The visual image for the 2017 San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) is a 1980s-style neon Tatung rice cooker — an item that means a lot to the Asian-American community, symbolizing warmth, nourishment, and the safety and aroma of home.
But the rice cooker is also an image that stands for things boiling over or cooking up, as in anger at social injustice and inequality. Either way you look at it, the rice cooker leads people to the table to eat, argue, talk, converse, complain, tell stories and share secrets — some of which are made into films that chronicle our changing times.
This year’s SDAFF, Nov. 9-18 (the 18th annual), is the place where such stories, coming from 20 countries, and spoken in 30 different languages, will be told. Brian Hu, Ph.D., artistic director of the festival, attended UCLA Film School, and sorted through some 1,000 submitted films to choose the 150 that comprise this year’s festival. “I really believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to have their voice heard,” said Hu. “So it just breaks my heart to have to reject so many films. But it’s a necessary part of my job to select the very best films of the year.”
Hu is a big fan of the late artist and film critic Manny Farber, who was a professor in the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego for many years. “Before I start to write up the synopsis of the festival films, I read three of Farber’s articles on film, just to get me warmed up and in the right mood,” Hu said. “Farber was perhaps the best film critic ever. His writing is very clear, yet filled with complex thinking about movies.”
Kent Lee, SDAFF executive director, said all the films selected align with the mission of the Pacific Arts Movement, the parent cultural organization from which the festival springs. “(With this festival) we hope to build a sense of a community where people can watch films together and talk to each other about them in order to be more compassionate and understanding of the great diversity of people throughout the world,” Lee explained.
Elvin Lai, owner of the Ocean Park Inn in Mission Beach and co-owner of Cork & Craft Restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, was giving out free samples from his restaurants at the festival’s Chew the Scene kick-off event, Oct. 14 at The Brick in Liberty Station. Lai’s been involved with the festival for many years. “My hope is that it will be an opportunity to help make all the divergent and diverse people of America mainstream; so that when you see or meet someone different than you, you will naturally think that they are totally normal!” Lai laughed.
La Jolla real estate agent Robert Nelson was also at the launch event with his wife Jean, who is Japanese. “My wife and I come to the festival because we enjoy watching Asian films together,” he professed with a smile.
Maria Cate also endorsed the festival previews. She works in the corporate offices of the Scripps House in La Jolla and is married to Chris Cate, District 6 City Council member. “I am Filipino and my husband is half Filipino, so we especially look forward to seeing all the Filipino films in the festival so we can get a better idea of what’s going on in our homeland.”
On the marquee
Opening night is 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Natural History Museum Theater in Balbao Park, where a romantic comedy from Japan, “Oh Lucy,” will screen. Closing night, Friday, Nov. 17 will also be held at The NAT, screening a powerful documentary from Canada, “A Better Man,” about the healing a couple undergoes as they discuss their painful and abusive relationship.
The centerpiece of the festival is 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12 at Price Center Theater at UC San Diego, where a film from Taiwan, “Mon Mon Mon Monsters,” will be sho sho sho shown. It’s billed as “a gruesome comedy about high school students who run amuck!”
The gems tucked throughout the festival include romantic comedies, sci-fi movies, animations and short films. There is even a special Mystery Kung Fu movie, which last year was just unbelievable.
IF YOU GO: The films will mostly screen at UltraStar Cinemas Hazard Center, 7510 Hazard Center Drive, in Mission Valley. Those screening 4 p.m. weekdays are free, and all the films at UCSD Price Center Theater are free for UCSD students and faculty. The film scehedule and tickets (individual screening, six-pack or a festival pass) are available at sdaff.org