San Diego Asian Film Festival returns in-person with daring programming
Speaker 1: (00:00)
San Diego Asian film festival is back in person with 130 films from 20 countries screening at four venues. The festival kicks off tonight at the San Diego natural history museum, KPBS arts reporter, Beth Mondo previews, the festival with its artistic director. Brian who
Speaker 2: (00:19)
Brian, the San Diego Asian film festival has been on hiatus like so many events because of COVID you are returning to in-person events right now coming up. So what does that feel like?
Speaker 3: (00:32)
It's a little eerie which may be appropriate for Halloween. It's a little bit like, are these going to be empty? Theaters is going to be creaking in places that we didn't realize I'm going to be cobwebs. I'm half joking we've been in there and it's magnificent, right? Like you just breathe in the theater air. I've been in the projection booth. We're getting everything geared up and we're just waiting for the audiences to pour in. But yeah, a little bit of apprehension not going to lie. Um, but that's, that's normal. Like festivals are, you never know what's gonna happen. That's also what makes it fun.
Speaker 2: (01:03)
Lineup is great. And you have a wonderful mix of films, which is something that I always appreciate. So you have two documentaries, very different writing with fire and inside the red brick wall.
Speaker 3: (01:14)
These are two that really speak to the moment in powerful ways. Inside the red brick wall is about 2019 protests. And I'm such a powerful documentary in that. It is that the filmmakers are amongst the protestors while this is all happening. No one knows what's going to happen. People are talking about, we may not see each other again, because this may be like 10 square in Hong Kong, but also getting a sense of the courage of these filmmakers to persist because they see these protesters are two so that they need to be there to document it all. This is historic,
Speaker 3: (01:46)
But it's ready with fire is it's a little bit different in that it's more of a historical look, right? It's, you're following people across many months and years in, in their careers as journalists. But this one speaks to the contemporary moment of the importance of journalism that we need. People who can tell the stories that official media, um, that's often. Um, what, what would that that's often under the influence of the powerful of sometimes are unable to tackle, uh, like, like issues, especially issues regarding women and, um, about the poor. Um, so running with fire is about just these Intrepid woman who are become journalists because they pick up phones and they figured out a way to get their stories on YouTube and online. And they become kind of these local heroes, folk, heroes, even so inspiring to see them kind of persist through it all. But you also get a sense of the stakes of journalism and why it's so important.
Speaker 2: (02:42)
I appreciate the fact that you program films that are popular entertainment or films that are, you know, what you would call crowd pleasers in the sense that audiences will come to it because it's an enjoyable film, but you also like to program films, which I love, which are a little out of the mainstream tweak expectations in interesting ways. And one that you had was wheel of fortune and fantasy, which really kind of presents itself one way and then evolves in ways that really surprise you.
Speaker 3: (03:13)
This is a collection of three short films directed by real sukkah Hamaguchi who is one of my favorite directors these days. And he's also the director of driving my car, which is our closing film, but yeah, wheel of fortune and fantasy, I don't want to give away too much about it because the whole premise is that these are three short films about coincidences when people who don't expect to meet each other and up doing so the dance they do around each other and what it reveals about themselves and, and also like their ability to be sometimes not sometimes kind of cruel. Um, and it's wow. And it's such a joy to see a director, know how to squeeze every ounce of drama from unexpected directions. Um, not in any like melodramatic or scandalous way, but in a way that really cuts to the moral stakes or the kind of the, the possibilities of tension on screen
Speaker 2: (04:10)
This year, you have some older titles, you've always had mystery Kung Fu theater, which is something I adore, which is where you don't tell us what you're showing, but it will be an old Kung Fu movie. But this year you also have some interesting older titles in execution in autumn, which is an older Taiwanese film, and then celebrating Wayne Wang with dim sum. Uh, tell me a little bit about execution in autumn.
Speaker 3: (04:37)
This was recently restored it's in its glorify widescreen English subtitles, and it looks magnificent. It's also directed by this filmmaker named leashing. Um, one of the legends of Taiwan cinema before the new wave of the 1980s and he, and he passed away in August. Now we must, we really must show this movie in part, because I think talent cinema is associated with sort of these art films from the eighties, nineties, and two thousands. But let's talk about what happened before. And this is also kind of a juicy drama of ethics and family that really stretches our definitions of family. It's a wonderful treat to be able to see on the big screen.
Speaker 2: (05:14)
Uh, are there any other titles that you'd like to highlight for audiences?
Speaker 3: (05:18)
There are always, there's endless films that I liked once another really fun one called beyond the infinite two minutes. It's kind of a stunt movie, uh, in that it's like a single take, but it's a hilarious gag that they run for 70 minutes, which is like the perfect running time for these kinds of movies. It's about this guy, he's a Japanese cafe. He notices that the security camera has like a two minute delay to what he sees on his, on his computer. And he starts to play like, wait, what if I go over there then does that mean I'm two minutes in the past or now my two minutes in the future. Anyway. So he uses this as a premise to go into, to, to, to chime travel. Basically, uh, films have often used single take as a kind of like technical stunt, but there's something about the single take in a single location now, especially we've, since we've been at home all this time, that I think has a special meaning. And like, I just love seeing people who, who make so much out of so little, right? Like you're, we're all, we've all been stuck in our homes. We've all had to like improvise new kinds of, of, of joy. And this is a film that puts that on display in full force. So I definitely would recommend that one.
Speaker 2: (06:21)
Well, I'm talking about improvising some joy. You are also having the double feature of lumpia and lumpia with a vengeance, which is very much a kind of do it yourself. Filmmaking.
Speaker 3: (06:35)
Yeah. I mean, we've been talking about how, like the Shung is this like landmark Asian American comfortable movie, and it is, it totally is. But I, I always like to say it's not the first one. And if this is, if this double feature is to be believed, it's not even the second one, like Patricia can S like in, in the 1990s, he and his friends, they were in high school, they'd just made their own movies on digital video tapes. And it was just like, you know, like if you're in high school, you know, about bullies and, you know, but you also have a certain culture, like they're all Filipino American kids. And they see like all these tensions, even within the Filipino community. And there's like, just improvising their own sense of self-worth and heroism and cultural joy. And they turned it into this, you know, like a comic book movie called lumpia about a Limpia flinging superhero.
Speaker 3: (07:24)
Um, and it became like something of a cult hit amongst Filipino Americans because it spoke directly to their cultural uniqueness. And also, but from the perspective of not necessarily like historical trauma, but from like, let's, let's have fun with this. Um, but like, let's, let's go into theater and celebrate each other, um, through a superhero movie. And it became such a cult hit that in 2020, they finally finished their long awaited sequel called lumpia with a vengeance. Uh, and for me, it's a vengeance, not just in like the comic book sense, but vengeance also like, you know, we've been out of the scene for, for over a decade. We want to come back with a certain explosiveness and, and also to remind everybody that us old timers still got it.
Speaker 2: (08:11)
Thank you very much for talking about the upcoming San Diego Asian film festival. And I will see you at mystery Kung Fu
Speaker 3: (08:16)
Theater. Can't wait to see you there.
Speaker 1: (08:19)
That was Beth Eka, Mondo speaking with Brian, who of San Diego Asian film festival. The festival runs tonight through November 6th at multiple venues.
More than 100 films from 20 countries screening at four venues
San Diego Asian Film Festival is back in person this week and with 130 films from 20 countries screening at four venues. Here's a preview.
The pandemic forced many of us to play it safe by staying at home for the past year and a half. To celebrate the fact that we can can now return to cinemas, San Diego Asian Film Festival is doing anything but playing it safe with its film selections. Take "Terminal USA."
"It's the kind of movie you'd watch on a dare," said Brian Hu, artistic director for the festival. Hu is daring audiences to take a chance on this restored print of Jon Moritsugu's
"PBS sort of commissioned it, but I feel like they regretted commissioning this movie," Hu explained. "They wanted a series on American families with a more subversive edge and they hired Jon Moritsugu, who is known for films with titles I can't even say on the radio. What it does is it shows that there's a certain kind of stereotype of Asian-Americans as being this model minority, or at least of being kind of like, non-offensive.
"And he really wants to show how, one, it's possible that they're not. But then two, it's also possible that under the surface even of very normal looking Asian-American families, you don't want to look under the hood. And so there's something so gratifying about that, even if I would never show this in my own family."
In the documentary "Inside the Red Brick Wall," it’s the filmmakers who are not playing it safe as they try to document 2019 protests in Hong Kong.
"This was happening on university campuses where protesters were taking over the campuses and using the campuses as a platform for them to express their grievances with the Beijing government," Hu said.
"It's such a powerful documentary in that the filmmakers are amongst the protesters. No one knows what's going to happen. People are talking about, we may not see each other again, because this may be like Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong and getting a sense of the courage of these filmmakers to persist because they see these protesters are too. So they need to be there to document it all. This is historic, and it's an intense documentary."
"Writing with Fire" documents another type of daring as it looks to women journalists in India who run their own news outlet.
"'Writing with Fire' is about just these intrepid women who have become journalists because they pick up phones and they figure out a way to get their stories on YouTube and online. But you also get a sense of the stakes of journalism and why it's so important. And there's a way in which people in the west often look at these stories from the non-west and say they're catching up with the liberalism of the west. But really, it's not that. We have much to learn from these women about what is possible in journalism and what does it mean to consume media and news media."
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Then "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy" challenges expectations about narrative structure with its trio of stories about chance.
"There's something about the way in which when people who don't expect to meet each other end up doing so, the dance they do around each other and what it reveals about themselves and also their ability to be sometimes kind of cruel," Hu said. "And it's such a joy to see a director know how to squeeze every ounce of drama from unexpected directions, not in any melodramatic or scandalous way, but in a way that really cuts to the moral stakes or the possibilities of tension on screen that's really masterful."
Filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi also provides the festival with its closing night film "Drive My Car."
More masterful storytelling is on display with the newly restored print of the 1970s melodrama "Execution in Autumn" directed by Lee Hsing.
"Lee passed away in August," Hu said. "So I figured now we really must show this movie in part because I think Taiwan cinema is associated with some of these art films from the 80s, 90s and 2000s. But let's talk about what happened before. And this is also kind of a juicy drama of ethics and family that really stretches our definitions of family."
"Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" stretches a single take into a quirky tale about a guy who notices that there’s a two minute delay between the security camera and what he sees on his computer, and this leads to some time travel shenanigans.
"Films have often used a single take as a kind of technical stunt," Hu stated. "But there's something about the single take in a single location now, especially since we've been at home all this time. I think it has a special meaning. And I just love seeing people who make so much out of so little. We've all been stuck in our homes. We've all had to improvise new kinds of joy. And this is a film that puts that on display in full force."
Making a lot out of a little is also at the heart of "Lumpia," a film that director Patricio Ginelsa says was inspired by "El Mariachi."
"If that movie was about a Mexican hero that used a guitar as a weapon, what would be the Filipino version? The best thing we could think of was about a Filipino guy who just throws lumpia. That's what my brother said. And he was just joking around. And I go, wait a minute. There's something there visually," Ginelsa explained.
Lumpia are Filipino egg rolls.
Ginelsa shot the film with friends on an eight millimeter camcorder over many years starting in the 1990s.
"It became like something of a cult hit amongst Filipino Americans because it spoke directly to their cultural uniqueness," Hu explained. "But from the perspective of not necessarily like historical trauma, but from, like, let's have fun with this. Let's go in the theater and celebrate each other through a superhero movie."
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Hu enjoyed pointing out that Lumpia Man was an Asian American superhero on screen BEFORE Shang Chi. Now Ginelsa and company have crowdfunded a sequel called "Lumpia with a Vengeance," and both will screen at the festival. Ginelsa has one disclaimer about the films.
"No actual lumpia were wasted in the film," he said. "We made sure that any real lumpia was eaten properly. But anytime that it was thrown, it was actually a fake prop."
So check out the buffet of films being served up by San Diego Asian Film Festival and enjoy some cinematic treats.
Get the recipe for lumpia from Patricio Ginelsa's mother-in-law in this Geeky Gourmet video.