Posts tagged ‘movies’

The Future of Asian American Film Festivals (Film Festival Report Part 5)

Babel Gum Film

Babel Gum Film, an online media portal and an online film festival

So what exactly is the future of Asian American Film Festivals in today’s Internet driven postmodern world? This is obviously hard to foresee, but I think the Internet’s effect will generally be positive as it lowers the barrier of entry for media makers. As Jasmine has pointed out in her project, there is already a large Asian American presence on the Internet in the form of various videos hosted on sharing sites such as YouTube. Indeed the Internet has no true filter, so anything anyone produces can be uploaded, but the real question is whether or not anyone is watching. This lowered barrier of entry might lead to Asian American media being relegated to relatively small audiences. (The signal to noise ratio on the Internet is generally large.) Also media is not produced in a vacuum, so it is likely that artists in general will largely imitate was it popular and within their means. This can lead to a homogenization of media. One only needs to look at the top daily YouTube videos to see this. Many of the top videos are simply video blogs done in front of a green screen with amateur digital effects. However it should be noted this isn’t really that much different from what traditional Asian American media has dealt with. As Kayo Hatta said, “One of the frustrating things within the Asian American community sometimes can be that they don’t see something as worthwhile until it’s validated by the mainstream”[1]. So you could have a case where a given Asian American online video is not popular among the Asian American community until the wider Internet community votes it up on digg or shares it a lot on Twitter, etc.

Hayden Films

Hayden Films, an online film festival and media portal

Of course with any lowering of the barrier of entry comes additional criticism. Current Asian American media producers may feel threatened or dismiss the newcomers. The question of legitimacy will arise. I fail to see how this will have a significant impact in a media world where more and more people are consuming media online, whether that is via streaming or downloading. I believe in general the Internet public doesn’t think too deeply about how “legitimate” a given media maker or content provider is, they are just looking for entertainment. Indeed, the fact that a lot of online videos are made for embedding or messaging (email, facebook, twitter, digg, reddit, etc.) to one’s friends show this. And the recommendation of one’s friend is the best marketing a given work can hope for as it adds a personal touch. The Internet also provides for direct communication between media makers and consumers. This can lead to many interesting interactions, such as crowd sourcing the production of a given work or raising funds via online donations systems such as Kickstarter. It also will lead to immediate criticism, but once again criticism is not new to Asian American media. What is specific to Asian American media is that there will always be “cultural critics”, those who deem a work is “not ethnic enough” or “too ethnic”. They perform what Charlotte Brundson calls “redemptive readings”[2] which point out the inconsistencies in a given text to salvage the work for a particular audience. You can already see this at work when people criticize a work as not being ethnically accurate via online comments.

Kick Starter

Kickstarter, an example of crowd sourcing for financing projects

As stated in my previous post, I don’t think any online recognition can truly replace physical world recognition. Still, I think the idea of a “virtual” film festival is intriguing and I wonder if it only a matter of time before we see the idea take off. There are already some in existence and I am sure there will be more. Not only would a virtual film festival be cheaper than a real film festival, it is likely to represent the independent nature and grassroots, “do it yourself” mentality that has been the defining characteristic of the Asian American media movement since the 60s. Perhaps this is not such a weird idea after all.


[1] Xing, Jun p.182 Asian America Through the Lens. Xing, Jun. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
[2] Xing, Jun p.183 Asian America Through the Lens. Xing, Jun. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon 

November 18, 2010 at 11:58 pm 1 comment

Why Asian American Film Festivals? (Film Festival Report Part 4)

SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine(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”[1] 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”[2]. 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.

Chan is Missing

Chan is Missing a typical Asian American Film Festival film?

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[3]. 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).

Rush Hour

You most likely won't see this at an Asian American Film Festival.

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.


[1] Xing, Jun p.177 Asian America Through the Lens. Xing, Jun. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
[2] Xing, Jun p.177 Asian America Through the Lens. Xing, Jun. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
[3] Xing, Jun p.178 Asian America Through the Lens. Xing, Jun. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon 

November 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm 1 comment

Planning & Programming (Film Festival Report Part 2)

SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine(from SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine)

As our guest speaker Abe Ferrer (Co-Director of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival) pointed out in his visit, film festivals choose from a huge pool of media for screening. Abe mentioned that for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival there were hundreds of entries and he personally watched at least a part of 300 or so. The general process is there is a “call for submissions” during which virtually anyone can submit a work for screening consideration provided they meet eligibility requirements and pay a submission fee. The eligibility for an Asian American Film Festival usually requires that the film either be produced by Asian Americans, feature Asian American, and/or deal with topics related to Asian Americans. (Note the definition of “Asian Americans” can be quite broad or restrictive depending upon the festival.) A given festival may require only one of these aspects or all three. Both The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival accept “films and videos that are made by or about Asian Americans and Asians of any nationality. All lengths and genres will be considered.” These are definitely quite broad eligibility requirements. Submission fees are usually graduated as well, there is an “early deadline” and a “late deadline” in terms of submission dates and submitters pay more if they submit after the “early deadline”. Note that the entry fees for Asian American film festivals are generally less than those of bigger, better known film festivals such as Sundance. The lower costs and wider eligibility requirements are necessary because of the nature of Asian American media: it is generally independently produced and often not feature length.

As Prof. Ma pointed out in his guidelines to our film festival, there are other criteria in play during the selection process than simply “Is [the work] well made?” There are issues of “breaking new ground” and whether or not a work speaks to the “Asian American experience”. Abe mentioned that a work can be somewhat un-polished or not super professional in technical terms, but will still get selected for their festival simply because it represents a new or seldom seen point of view. (RASPBERRY MAGIC and THE TAQWACORES immediately come to mind in the “new or seldom seen point of view” aspect.) Of course, a real film festival (unlike ours) has to sell enough tickets and secure enough sponsorship to at least break even assuming the festival organizers want to continue running it. This means picking some more mainstream polished works that will both please and attract a crowd. Festivals generally have a couple “big draw” films in big theaters and venues while the (theoretically) less popular shorts and experimental films get smaller venues. One good example of this is New York’s Asian American International Film Festival, which screened PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH as the Closing Night Presentation. We also screened this film as our last program as the class felt it was a “crowd pleasing” movie and an “easy sell”.

Quentin Lee taking questions (Quentin Lee taking questions)

As we found out first hand, there is one additional aspect during film festival programming that cannot be overlooked: scheduling. Not only in terms of securing venues and equipment to actual screen works, but the schedules of the filmmakers must be taken into consideration as well. The main draw of a film festival is that after a screening various members of the cast and crew are present for a question and answer panel. This usually includes the director, producer, and a lead actor or more of the cast. Obviously the film festival’s screening times must be such that cast and crew can attend. We selected our films and shorts based on not only class voting but whether or not the filmmakers could make a Q&A panel afterwards. (We even used Skype to talk to the producer and director of RASPBERRY MAGIC.)

Finally there is the serial vs. compressed format issue. A serial format is one where a work is screened on a certain day at a specific time for a given amount of weeks. (Last year’s festival for this class was used this format; works were shown every Thursday at 7PM for 4 weeks straight.) The compressed format is something akin to a convention, works are screened continuously throughout the day (space and time permitting) and each day has its own set of screening. The vast majority of film festivals are of the compressed format. Every festival mentioned so far in this post, including Sundance, uses the compressed format. One generally sees a serial format at places such as universities or independent theaters that will do a film series such as “noir night” every Thursday in November. One good example of this is the Silent Movie Theater, which (true to its name) screens a silent movie every Wednesday among other programs.

-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon

November 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm 2 comments

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

(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
(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

November 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm 3 comments

THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH: Sat. Nov 6 7PM @ Benson Auditorium

Angela Yang loves sex. She loves it so much she makes baseball cards of her lovers to help her remember all of them. But when she finds out that she’s pregnant, can she put it all behind her and lead a normal life? As we take a dive into the world of Angela, we laugh, we cry, and we sometimes cringe as we follow her on her search for the baby daddy.

Angela Yang is very much defined by her sexuality and struggles with this identity as she is challenged by the prospects of being a mother. Her best friend Gabriel Lugo is fighting a parallel battle of love and commitment. As Angela attempts to exit her sexualized party-going life, so does Gabriel. While Angela seeks out her identity as an Asian American female, Gabriel searches his identity as a gay Latino. This film delves into the themes and motifs of race, sexuality in the modern day and stereotypes. The relationship between Gabriel and Angela makes us laugh as their own motivations change and manifest themselves in their advice to one another.

The People I’ve Slept With is directed by Quentin Lee and stares Karin Anna Cheung (Better Luck Tomorrow), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), and Archie Kao (CSI).

-post by Galen Lieberworth, Rebecca Potts-Dupre, Amy Ruskin

November 5, 2010 at 8:07 am Leave a comment

Finding Our Voices Saturday Nov. 6th @ 4pm

(2009) Dir. Ken Ochiai
1942: World War II has reached American soil. Kenneth Handa, an adolescent Japanese-American, has been imprisoned in the Manzanar War Relocation Camp for three years. After his father’s passing, Kenneth hatches a plan to escape and find his Caucasian mother who lives just a few hours away. Things become complicated, however, when Kenneth’s little brother, Jo, joins him at the last minute.
22 min.

(2009) Dir. Wendy J.N. Lee
A young Asian-American girl hides under the table at a dinner party, imagining the woman she might grow up to be based on three pairs of shoes that have caught her attention. Her imagination transports her forward to life as a ruthless businesswoman, a love-lorn romantic, and an angry artist with an animalistic roar.
4 min.

(2010) Dir.: Mark Villegas
Take a glimpse into the lives of hip hop artists from Metro Manila, in a country where hip hop culture is under constant scrutiny from a skeptical public. What will it take for these artists to prove their skills? Will hip hop become big in the Philippines or will it be forever discarded as ‘jologs,’ underclass, and uncultured? These hardworking hip hop heads show you the passion and style they bring to the game where lyrical boundaries blur and innovation is prized.
20 min.

(2010) Dir. William Kwok
For many Asian American families, grandparents play a crucial role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. In GRANDMA, the filmmaker, a Chinese American, asks his grandmother, who helped raise him and his brother, to reflect upon his brother’s autism.
5 min.

(2010) Dir. Tani Ikeda
WIND IN A BOX is an experimental documentary about a young transgender Filipino American named Raf and his spiritual journey as a shaman. Raf is determined to become the next Babaylan shaman in the family, but must heal his spirit without separating his queer identity from his Filipino tradition.
5 min.

November 4, 2010 at 11:43 pm 1 comment

Raspberry Magic Friday Nov. 5th @ 7PM

RASPBERRY MAGIC (2009) Dir. Leena Pendharkar
Location: Benson Auditorium

11-year-old Monica Shah (Lily Javaherpour) believes raspberries are
“the perfect balance of sweet and sour, the good and the bad.” Her
father has just lost his job and left his family, her mother has
fallen into depression, and now her little sister refuses to go to
school. It’s up to Monica to bring them all back together, all while
trying to win the science fair by proving human touch makes raspberry
plants grow faster. RASPBERRY MAGIC offers an inspiring tale of love’s
power to reunite and the value of following your dreams.

Though the family at the center of RASPBERRY MAGIC is Indian,
questions of race and ethnicity are not front and center of this
kid-safe film. Beyond physical appearance and fusion cooking, the Shah
family is the same as many a family down on its luck. Their economic
struggles are met with less than responsible reactions on the part of
the adults, but in their failings, Monica’s heartwarming maturity is
given a chance to shine. It is gratifying to find a young girl in the
role of the dorky but lovable science nerd. Full of brains and
perseverance, Monica is a protagonist we can really root for as she
navigates stumbling family members, mountains of dirty dishes, science
fair sabotage, robots, and the magic of raspberries.

(88 min.)
In Person (via Skype): Leena Pendharkar and Megha Kadakia, Producer

November 4, 2010 at 5:58 pm Leave a comment

Year of the Dragon (1985)

Released in 1982 by MGM, Year of the Dragon is a thriller starring Mickey Rourke (who has not aged well), John Lone (famous for The Last Emperor) and Ariane Koizumi (her first role). The film was met with controversy for its depiction of Chinatown and Asian Americans by the Chinese American and Asian American community and as a result a disclaimer was attached to its opening credits. With a production budget of $24M the film made less than $19M, making it a commercial flop. It was based on a novel by Robert Daley (written in 1981) which in turn was adapted by Michael Cimino who brought in Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, JFK, W.) to help due to time constraints. Michael Cimino is also the director, his previous include Magnum Force (Dirty Harry movie) and The Deer Hunter (also another movie which a presents a view of Asians and Asian Americans).

The plot of the film is about two similar men in their respective communities and how they do not really fit in. Both Stanley White and Joey Tai do not obey superiors or elders and are aggressive men who do what it takes to get the job done. This often puts them in direct conflict with the status quo of their communities. Both the police and Chinatown triads have an agreement and a status quo that both these characters disrupt. White vows to cleanup Chinatown by any means necessary while Joey Tai ruthlessly rises to top of his criminal organization. In the end, White is ultimately victorious (though he loses his wife) and Tai commits suicide.

-Written and Posted by Jonathan Soon & Megan Kilroy

October 29, 2010 at 2:13 am Leave a comment

China as New Foreign Threat to America + “Evil Chinese Professor” Contest

Part of this class is a discussion on how foreign Asians are portrayed in America. A lot of the class has discussed the “Yellow Peril” theme of the past. Today in terms of foreign enemies, it looks like the Chinese are the new Japanese for Americans. Where once America saw the Japanese as foreign threat (WWII, 1980s economic warfare) we’ve now apparently reached the point where China is the new threat.

It makes sense. Even though we aren’t fighting a physical war with China, we are involved with increasing economic tensions (China owns most of our debt! China is keeping their currency artificially low! China may cut off our supply of Rare Earth Metals!). Add to the fact they are “Communist” and most of our manufacturing is done over there and you can probably see why some people feel threatened.

Case in point, check out this YT video by the Citizens Against Government Waste Coalition:

It’s a new Red Scare! I especially like the comparison of America to the British and Roman Empires. And how you can tell you are in Beijing in the opening shot because of the huge Mao and Communist imagery posters. Also the cool classroom technology of the future is great. Indeed, digital effects are put to great use in this.

DISGRASIAN, in conjunction with 8Asians, Angry Asian Man, and Reappropriate are running a contest where you can re-subtitle the video for hilarious results. There is a prize though they don’t specifically state what it is. Still, your resulting video will get some serious views if it wins which can be worth something.

Campus Progress Action has apparently already entered this contest. Check out their video here. (It’s vimeo so I can’t get it to embed in wordpress.)
There’s also another one here, which was done for an NPR piece on this whole issue.

I’m also reminded about the upcoming remake (featuring Chris Hemsworth aka Thor) of Red Dawn. For those of you too young to remember (or avoid cheesy 80s films), the original Red Dawn told the tale of a Soviet & Cuban invasion of the Mainland United States. The film centers on the experiences of a bunch of teenagers in Colorado who are caught in the middle of the invasion. The opening scene is of Cuban paratroopers taking over the high school the kids go to. (Obviously high schools are a high value target.) Lead by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, the teenagers soon wage guerrilla warfare against their new Communist oppressors under their high school mascot “WOLVERINES!”. The remake updates the enemies to the Chinese as they are the only threatening Communists left I guess. I’m not going to lie, I love the original Red Dawn because it is so ridiculous (high schoolers waging guerrilla warfare against Communists) and has some great scenes (invading forces uses lists of registered gun owners to round people up, establish re-education camps, etc.). I’m sort of looking forward to the new one. Maybe the Chinese Americans in the new Red Dawn will be like Manchurian Candidates and have genetic triggers that cause them to betray America! That would be hilarious.

-Written & posted by Jonathan Soon

October 28, 2010 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment


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