The Center for Asian America Media presents the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) every March. The SFIAAFF is the largest and most prestigious showcase for new Asian American and Asian films in North America, annually presenting approximately 120 works in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. SFIAAFF also features the best in Asian American music and digital and interactive media. Since 1982, the SFIAAFF has been an important launching point for Asian American independent filmmakers as well as a vital source for new Asian cinema.
Along with 108 films and videos, there will be Live Events (see accompanying article), Gala Presentations, celebrity guests and much more taking place in several venues throughout the city from the Castro Theater and Asian Art Museum for opening night to 111 Minna Gallary to Superdog Gallery to Japantown Peace Plaza to The Summit to the Sundance Kabuki to the Clay Theatre and Viz Cinema. And that’s just in San Francisco. For Festival information click here.
Some of the films I’ve seen:
Surrogate Valentine (USA) playing closing night 3/20, 7 pm, Kabuki
Goh Nakamura (in real life and in this film) is a guitarist/singer/music teacher who travels up and down the West Coast from his home base in San Francisco , south to L.A. and north to Seattle, playing his guitar and singing his self-composed compositions in small, smoke-filled clubs. A friend of his is making a feature film and has hired Goh to teach the film’s lead, a mid-range TV drama star, Danny, to sing and play guitar. Danny turns out to be a self-absorbed manic with no talent, either for music or acting. In sharp contrast to Goh’s quiet, reserved, serious stance on life, Danny is loud, egotistical and a pain in Goh’s ass. Aas Danny accompanies Goh on his latest tour, this road trip becomes one of discovery for both. Goh is a completely acculturated American; the only Asian thing about him is his ancestry. This is true for most first and second generation transplants from any country to any other country. This festival is not just about Asian traditions and cultures, but Asians today everywhere.
Almost Perfect (USA) Playing Sun, 3/13, 1 pm, Clay Theatre; Tues., 3/15, 6:45 pm, Kabuki
Again, Asian family members so removed from traditional Asian culture, that it’s a more modern take on family life anywhere. Yes, the mother is Chinese; the father is English; the family lives in the United States. There could have been issues for the adult children of cultural or national identity, but there isn’t. In fact, there were no cross-cultural issues probed, even among the parents whose strained marriage seems to have nothing to do with their different races, nationalities or residence in a country foreign to both of them. This is simply a story of each of the members of a very dysfunctional family. The worst insult the mother can say to her one son or two daughters is, ‘You’re just like your father.’ Likewise, when the father wants to show disappointment with any of his kids, he says, ‘You’re just like your mother.’ The three siblings don’t get along much better among themselves. As a matter of fact, there are no references to any racial or cultural tensions between family members or among their business associates or romantic partners. So much discord all due to conflicting personalities — perhaps a more significant and probing cause has been overlooked to the detriment of the story.
Dog Sweat (Iran) Playing Sat., 3/12, 6 pm, Kabuki
Sex in the city — Tehran. Seems things are not as fundamentalist as they once were. There is just enough personal freedom to cause chafing at the bit for the youth of the big city. Though everyone has a cell phone and girls don’t need to be escorted, even at night, there is the Moral Police that keeps things in check, including punishments like televised execution for a man who sells liquor to imprisonment for aiding and abetting a woman in developing a music career. Though ‘Dog Sweat’ explores modern relationships — like adultery, homosexuality, promiscuity,. un-arranged marriages — no two partners are shown kissing or even holding hands. After all, this film was shot in Iran and the actors and filmmakers could face criminal charges for these very acts. In this current climate of civil protest for democracy, it will be interesting to see next year’s filmic reflection of cultural mores from Iran and neighboring Muslim nations.
One Kine Day (USA – Hawaii) Playing Fri., 3/11, 6:30 pm, Kabuki
As soon as the cock fight started I stopped watching. Perhaps everyone associated with this film should be arrested for encouraging and participating in cock fights. Before the cock fight scene, we watch aimless, lazy, irresponsible teens hanging out in skate parks and hitching rides around the island. Many of their high school girl girlfriends are pregnant or already raising their children at their parents’ homes. And the sound of traffic is the constant music score, with moments of reggae or Hawaiian pop music. Paradise is lost.
It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (England) Playing Sat., 3/12, 12:15 pm, Clay Theater
Mrs. Sothi, like all good Indian mothers, even those living in London, only wants her daughter to get married. She wants it so badly that even though she would prefer dying to be with her departed husband, she will continue living and working at marrying her daughter off. And if anyone should reject or mock her overweight and rather plain looking 30 year old child, her wrath will fall upon him or her in the form of over spiced and lethal Indian cooking. We have here all the elements of a charming, yet macabre, Indian comedy romance. Oh, can’t forget her victims’ ghosts who can’t get reincarnated until Mrs. Sothi dies in divine retribution. Ergo, the Greek chorus of spirits not only commenting on and interfering in various comic situations, but developing in character and improving their chances in a better reincarnation in the process. There is also the de rigueur dance sequence and the extraneous and hysterical funny ‘Carrie’ tribute. A thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of immigrant Indian life with all its traditional values strained through first generational sensibilities.
M/F Redux (USA / France) Playing Sat., 3/12, 4pm, Viz Cinema
It is writ large across the screen very early on, ‘A story of youth with no story at all.’ And so it is. We watch a couple of Asian American roommates who like to say the word RE VO LU TION a lot. They party, they play, they watch television, they clean the apartment, they never express their true feelings for each other. And there are a couple of couples in Paris who talk about nothing at all, too. The Americans play with cigarettes; the French take them more seriously. There a several scenes that take place in a factory; obviously, there is a dim view taken of work. War is referred to several times. Overall, ‘M/F Redux’ is a pastiche of images and sounds that seem to be relevant to young people. Films just like this were also just as relevant 40 years ago, also. Something in the chemistry of youth demands to express these tableaus. Eventually, filmmakers grow out of it. But youth this week might just find the film very new and exhilarating.