The 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), a presentation of the Center for Asian American Media, showcases the best Asian films from around the globe between March 10-20, 2011, in San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose.
Founded in 1982, SFIAAFF has developed into the largest Asian and Asian American film festival in North America and has earned its title as San Francisco’s fastest growing film festival.
“This year’s festival promises to be one of the most diverse offerings of films, new media projects, and musical events we’ve seen,” says Stephen Gong, CAAM Executive Director. Founded in 1980, CAAM is the nation’s leading Asian American media arts organization.
The festival has long been a first-look launching point for new films, having introduced many Americans to the early work of numerous directors who have gone on to great commercial and critical success: Wayne Wang, Mira Nair, Ang Lee, M. Night Shyamalan, Deepa Mehta, Justin Lin, Gurinder Chadha (who will have a spotlight this year, see below) and many others. And with building emphasis on New Directions in Digital Media, Sound and youth culture and interactive live events, the Festival explores more new ground every year.
Films screen in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street; Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street; VIZ Cinema, 1746 Post Street; and the Landmark Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore Street. In Berkeley, go to the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way. And in San Jose the festival is at the Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second Street and the Montgomery Theater, 271 South Market Street in San Jose.
Audiences can purchase tickets, view trailers, filmmaker interviews and more at the new websitewww.caamedia.org.
Here is a look at some of this year’s highlights:
Opening and Closing Nights
WEST IS WEST & SURROGATE VALENTINE in San Francisco, and UPAJ in San Jose SFIAAFF is very proud to present WEST IS WEST, a rare kind of coming of age comedy, where both a teenage boy and his 60-year-old father are challenged to reach a new stage of growth under trying circumstances. Patriarch George “Genghis” Khan (Om Puri) takes his family from England to Pakistan so that the young Sajid (actor’s name) learns a proper appreciation of the culture he never earned growing up in Manchester. In this follow-up to the hit EAST IS EAST, what George doesn’t anticipate is having to face the life (including a wife and family) he left behind. As worlds collide, this hilarious twisted tale of intentions and dreams gone awry teaches both a deft lesson that they won’t soon forget. It’s the debut feature film of Andy De Emmony, who will attend the Opening Night festivities. CAAM again proudly rolls out the Opening Night Gala Reception red carpet at the stately Asian Art Museum amidst its luxurious new exhibit “Bali: Art, Ritual and Performance.” It’s always a special night.
The festival in San Francisco is capped seven days later with a World Premiere from a returning favorite—writer/director David Boyle with SURROGATE VALENTINE, starring the multi-talented local favorite Goh Nakamura. After Boyle and Nakamura collaborated on the music video for Boyle’s hit WHITE ON RICE (SFIAAFF ‘09), they reunited to co-write a sensitive, charming feature script, which, in time, blossomed into SURROGATE VALENTINE. Goh stars a musician (much like himself) who toils in the indie music scene with the burden of his gawky yet sweet personal style. When he decides to go on what turns out to be the strangest tour of his life, he wrestles with the demands of new friends and old, along the way encountering deadpan situations and dilemmas that test his ability to cope. When romance comes into play after he reconnects with his longtime platonic friend Rachel (the fabulous Lynn Chen), Goh must decide to step up to the bat or give up on his dreams. Drawing favorable comparisons to the films of Andrew Bujalski and an older generation of American indies.
San Jose celebrates the 10th anniversary edition of SFIAAFF in the South Bay with a World Premiere for its own Opening Night on Friday, March 18 at the Montgomery Theater. Hoku Uchiyama’s UPAJ is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of India Jazz Suites, a dance collaboration between Indian Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and the tap-dancing phenom Jason Samuels Smith. UPAJ is a testament to friendship and collaboration across cultures, generations and art forms. Shot in India and the US, it captures the creative process and then presents the magic of the resulting tour. The Gala will follow at the San Jose Museum of Art, where its exhibit “Roots in the Air, Branches Below: Modern and Contemporary Art from India” will provide the perfect backdrop.
SFIAAFF is proud to present five world premieres this year. In addition to the aforementioned SURROGATE VALENTINE (dir. David Boyle) and UPAJ (dir.Hoku Uchiyama) will be ALMOST PERFECT, dir. Bertha Bay-Sa Pan; RESIDENT ALIENS, dir. Ross Tuttle; and TALES OF WARIA, dir. Kathy Huang. ALMOST PERFECT is a rom-com starring the lovely Kelly Hu (known for blockbusters like THE SCORPION KING and X-MEN 2) as Vanessa, the benevolent workaholic who doesn’t have time to have a life until the dish Dwayne (breakout talent Ivan Shaw) suddenly pops up on the menu. Battling the comically dysfunctional members of her family all the way, she makes a break for happiness and fulfillment. Everything is ALMOST PERFECT. Switching to a more serious mood is the documentary RESIDENT ALIENS, which follows the journey of 3 Cambodian deportees returned to Cambodia after a life experience of growing up in the States. A run-in with the US criminal justice system has sentenced them to an existence where they are largely shunned by Cambodian society. With few skills and little money, each must find a way to survive, or end up on the streets. TALES OF WARIA is probably a first introduction for most in the West to the transgender community in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, and the ways this community copes with the paradoxes of sexuality within their nation and their religion. Four waria (the intersection of the words for man and woman) walk a daily and lifelong tightrope, and are generous enough to share their stories with filmmaker Huang, so that the understanding of this transgender community can be broadened. Also of note is the large number of North American Premieres this year at SFIAAFF. They span the breadth of the Festival’s wide-ranging interests. Please check the program guide for synopses on these nearly first-looks: ANNA MAY WONG: IN HER OWN WORDS, dir. Yunah Hong; AMIN, dir. Shahin Parhami; BREAK UP CLUB, dir. Barbara Wong; DANCE TOWN, dir. Jeon Kyu-Hwan; EMIR, dir. Chito S. Roño; PASSION, dir. Byamba Sakhya; WHEN LOVE COMES, dir. Chang Tso-Chi Retrospective: After Death: Horror Cinema from South East Asia Festival Director Masashi Niwano’s guilty pleasure is horror. With the assistance of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, SFIAAFF is happy to highlight three cold and clammy South East Asian classics from The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia in After Death: Horror Cinema from South East Asia. Though they all feature some of the tropes of the horror genre, note the stylistic variations they present. NANG NAK (dir. Nonzee Nimibutr, Thailand), is a tragic love story about a husband and wife who try to stay together even after death. AFFLICTION (Dir. Richard Somes, Philippines) is part melodrama, part horror as a struggling father tries to save his daughter from a damned future. HISTERIA (Dir. James Lee, Malaysia) is camp at its best, as a group of young school girls accidentally conjure a spirit from beyond the grave. The strength of these films is how they beautifully weave local folklore and superstitions into the stories, each glowing with cultural richness and cinematic panache. Consider that all were essential to the growth of their national film industries, all the while entertaining millions.
Filmmaker in Spotlight
Gurinder Chadha The 29th SFIAAFF is offering a fresh look at the works of Gurinder Chadha, a filmmaker with unusually deep connections to the Festival. Each year, the Festival is proud to offer a reevaluation of the contributions of a special filmmaker to the Asian and Asian American experience on film. Born in Kenya, schooled on the streets of Southall and at the University of East Anglia, Chadha came to SFIAFF in 1994 with her debut comedic drama, BHAJI ON THE BEACH. Little did she suspect that with the memory of the Festival audience’s laughter and tears…that she would also leave with a future husband. Her star collided with that of then co-SFIAAFF festival director Paul Mayeda Burges, and neither has been the same since the encounter. They married soon thereafter and have collaborated on work, love and life ever since. In 2002, her BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM offered SFIAAFF one of its most successful openers and also a first glimpse at megastar Keira Knightley. We are proud to offer a reprise showing of that film’s special mix of energy and emotion. Chadha then brings her own insight into the Asian experience—while laughing all the way—with her latest IT’S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE, the story of a loving mother (Indian film legend Shabana Azmi) who’s willing to kill to assure a good marriage for her only daughter Roopi (Goldy Notay). San Franciscans will abide her method—she kills through cuisine! The leading suitor who turns up also happens to be the inspector (Sendhil Ramamurthy) investigating the murders. Love races justice to the finish line in this cross between an old-fashioned Ealing comedy and a steamy Bollywood potboiler.
Vietnam’s biggest box office smash is this year’s Centerpiece presentation. Le Thanh Son’s martial arts epic CLASH draws on the best tradition of Hong Kong’s action classics but burns with a modern aesthetic. Vietnam’s real life Brangelina—Johnny Tri Nguyen (as Quan) and Veronica Ngo (as Trinh)—smolder on screen as crime partners and lovers in this high body count actioner. “One last job before getting out of the game” gets updated in this battle between French mobsters, Vietnamese gangsters and a crime boss who is holding Trinh’s kidnapped daughter. Director Le Thanh Son paints the action with a digital Red camera, allowing him to make CLASH one of the most fast and furious and most entertaining action films ever at SFIAAFF. Award-winning filmmaker Ramona Diaz (IMELDA, SFIAAFF ’04 and SPIRITS RISING, SFIAAFF ’96) returns with a unique subject portrait of Filipina schoolteachers filling the gap where not enough Americans are willing to go. For a year, THE LEARNING follows four Filipinas who leave their homeland for the bewildering challenge of inner city Baltimore schools. This very human story is a conversation starter for many discussions, large and small—about No Child Left Behind, American educational values, foreign guest workers, and about the women who personally sacrifice so much to teach in American schools.
Other Highlights from around the Hemisphere
South Asian is an obvious focus of the Festival this year. With South Asian films on Opening Night in San Francisco (WEST IS WEST) and San Jose (UPAJ) and with our honoring of Festival alumnus Gurinder Chadha with a Filmmaker Spotlight, SFIAAFF continues to sharpen its appreciation for the cinema of the subcontinent. Please also look for Eyad Zahra’s TAQWACORES, about the battles of misfit Pakistani Muslim punk rockers; Rebecaa Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha’s MADE IN INDIA, about surrogate adoption in India; Lynn True and Nelson Walker’s SUMMER PASTURE, pitting the seductiveness of modernity against ancient pastoral life in Tibet; and Mani Ratnam’s RAAVANAN, a modern re-telling of the epic Ramayana legend. Any given year provides an unusual concentration of quality films from certain places. This year, SFIAAFF is estatic that Vietnam and Iran are special highlights. From Vietnam comes the Centerpiece film CLASH by Le Thanh Son, Stephane Gauger’s SAIGON ELECTRIC, Ian Gamazon’s LIVING IN SEDUCED CIRCUMSTANCES, and BI, DON’T BE AFRAID by Phan Dang Di. From Iran comes Shahin Aghaie’s AMIN, GOLD AND COPPER by Homayoun Asadian, Hossein Keshavarz’s DOG SWEAT and the short SPRING OF SORROW from Suzi Yoonessi.