kind of a thriller element to it as well. I was so impressed with how much they were able to wring from this one story scenario, and I thought to myself, if I was going to make a first movie, it should be something where I can use one story vehicle to talk about all the things that matter to me – which include racial tensions, the importance of higher education, power dynamics and the abuse of power – but also make it hopefully funny and interesting to a younger audience.”
Shot in Toronto in the summer of 2018, Stealing School stars Celine Tsai as April Chen, with Reign’s Jonathan Keltz as Keith Ward, the teaching assistant with his own motivations for bringing the charges against April. The cast also includes Michelle Monteith, Darrin Baker, Matthew Edison, Sugith Varughese, Vas Saranga and Mpho Koaho as April’s advocate Micah Shaw.
“It was very, very hot in that room,” Dong recalls. “Another movie that inspired this was Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, in which everything happens over one extremely hot day. I wanted to capture the same sort of pressure-cooker atmosphere of all these people with different interests, and a certain amount of racial tension in the room, and just have those people being forced to be in close proximity to each other to try to get to the bottom of this issue.”
And despite the potentially weighty subject matter, Dong would like audiences to know the movie is first and foremost supposed to be fun.
“I always set out with the mission to entertain the audience,” he says. “Even though it has important and serious themes that should be taken seriously, the scenario in which the story takes place is ridiculous. Some of the characters that come in are absurd, and the conflicts get heightened to a hopefully funny and satirical degree. Mainly I want people to have fun watching the movie, and if they want to talk about some of the issues discussed in the movie later, I think I’ve given them plenty of opportunity to do that as well.
“I used to joke that this is the kind of movie that you would watch when you’re hung over, right?” Dong laughs. “You just want to, like, sit and watch something that’s fun and not too heavy.”
Distributed by Game Theory Films, Stealing School premieres on Vimeo On Demand June 19 at 8 pm, and will be available for rental and purchase on Apple TV and iTunes June 23.