Previewing The 2014 San Diego Asian Film Festival
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The San Diego Asian Film Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The festival opening this Thursday has become the largest exhibition of Asian films in Western United States. So this year 140 films will be screened in venues from Downtown San Diego to Encinitas including two San Diego University campuses. On the festival program is the premiere of a new television sitcom pilot featuring an Asian American family. I would like to introduce my guest Brian Hu is Artistic Director of the Pacific Arts Movement which puts on the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Hello, Brian? BRIAN HU: Thanks for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, however different is this year’s festival than the first one way back in the year 2,000? BRIAN HU: Well, the first one I don't think the organizers new what a Film Festival could be. It was at the University of San Diego's campus. It was just one weekend, and it was just put together by people who had a real passion for Asian American stories, but since then it has blown up. We are at so many different locations now and just as you mentioned we are "Fresh off the Boat" we are doing more than just boat also. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. In the past 15 years Asian cinema has continued to be a major influence on American and Western movies in general. How do you think Asian cinema expands the language of film? BRIAN HU: Well, first of all just having different kinds of people on screen, that already expands the boundaries of the world that we can perceive. For us, that's the immediate thing that we want. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think so many people know that Asian film is so heavily influenced action films, supernatural films, it is sort of like the West is just kind of catching up. BRIAN HU: As well as animation, if you think about what our kids are watching they are watching animation from Japan and Korea. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now, give us an idea of the variety of films that will be screened in this year’s festivals? BRIAN HU: Okay so yeah, there is the thematic variety and there is also variety in terms of styles and genres, but also we like to think about Asia just beyond the usually countries, we have films from Kazakhstan, we have the very first feature film ever produced in the country of Brenai as well as the mainstays like the Japan, Korea and China, Hong Kong, Philippines. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are some of the events associated with the festival this year, Brian? BRIAN HU: We have the opening and closing night, the big gala awards dinner, um as well as this year we have our first dance presentation. So on Sunday we are doing a day of dance at the San Diego Creative Performing Arts School. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of dance? BRIAN HU: It is to highlight the big um community of Filipino American hip hop dancers here in San Diego. We have asked them to curate for us some dance videos so to talk about dance on stage as well as on screen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will there be any celebrities coming to town for this event? BRIAN HU: We do. We have a performer called Galen Hooks who has choreographed works for Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Usher. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And for the Asian festival in total will we be seeing any celebrities? BRIAN HU: Yeah, on our opening night we have an actor Harry Shum Jr, who is an actor he is popular for anyone who has watched Glee he is on that. Um, just throughout the festival we have people a lot of familiar faces that you might not know their names, but they are up and coming. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, one of the presentations is the new sitcom pilot featuring an Asian American family, have you ever screened television shows before? BRIAN HU: We have not, we have done music video and digital online media and it is very exciting for us because it is an opportunity. Television doesn't come up often. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you choose this? BRIAN HU: Well, there was a lot of when this was announced, there was controversy already within the Asian American community is this going to be good or bad? The problem with the internet is it becomes an echo chamber before anyone has seen the actual program. So for me it felt like we have a platform to actually give people a chance to see this before it is on the air and actually have a sort of informal conversation about what it is about. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly a dialogue. BRIAN HU: And I saw it, and it was great. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Now, joining me now is Nahnatchka Khan, she is Executive Producer of ABCs new pilot sitcom, "Fresh off the Boat." Hello, Nahnatchka. NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Hi, thanks for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I would like to start off with a clip that we have from this show. This is from "Fresh off the Boat." CLIP FROM FRESH OFF THE BOAT: That's me your boy Eddie Wong, check it. 11 years old and moving from DC to Orlando. (Singing "I Saw the Sign") that's my dad, he loved everything about America. Full on bought into the American dream. I don't know why we have to move? So your father can own a cowboy restaurant. It's called Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse and I have grown to love it like the daughter we wish Devon had been. This is where we live our family and friends. Exactly, this is why we left everything we know to come to a place where we know nothing and the humidity is not good for my hair. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: (LAUGHTER) Nahnatchka, tell us the premise if you would. NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Well, it takes place in 1995 in Orlando and it is following the Wong family move from Washington, D.C. like they said in the clip from China Town where they had all of their family and friends to Orlando, Florida because the dad Lewis Wong wants to open and run his own steakhouse called Cattleman's Ranch and it is based on the memoire that Eddie Wong wrote called " Fresh off the Boat" and that was, you know that's from his life and what happened to him and his family, so that's the premise of the series. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: For people who are not familiar with Eddie Wong, tell us a little bit about him? NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Eddie is a, you know, he's a celebrity and a chef, I celebrity chef I guess. A chefeberty MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: (LAUGHTER) very good. NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Um, and he has a restaurant in New York called Baohouse and he you know wrote his life story and it was published last year and twentieth options, the rights for a television show and I adapted it for TV. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Nahnatchka is the first TV show to feature Asian American's since the old Margaret Cho show? NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Isn't that crazy? Yeah. It has been 20 years, I guess that was "All American Girl" was in 1994 where our show was taking place ironically enough. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How important do you think it is for the community to be represented on television? NAHNATCHKA KHAN: I mean, you know, it is just feels like it is time. You know it feels natural because so many other communities have been represented and the fact that Asian American's have not been, it seems like a glitch in the system. It feels odd and it feels appropriate. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brian, I'm going to ask you the same question. How important do you think it is for Asian American's to be represented on television? BRIAN HU: I think it is extremely important in the nineties we had "All American Girl" and it was one of the few chances you can see people who look like my on screen. Actually becoming more and more important for the rest of the country to be watching shows like this. If I wanted to see people who looked like me, I can go online to find it. I think for a lot of the mainstream America this is really their opportunity and that's why I think it is so important for this show to exist. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, and Nahnatchka, the Margaret Cho show always had this funny bit about how her show just didn't work and it was not finding an audience and they kept tinkering with it, do you think the 20 years’ time difference has changed that. Do you think that "Fresh off the Boat" is going to find an audience? NAHNATCHKA KHAN: I hope so. You know, I think that um, listen television is changing so rapidly, it is like how the music business was where people are consuming it on different platforms in certain ways than 20 years ago. So I think that um, you know, I think it is going to be different and I think that this will find an audience. First and foremost it is a funny show and I think it is important. It is a sitcom. We have to make people laugh and we have to entertain people. The fact that this is an Asian family adds to it, but it is not the end all be all. Oh, wow this is a really funny show and I think that's going to find a broad audience. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And why are you bringing "Fresh off the Boat" the pilot for its first screening to the San Diego Asian Film Festival. NAHNATCHKA KHAN: We are super excited to be there and you know, I think like Brian was saying, I think it is a great platform for people to see what we have been we got our pick up in May and it is November and people have not seen it. We are shooting our first season now. We are really proud of the show. It is a really great venue and you know for people to see. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay I have been speaking with Nahnatchka Khan, Executive Producer of ABCs new pilot sitcom, "Fresh off the Boat". Nahnatchka, thank you so much. NAHNATCHKA KHAN: Thank you very much. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brian, remains with me he is the Artistic Director of the Pacific Arts Movement, we are talking about the San Diego Asian Film Festival. By the way, when it "Fresh off the Boat" screening? BRIAN HU: It is screening on Saturday November 8th at 130 at USD auditorium, which is incidentally the first place the Film Festival began 15 years ago. It is the same auditorium and it is a bit of a Homecoming for us as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what is if you can in just a very short thing, what is the controversy over this pilot? BRIAN HU: There was a controversy over the title. For a lot of Asian American's growing up in the United States, they were considered foreigners even though they could have been here for generations. Even within the Asian American community there was a split between those who have been here for generations and have a proficiency of English as compared to those who had just came from Asia, they were considered the FOBs, it was considered the "Fresh off the Boat". It became a derogatory term within the community. Um, but it is also kind of within the community do people really know that this is kind of a problematic term. Um, so there was that controversy meanwhile if you don't know Eddie Wong, if you have seen clips of him. You know that he's a bad boy himself. He is into hip hop and has his own styling, for us it is cool it is the "Fresh off the Boat" that has the cultural meaning, but also "Fresh off the Boat" as in "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" um another 90's television reference. So a way to combine those things. It is a great way of talking about how language works. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It will be interesting to see how it is received then. The festival will be a presence at UC San Diego, at the University of San Diego, is there a lot of interest in Asian cinema on campus? BRIAN HU: Absolutely, especially as a place like UCSD I mean obviously there is a huge Asian and Asian American student body there. Also some of the world renowned Asian film scholars and Asian culture scholars are at UCSD. So for them to have an opportunity to collaborate with the Film Festival and try to get their research out beyond just the ivory tower people. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there any ground breaking films would you like to point out at the Film Festival? BRIAN HU: Well, speaking of UCSD there is actually a groundbreaking perspective that we are doing, one of the professors, Professor Todd Henry in the History Department his research is on queer images in Korea. He decided, we worked together to create a retrospective of six films to talk about the history of queer images in cinema so films from the 70's and 80's all the way to today. We are looking at exploring how images of LGBT folks in Korea have changed throughout time. So things like that. This is the first time such a series has existed outside of Korea. So we are really excited, we are having groundbreaking um explorations like that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, 140 films is more than anyone can really watch in a week. So how are you recommending people tackle this difficult task of deciding which films to go to see? BRIAN HU: So we have created the sections on the website. Sections for the entire festival. It is as if we have five different festivals within one. There is a section for Asian American films, so if you are interested in Asian American's as just another part of America, and stories about Asian American history. There is a section for that. If you want to watch mainstream studio films, genre films, action films, romantic comedies from Asia, there is a section for that. If you are a cinefile you can watch our master's series. If you just want to discover new stories and new ways of telling these stories we have a discovery section as well. So it is like four different Film Festivals all within one. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So besides the movies that you have already pointed out, what are you looking forward to? BRIAN HU: I am most looking forward to the reaction on people's faces as they walk out of films such as we have one called the "Kingdom of Dreams and Madness", um, so some of the listeners might know Hayao Miyazaki one of the great animation directors of all time. He made films like "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro" um so we have a documentary about his process as he is going to make his final film. Um, it is really fascinating and it is for those who idolize Miyazaki, it is a peek into the pearly gates of his studio. Um, so a film like that one and countless others. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, tell us what is your website and how can people find out the various lines of watching that you are talking about? BRIAN HU: It is all on the festival website. It is festival.sdaff.org so festival.sdaff.org. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the San Diego Asian Film Festival opens Thursday night at the Redding Gaslamp Cinemas with the screening of "Revenge of the Green Dragon." I have been speaking with Brian Hu, he is Artistic Director with the Pacific Arts Movement putting on the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Brian, thank you so much. BRIAN HU: Thank you so much. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS even edition again at 5:00 and at 6:30 tonight on KPBS Television and join us tomorrow for discussions on Midday Edition right here on KPBS FM. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, thank you for listening.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The festival, opening this Thursday, has become the largest exhibition of Asian films in the Western United States.
This year, 140 films will be screened in venues from downtown San Diego to Encinitas, including two San Diego university campuses.