The Asian-American community has been riding a wave of success in the media arts lately, after many years of neglect. This summer, two Asian-American films — “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Searching” — scored extremely well ($227 million and $65 million respectively) at the box office, bringing Asian-American filmmaking into the public eye.
Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), said he’s elated about the success of these films because it signals a turnaround for the role of Asian Americans in the movie industry. Yet, Hu also wants to salute those independent Asian filmmakers who continue to tell their stories, even though they have not received the same level of acclaim.
Hu has put together one of the largest collections of Asian-American films to date for the 19th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (sdaff.org), which runs Nov. 8-17, 2018; and is organized by the non-profit, Pacific Arts Movement (pacarts.org)
The 2018 San Diego Asian Film Festival will include more than 160 movies that will be shown at six different locations throughout the city, including UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley (where most festival films will be screened), UC San Diego’s Price Center Theatre in La Jolla, Digital Gym Cinema in San Diego, Edwards Cinemas in Mira Mesa; and two venues in Balboa Park: San Diego Natural History Museum and the Museum of Photographic Arts.
The icon for this year’s festival (adorning its brochures and T-shirts) are the flowers of a variety of Japanese camellia known as “Mars,” which is closely related to the white flowered plant that tea comes from (Camellia sinesesis).
“We wanted some kind of image that would be romantic, sexy, and a bit dangerous ... even a little bit poisonous,” Hu said. “We are here to give people a different experience. If they want to feel comfortable, they can go and see a Hollywood film. Our movies are meant to challenge people.”
The opening and closing night films are food flicks. The opener is the South Korean film, “Little Forest,” about a girl who longs to make “makgeoli.” The closing film, from Singapore, is about a Japanese chef’s search for a long-lost soup recipe.
The fest’s centerpiece, “Inventing Tomorrow,” Hu calls “a movie for today’s times.” In it, four teens from different countries who on their way to a science fair, pursue ingenious solutions to the environmental crisis.
The festival also bows to new technology with the showing of two short virtual-reality films (8-10 minutes each) from Taiwan, “The Train Hamasen” and “Your Spiritual Temple Sucks.” Both can be viewed, one patron at a time, wearing virtual-reality goggles at the Price Center Theater on the UC San Diego campus. The two shorts screen in connection with the Taiwanese Film Festival, which is embedded in the larger SDAAF.
Hu’s top five recommendations include: “Dead Souls,” an eight-hour tour de force documentary filled with interviews of the survivors of China’s Anti Rightist Campaign of 1957-1959; “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” a film from China about a man’s search for a mysterious woman whose photograph he has found; “Dead Pigs,” an award-winner from Sundance Festival, wherein a epidemic of dead pigs are found floating in Shanghai-bound rivers; “Blowin’ Up,” a judge in a courtroom in Queens creates a space for sex workers to wipe their slates clean; and, “A Family Tour,” all about a clandestine reunion of a grandson and Mainland Chinese grandmother in Taiwan.
The festival also includes films that have won awards at other festivals: “Shoplifters” (first prize at Cannes), “The Third Wife” and “A Land Imagined” — plus three films on the shortlist for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language film — “Shoplifters,” “Signal Rock” and “Buffalo Boys.”
• IF YOU GO: See the complete San Diego Asian Film Festival schedule, screening locations, list of special events and buy tickets at sdaff.org