Asian Films featured at festival

Evonne Ermey

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When former channel 10 news anchor, Lee Ann Kim, Executive Director and co-founder of the San Diego Asian Film Festival developed the concept of SDAFF in 1999, she did so with the goal of bringing a broad vision of Asian culture to the people of San Diego.

On this, the 10 year anniversary of SDAFF, Kim and the SDAFF board of directors staged their most ambitious film festival to date.

Despite the wilting economy, SDAFF staff extended the number of days and films for the annual event. The event showcased over 200 films of a dynamic Asian background against the backdrop of various martial and performance arts, cast meet and greets, and Q and A’s.

For Kim, the festival’s success is gauged not necessarily by the number of tickets sold at the box-office but by the sharing of experience in a way that crosses cultural divides.

A shining example of what the film festival is all about was found this year at the screening of “The Haramaya Bridge.” Directed by non-Asian Aaron Wolfolk, the narrative film follows the experience of a black man who, after the Japanese in WWII kill his father, must go to Japan when his son dies there.

“The film was the sleeper hit,” Kim said. “People were sitting in the aisles. What touched me so deeply about that film is it fulfilled my vision for this festival. I walk into this black film at the Asian film festival and there were black people white people, Latinos, old, young, I didn’t see any one group represented and I just felt like this is the vision that I had about what this film festival is supposed to do. I was so deeply moved.”

Editing, directing, and acting are all taken into consideration when choosing films to screen at SDAFF. And while popular films like Afro Samurai make their way onto the ticket, The nine member programming staff leans heavily towards independent films and directors.

“We really pay attention to independent films because you never know when something, or someone, is going to be the next big thing,” programming intern Jini Shim said. “It’s a chance to talk to filmmakers and for filmmakers to get acknowledgement for their work.”

For independent filmmakers, SDAFF is a great opportunity for exposure to a broad audience. Mark Tran, first time filmmaker and winner of SDAFF’s Emerging Film Makers Award, attended the event, taking time to answer audience questions for his film “All About Dad.” Tran directed the film at 24 after writing the screenplay at 19. A comedy loosely based on his life growing up in a large Vietnamese family, it chronicles the struggles of a first generation immigrant father to relate to his Americanized children.

A student at San Jose University, Tran was limited by a small budget that challenged his ingenuity as a filmmaker.

“There will always be situations where you will be forced to compromise. One thing I learned is that you should never compromise unless you absolutely have to. I mean, everyday you have to consider whether there’s time or money or which scene to go with, what to shoot stuff like that. There are so many things that come up that you would never expect. That’s also the fun about it to. Not knowing that what your doing is ever right,” said Tran of the experience.

Because SDAFF allows its definition of what, exactly, Asian film is, their films appeal to a variety of cinematic pallets, incorporating international films from the entire content of Asia. Other influences come from Russia, India and Israel, as well as Western films by Asian directors and films of Asian content directed by western directors. Ultimately it is about supporting artists and enlightening viewers.

As Kim expresses, “We’re here not just for ourselves, to bring patrons, but we really want to educate San Diego about how important it is to support the arts. We can make money do our thing, but without the arts we are living in a pastel world. With the arts we live in full color. Our general goal is to educate San Diegans that the arts are important.”

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