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Film Festivals Showcase Works From Around The Globe

October 18, 2011 1:29 p.m.


Brian Hu, Associate Artistic Director, San Diego Asian Film Festival

Mona Mukherjea-Gehrig, Director, German Currents of San Diego

Related Story: San Diego Asian Film Festival And German Currents Kick Off This Week


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. As many of San Diego's arts organizations scramble to hang on through tough economic times, film festivals are actually driving. One festival that's become an institution in San Diego, and 81 that's just get started. The San Diego Asian American film festival is entering its 12th year, assembling a collection of films from India to the Philippines, back to the U.S.A. and meanwhile, the museum of photographic arts is hosting a German film festival with four films screening this Saturday and Sunday. I'd like to welcome my guests; Brian Hugh is associate artistic director of the San Diego Asian film festival. Welcome to the show.

HU: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Mona Mukherjea-Gehrig, and director of German currents San Diego. Good afternoon.

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: Brian, this is your first year with this very well established film festival here in San Diego. What do you think that you're bringing to the programming that might be different from previous years?

HU: I have a bit of a different background than a lot of film programmers. I didn't come from another film festival. In fact, I was a critic. So I travelled the world and the states going to the many film festivals and seeing how different international film festivals, and regional festivals take their missions and try to reach their constituency, and I think I come from a more international perspective, and I'm very excited about what's going on in the world cinema. And I'm trying to bring a new dimension to the film industry.

CAVANAUGH: Given us an over view of this year's festival events, how many film, kind of an idea of how many countries, and then I'll ask you about the specials that you're going to have.

HU: We have over 160 films, which include features and shorts from over 20 countries ranging from Iran to Japan, from Mongolia all the way down to New Zealand. As well as film it is made by filmmakers of Asian decent who are living around the world. So we R we have a film from Uganda, as well as films from America city, and Tennessee.

CAVANAUGH: Basically it's not only the country of origin -- the country the film is made in, but it's also the country of origin of the film maker.

HU: Yeah, we're just excited about the idea of Asia and Asianness. It doesn't matter who is making the film or what it's about, really. We like to try to expand the idea of how we define Asian. I think this is part of our goal, all -- we have films by non-Asian makers about Asian subjects, and vice versa. We have two panels this is year, we always have panelists, and this year we have an panel about Asian American women in Hollywood. And we're going to be bringing down a professor from Berkeley, and two actresses from Hollywood to talk about what it's been like for the past 20 years. A lot of break dancing shows have become kind of Asian American shows because so many of the crews, especially from Southern California, are made up of predominantly Asian American dancers. So we're bringing down a lot of performers from MTV's America's best dance crew, from web series like the LXD on Hulu. We're bringing some -- what kind of new opportunities are emerging for Asian American performers now that has become a trend.

CAVANAUGH: That is interesting. This is the festival's 12th year. I want to ask you how you're doing financially, how is the Asian film festival set, you know, for attendance and revenue?

HU: We're often asked if the financial crisis has affected our programming, and our ambitions, but if anything, I'd say it's only getting bigger and stronger. And there are probably a lot of theories as to why, and we're really just trying to tap in people's enthusiasm for Asians -- Asian content. And I think even though the economy might be going down, the hunger for content from Asia and curiosity has been going up, especially with the rise of China, and an increase of visibility of Asian people and stories in the mainstream.

THE COURT: I want to move to Mona because she has a brand-new festival. This is the first year that you'll be putting on a German film festival in San Diego. How kid this idea come about?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Well, the founder of this festival approached me last year, and we chat about it, and I came on board. And the idea behind this whole festival is to present something to San Diego community, something besides the Oktoberfest, something are very cultural to show what else the country has to provide. And definitely helping forward with this idea, is the involvement for the gotta institute in rise, which provided a big infrastructure for this festival.

CAVANAUGH: What are some of the challenges in putting together a film festival for the first time?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Probably the credibility, really believing in us, and that we can do a good job, and wring in this idea to making the truth come to a great festival here for San Diego. And definitely the relationship with the gotta institute, and as well as the San Diego honor's consolate here in San Diego has helped.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. How about other film +festivals? Have they been supportive?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Very much so. From the Latino festival as well, we talked approximate to the Jewish film festival, I went to the Asian film festival, it's a very open, very friendly community. Very supportive, and it seems everybody still remembers how it was for them starting in the first year.

CAVANAUGH: I'm dying to find out one of the -- some of the things they told you. Did they tell you about what films San Diego audiences, what kinds of films San Diego audiences seem to like?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: More so that they were interested in what kind of films we wanted to show, more or less giving us ideas of where you could maybe cut a cost or how you can go about making sure we don't forget about the community outreach program to go on twitter, use all the social media we have available to us at this time now.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, what audience do you think the first year of the German film festival at the museum of photographic arts will -- what audience are you going after in this very first year of this festival?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Actually, I see two audiences. First of all, we have a very large speaking community population here in San Diego, including the Germans, the people from Switzerland, and from Austria, then just people who are interested in that kind of culture, and language. And then the second audience, I see is just the same greater San Diego community who's just interested in very new and progressive films.

CAVANAUGH: And Brian, does that overlap on your audience at all? Obviously not the German speaking population. But do you find San Diego audiences curious about film from all over the world?

HU: Absolutely. And I would say it's audiences of all ages, all races. We do try to foster a community for Asian Americans who are hungry for representations that are not distorted by the mainstream. We do cater to that. But we have films that are genre films of that -- that people think of when they think of Asian cinema, like martial arts films. But we also want to challenge people who are hungry or curious with what is going on in Asia. And we surprise them with romantic comedy, with heist films or genres they might not think of as Asian cinema. But that they could recognize as just people who love films.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I don't know that this is outside the box, because I think a lot of people know that there's an extreme vain to Asian filmmaking. But tell us a little bit about the Asian extreme program that you're going to have at the film festival.

HU: Yeah, Asian extreme is this label that's emerged in the last ten years or so. I think a lot of film goers in the west, especially those who -- they love the cult film, the grindhouse style films from the '70s and '80s, but they see that's disappearing in the United States. But suddenly in places like Japan and Korea, and Southeast Asia, are there are these ultraviolent, crazy, hilarious movies of decapitation and things that I probably can't talk about on the road. But there is this fascination with this. Of course at the same time American society thinks of Asians as being conservative andisive, and nondemonstrative, and suddenly there are these films that are the exact opposite of that. Am so we see these films as a way to entertain. And people laugh, shiver, but sort of like their bodies are telling them that Asian culture can be something they didn't expect.

CAVANAUGH: In that vain of Asian culture, perhaps a kind ever a film you may not have expected, there is a focus on gay issues in the in the community. And it's about a gay couple with a 61 son, and in this scene we have, the boy's father is in a park after a car accident, the partner is not let in because he's not consider aid family member, and the son doesn't want to go in without his second dad.

(Audio Recording Played)

CAVANAUGH: That's a scene from In the Family, one of the films that's going to be screened during the San Diego Asian film festival. And I'm wondering, Brian, is that a kind of film that you think might break down some stereotypes?

HU: Yeah, just listening to the clip, without seeing the image, actually, it's exciting to me because that voice you hear, that southern accent is of an Asian American man, telling his white son, teaching him how to fro up, and how to deal with the world. In a way, that's very southern. And when we first saw this film, we were blown away. Because we don't really see Asian American films from the south, let alone ones that tackle issues like request and gay relationships. And it does it in a very respectful way, and we think this is a film that's going to crossover to many different audiences.

CAVANAUGH: There are so many different Asian communities within San Diego. What kind of pressure do you get? You have enough Korean films and you have enough Japanese films. Is that hard thing for you to balance?

HU: It's not hard in the sense that there's so much coming out of Asia that there's a lot to choose from. We do try to make sure we have most of the -- different kind of nations represented. And San Diego, in particular, there's a lot of Vietnamese, and Filipino communities, and we definitely have some of those in our festival. Including one that was shot in San Diego, which actually deals with interethnic relationships with Asian communities in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Moan AI want to get back to you, and your first ever German film festival in San Diego. You're only going to be showing aren't German films; is that right?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Well, this first year, we were frying to just stay within the recent films, because having just four movies, we had to focus on what we're going to show. And for the future, we definitely want to show more classic, and documentaries, we wrought that range. But for this one, it's just going to be new releases. We're going to have four movies, and we're happy to announce that some of them are definitely San Diego prix meres, and they're including a Tom tickry movie, which if you don't see it at our festival, you won't be able to see it at all, Three.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, perhaps that's your favorite. Do you have a favorite or something that you'd really like people to experience?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Well, this is definitely one of the highlights for me personally, to be able to show that movie here. But we are proud to say we have a movie basically for the rank. There's a kid movie we're going to show. We're going to have a movie that shows a little bit more of the artsy side of it, as well as having a very humoristic side in the entire movie, which and the same as Brian was saying about the Asian, you expect one thing, and then with the Germans you expect also some serious business. And we looked into getting some humor in all the movies, actually, which is quite entertaining.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both, do you think people get a bargain going to film festivals rather than just going to see a movie? What kind of extras do you get out of going to an a whole festival atmosphere, Brian? Let me start with you.

HU: We like to think of our festival as -- well, with music, we have live music some of our act it is, Abe live music in the lobby, we have an art gallery. We want to remind people -- remind people there was a time when going to the movies meant going to the movies. And that's important, because how do you create a sense of community via NetFlix? Or streaming from Itunes or something? So we do our best to create a sense of family, and we have members who have stung around for a decade, because they sense that this is their way of going out and being part of a larger community.

CAVANAUGH: And Mona? Are whoey what will people get by going to this first ever German film festival in San Diego?

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Right now, it's easy to point the Germans out and judging so many Oktoberfests in this area of San Diego. But this is definitely just a cultural event where you get to mingle, including seeing talent and movies like Brian was saying. Seeing music, hear music, just to have a way of showing and asking questions, I think the whole Q&A question session after, I think it's very important to the audience as well to approach with a question and get an answer for it right away.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Exactly. It's like having an extra on your DVD, right? Only in person. I want to let everyone know the 12th annual San Diego Asian film festival runs from October 20th through the 28th at the mission valley cinemas at hazard center, and German current San Diego's two-day festival takes place this weekend at the museum of photographic arts in Balboa Park. I've been speaking with Brian Hugh, with the San Diego Asian film festival, and Mona Mukherjea-Gehrig, with the German currents, San Diego, and I want thank you both so much for speaking with us.

HU: Thank you.

MUKHERJEA-GEHRIG: Thank you very much.