A Brief History of Asian American Film Festivals (Film Festival Report Part 1)

November 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm 3 comments

(This is the first in a series of blog posts that discusses Asian American film festivals. I plan on addressing not only the history of such festivals, but the reasons why they are important and how we can make them better. I will also comment on what I think is the future for Asian American film festivals with the advent of modern technology such as video sharing sites like YouTube. This will be a series of 5 posts, with the first being a brief history of major Asian American Film Festivals in North America. The second post will discuss the planning and programming of such a film festival, the third will be a collection of tips and tricks for running a small film festival. The fourth post will address the role that Asian American film festivals fill and the fifth and final post will discuss the future of Asian American film festivals.)

Asian American Film Festivals were born out of the Asian American rights movements of the late 1970s. Like the rights movements, the Asian American Film Festivals have “do it yourself” philosophy and are generally independently run like most film festivals. They are of varying size and attract sponsors from a diverse community. For many people, film festivals represent the only real (and legal) way to view Asian American films and shorts. This is because of limited distribution opportunities. Additionally, “many Asian American film/video makers and spectators produce and consume movies without an awareness of Asian American cinema as an artistic tradition.”[1] San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles all host major Asian American Film Festivals[2].

Screen Grab of SF IAAFF 2010
(San Fransico International Asian American Film Festival)

The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival started in 1982. It was started by the NAATA (National Asian American Telecommunications Association). In 1985 there was a brief break (the only break for the 28year festival run) due to the National Asian American Media Arts Conference at UCLA. Starting in 1986 the festival was run as its own independent entity. Today, the festival is run by the Center for Asian America Media which describes the event as “an important launching point for Asian American independent filmmakers”.  The center not only funds projects such as the festival, but it also produces and distributes tv spots and other media as well. (It’s both a producer and distributor of media.) In recent years (2002-today) there has been a lot of “crossing over” in terms of the festival audience, with an increasing number of non-Asian audience members. This is probably due in part to the mainstream success of films like Justin Lin’s BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (2002).

Screen Grab of www.aaiff.org/2010
(Asian American International Film Festival in New York)

The Asian American International Film Festival in New York was founded in 1978. The goal is “a platform for filmmakers of all backgrounds to develop the constructs of Asian cinema and cultivate the next generation of talent”. The festival is produced by Asian CineVision which is “a not-for-profit national media arts organization dedicated to the development, promotion and preservation of film and video arts by and about people of Asian descent” that was founded in 1976. Asian CineVision has a membership that pays dues that help fund not only the film festival, but various programming and opportunities for media artists. The 2010 Asian American International Film Festival included screenings of Quentin Lee’s PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH (Closing Night Presentation) as well as Bruce Beresford’s MAO’S LAST DANCER which was later released as an art house film with limited distribution.

LA APFF 2010 Screen Grab
(Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival)

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival started in 1983 “as a vehicle to promote Asian and Asian Pacific American cinema”. The festival is one of the largest Asian American related events in Los Angeles and is heavily staffed by volunteers. The festival is produced by Visual Communications which from our readings we know as the oldest Asian American media arts company/group in the United States (founded in 1970). One interesting thing to note as our guest Abe Ferrer pointed out was that they consider other ethnic groups as Asian that are not normally considered to be Asian by other Asian American film festivals. These include South Asians (Indians, Pakistani) as well as Russians among others. The 2010 festival screened RASPBERRY MAGIC (about an Indian family) and THE TAQWACORES (about a first-generation Pakistani) as examples of films produced by these groups. In addition to Asian American works, the festival spotlights programs from countries that are not usually seen here “including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, among others“ For our festival (see below), the viewing pool consisted of a subset of works screened at the 2010 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Flyer for 2010 Mini Festival of Recent Asian American Films
(The 2010 Mini Festival of Recent Asian American Films)

The Mini Festival of Recent Asian American Films is the film festival we put on for our class, Media Studies 100 PZ: Asian American in Media. The first festival was last year (Spring 2010) and was primarily programmed and planned by Prof. Ming-Yuen Ma. This time around, the students of the class did most of the programming and planning. (A future blog post will go into the process of selection and planning of the film festival.) Though the 2010 Mini Festival or Recent Asian American Films was only the 2nd such film festival, the overall attendance was already greater than the last one and there will be future festivals. Hopefully the festival can grow in time to at least become an annual event on Pitzer College of some note!


 

[1] Feng, Peter p.6 Screening Asian Americans. Ed. Peter X Feng. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
[2] Feng, Peter p. 6 Screening Asian Americans. Ed. Peter X Feng. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

 
-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon

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Blog series: Asian Americans on Youtube (Part 1-Intro) Planning & Programming (Film Festival Report Part 2)

3 Comments Add your own

  • […] are essentially like every other event; one must keep track off and complete a variety of tasks. Recall that Asian American Film Festival are generally staffed by volunteers (I know Visual Communications […]

    Reply
  • 2. Galen  |  November 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Your background information on all the festivals is very good. You seem to have an incredibly good grasp on the other film festivals in terms of information. I think where this could be improved is with continuity. As I was reading the separate descriptions of each film festival the information was relevant but I found it difficult to concentrate on the importance as a whole. There were distinct sections for each of the descriptions, but perhaps they were too defined and detracted from the overall flow of the post.

    I enjoyed your first paragraph with the reasons for the limitations of Asian American media, but I wish you had spent more time expanding on it and perhaps more of your own thoughts as to why this is.

    Finally, the last description of our film festival was a nice touch but I’m not sure it adds anything in terms of new information. Perhaps try to rephrase/rework it so we gain some new perspective on it. (comparing it with other established film festivals might work)

    -Galen

    Reply
  • 3. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Further Comments on the Final Version of your Project:

    The introductory paragraph you added definitely helps to define the scope of your project. I believe your thesis is in there, but would have liked to see it more strongly stated.

    The hypertext additions also help to connect your study to the web presence of the Asian American film festivals themselves. It is also an interesting form of digital citation. However, I think the IMDB links are probably not necessary (I would advice linking to the film and filmmakers’ web sites, if available) and repeated links within the project can also be eliminated. I also find it interesting that you did not include moving image or sound media links in your posts—is there a specific reason why?

    Posted by Ming-Yuen S. Ma

    Reply

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