Why Asian American Film Festivals? (Film Festival Report Part 4)
(from SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine)
So what exactly is the point of Asian American Film Festivals? Why do they exist? And are they necessary in our post-modern, Internet driven, mobile media world? I argue that Asian American Film Festivals are still relevant today for various reasons.
The first is mainly historical. As we have seen in class, the Asian American media movement has always had its roots in the social and political movements of the 1960s (civil rights and ethnic studies respectively). The movement “developed its own agenda and aesthetic in opposition to [the] mainstream” The result of this is the “anti-slick” look of many Asian American media of the time as well as the attempt to “abolish the division between art and life, between filmmakers and viewers”. Thus modern Asian American works have their roots in media that are not something typically found in Hollywood, and not something that can really be consumed by a mass audience.
Enter the Asian American Film Festival. An Asian American Film Festival provides a venue for exactly the sorts of work that the Asian American community produces. Though they may have big corporate sponsors, the Film Festival circuit offers both media producers and consumers a taste of something different, something decidedly not Hollywood or mainstream. Asian American Film Festival often feature the first work of a rising star that later may go onto widespread mainstream success. Both Wayne Wang’s CHAN IS MISSING and Ang Lee’s thesis film were both screened at the Asian American International Film Festival in New York. Asian American Film Festivals present characters, settings, and viewpoints from a culture that is critically underepresentated in mainstream media. I know in particular from our pool I was very impressed by Michael Aki’s STRANGERS, a neo-noir thriller with Asian male and female leads. I admit I am not used to seeing an American film where the two main leads are not only Asian, but their “Asianness” is not a factor (he is not a martial arts master, she is not a Lotus Blossom or Dragon Lady). I also loved how the comedic sidekick was Caucasian instead of an ethnic minority as it usually would be in an action/thriller film (RUSH HOUR comes immediately to mind).
I believe that even in today’s Internet driven world where people watch an increasing amount of media via the Internet and on mobile devices (including not just smartphones but tablets like the iPad) that Asian American Film Festivals are still important. This is because they provide legitimacy and physical recognition that the Internet can never provide. No matter how many subscribers a YouTube media producer may have, it does not compare to being able to do a Q&A in front of live people or hearing the physical applause in a theater after one’s work has screened. I believe most people would also view any media screened at a major Asian American Film Festival as “more legitimate” and “more prestigious” than a “random” online web video. While this may change in the future with award shows like The Streamys, I think we are still a decade or more off from this occurring.
-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon