Arts Watch: 37th Annual Asian International Film Festival Opens Tomorrow

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Niyar Saikiya takes on the role of Lakshmi, in Jeffrey D. Brown’s “SOLD”

The 37th annual Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) opens tomorrow and runs through August 2.  The fest screens films at a number of venues throughout Manhattan including the Museum of Chinese in America. The films are selected through an open call and solicited from all around the world. According to the AAIFF’14 Call for Entry, a film can qualify for the competition if it is of Asians, by Asians, or for Asians. This year’s lineup showcases 31 films, an array of narrative and documentary features, short films, youth films, music videos, and screenplays.

Opening the festival is Jeffrey D. Brown’s “SOLD,” a feature film adapted from Patricia McCormick’s award-winning book.  The film documents the life of thirteen year-old Lakshmi, a Nepalese girl who is sold to an Indian brothel by her parents.  There she bonds with the other children who have been put in the same situation as her, revealing a reality that is grimly prevalent and all too real in some Asian countries.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A  session with director Jeffrey D. Brown, producer Jane Charles, author Patricia McCormick, and actress Seirah Royin at Asia Society.

The first Asian American International Film Festival was organized in 1978 as the Asian American Film Festival, as an effort to change the nature of Asian misrepresentation in the media.  It adopted the “I” into its acronym after incorporating international Asian films into the festival.  AAIFF Executive Director John Woo tells us that AAIFF began as a three-day program of 46 films and videos which took place at the Henry Street Settlement.

Since then, the festival has become increasingly global, including films from more genres and countries, as the Asian film industry itself has grown.  Though the size and influence of the festival has taken off, AAIFF’s mission has remained the same — its purpose is still to showcase the newest and brightest in Asian film, while creating an environment for artistic discourse and creative innovation. Having been the focus of AAIFF since the beginning, the diversity in the types of films shown is now more than ever a reality. By presenting works from media makers from a multitude of backgrounds, countries, and classes, AAIFF proves that Asian film is just as varied and layered as Asian people themselves.

Also from this year’s lineup there are “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” and “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels.” The first is an Asian American comedy documenting a trio of Asian actors who seek to play themselves in the most classic acting roles, in order to simultaneously revolutionize and bring their revenge on Hollywood. How to Fight, the Vietnamese film, follows a New York-based fashion designer through her neurotic love woes, as she obsesses over the fidelity of her fiancée in Vietnam. When she suspects that he might be seeing somebody else, she hatches a plan to take the Vietnamese fashion world by storm.

Award categories consist of Best Emerging Director (narrative and documentary), Excellence in Short Filmmaking (narrative and documentary), Audience Choice (feature-length film) and the Youth Vision One-to-Watch Award. In the last 37 years, the festival has grown to accommodate films from over 30 countries, including the U.S., Israel, and the Philippines—just to name a few.

There are a few additional programs and festivities that will accompany the day-to-day screenings including a panel co-hosted by the Asian American Women Media Makers (AAWMM) happening on Friday, July 25th. Guests who attend the panel (which is open to the public) have the chance to learn more about what it’s like to direct films as a woman in a broader, more global environment.

Lesley Qin, AAIFF’s program associate,  tells us that the organization was originally created as a community for female Asian filmmakers to network and find future project partners.  However, the panel discussion at the festival offers something different.

The program, which debuted at last year’s festival, aims to spotlight international Asian women filmmakers at AAIFF’14 whose films are marked by geographic ambition, international, and multiracial elements. Rather than focusing upon the commonalities that Asian women filmmakers share, the panel actually endeavors to highlight the differences in the films themselves.

“It is actually diversity that we want to show by assembling this panel–Chuti’s film is personal, Cho Li’s film is political (someone else’s biography), and Hannah’s film adopts multiple perspectives and is more like an investigation.  What they have in common, I guess, is really the burning impulse to tell the story, the inner confirmation of I have to make this film– that is what I get from their films,” explains Qin.  

Qin says that depending on the panelists, the discussion topics will probably vary year to year.

This year we happen to have two international filmmakers coming to the festival who are female, and Chuti’s case is also interesting, so we were trying to find a commonality between them–which is border crossing.  That is very neat.”   

Tickets are $13 for AAIFF’14 films and can be ordered online in advance or at the Box Office at each theater. Check out the official schedule for information on each film and event at the festival.