Asian American International Film Festival Offers Increasingly Diverse Program
by Claiborne Smith
The organizers of the 26th Asian American International Film Festival held the festival’s press conference in the stately Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium in New York’s Asia Society, which sits squarely in the middle of New York’s tony Upper East Side. At first glance, it seemed like an oddly ornate place to put 14 backpack-toting, mostly young filmmakers and actors talking about their movies that hadn’t found distribution yet, had never been screened in the U.S., or hadn’t been shown to audiences at all.
But as the filmmakers began to talk about the arduous process and pleasure of making their movies, it became clear that festival organizers intended the plush Asia Society – also the venue where most of the fest’s films are being shown — to put the filmmakers’ struggles on a pedestal. Christine Simpson, the director of a short video, “Tea,” talked about paying for her production out of her own pocket, a not uncommon occurrence among young filmmakers, but her confession compelled Ron Domingo, the director and co-producer of “Chocolate,” another video short screening at the festival to talk about the tight community of Asian filmmakers with whom he works.
That cohesiveness is something festival organizers are trying to convey to audiences. After the press conference had finished, festival director Diana Lee told indieWIRE that the festival has expanded this year to include films from Asian nations that hadn’t received much exposure at the festival in previous years. “It’s extremely diverse compared with other years,” Lee said. “We’re screening films from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. We’re also opening with an Indian film, which we’ve never done before, and we usually try to close with an American film or an Asian-American film and this year we’re closing with a Canadian film. We’re trying to reflect different parts of the Asian diaspora and to have something for everyone who comes through the door.”
The charming relationship comedy “Flavors,” about a young South Asian man trying to marry a white woman, sold out its first screening, Renata Huang‘s “Tribute and Remembrance: Asian Americans After 9/11” enjoyed a packed house, and the shorts program “All Is Full of Love” and the opening night film “A Peck on the Cheek” also sold out.
But the festival’s more eclectic offerings tend to offer insight into corners of the world that many Westerners rarely ascertain. The shorts program Chinese Student Films, mostly from the Beijing Broadcasting Institute’s School of Cinema & TV, is a new offering this year. “Dekada ’70” focuses on Amanda Bartolome, a middle-class Filipino woman struggling to survive the most brutal years of the Marcos dictatorship. It has its world premiere at the festival. “Enter the Clowns” is a series of fictional, arresting vignettes from Beijing director Cui Zi’en about Chinese citizens who have opted to become the opposite sex (the first episode, “Xiao Bo After Mother or Father’s Death,” features a young straight man trying to console his dying father, who has become his mother, by performing her spooky sexual requests). “Enter the Clowns” may be wildly uneven, but in its nearly breathless zigzag, it hits upon indelibly evocative characters who seem strikingly non-foreign despite their geographical distance.
The 26th Asian American International Film Festival runs through Sunday; a complete schedule can be found at http://www.asiancinevision.org