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San Diego Asian Film Festival Opens Thursday

Former Disney artist Tyrus Wong is the subject of the documentary TYRUS and will receive a lifetime achievement award at the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival.
Pamela Tom
Former Disney artist Tyrus Wong is the subject of the documentary TYRUS and will receive a lifetime achievement award at the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival.
2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival Trailer
San Diego Asian Film Festival Opens Thursday
San Diego Asian Film Festival Opens Thursday GUESTS:Brian Hu, artistic director, San Diego Asian Film Festival Pamela Tom, director and producer, "TYRUS"

This is KBPS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Women directors, Masters of Cinema, pop culture under 105-year-old former Disney artist took those are some of the people and topics highlighted at this year's San Diego film Festival. It's the 16th annual event celebrating films from Asia and by Asian-Americans. Here's a sample of the range of stories that we -- that will be screened. Our next legend had a brief that impactful Disney career. His name is Tyrus Wong and he only worked at the studio for three years. During that time, devoted himself to just one movie. Bambi. This is first time in Hong Kong? Yes it is. I'm guessing it's not yours? I live here. This is great. It's but a much like this every night. Nice to meet you. It was nice to meet you too. I am Chinese-American and I can't speak the language, but I know the flavor. I used to think that I knew what Asian is some -- Asian is. My perception is a thin experience of what Asian-American as. Occupied. Your piece spells -- pee smells like asparagus. It's creepy. Close the door, please. 107, went to my first national tournament and lost. I was really, really sad. I remember watching the girl who won. She was like a celebrity. So, used my loss as motivation. I went home to Hawaii and train hard. Two years letter, I went up against the same girl and this year -- time, I won. Those clips were from the documentary TYRUS and from the feature films. Female pervert, North America, and winning girl. In all, more than 130 films from 15 countries will be screened from today through November 14. Joining me, Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian film Festival . Pamela Tom joins us, director of the document tree TYRUS. Pamela, welcome. Brand, there are genres of Asian film that have become familiar to Asian-American. Action films and horror films. Does that identification help or hurt when you're presenting such a wide range of films? I think it helps because people have certain expectations about what's in a can be and they already know this is something they could be interested in. It's a good hook, a good way to get people excited about the festival. But sometimes, they come to the festival and they are disappointed. They find out there is huge diversity of styles and perspectives and genres from Asian cinema as diverse as anything here in U.S. As a matter design and coincidence, quite a few of the films, in fact all that we heard and that montage are directed by women. Were Asian women directors hard to find? Well, if you think about in terms of films and Asian American films, Asian-American women have always been in the forefront. We really didn't have to work too hard. To get a diversity perspective. It just happens naturally. You never know quite what you're going to get. In some countries like Hong Kong or Japan, with a have a long-standing tradition of studios and agents, it's an old boys club. Not too many films by women there, but in some of the countries where film is new, people are still discovering how to make money off of films, you have all kinds of perspectives. Known as really going to deny new talent because you find interesting works by women. Let me go to Pamela Tom. Tyrus Wong is the subject of your documentary called TYRUS. He is now 105 years old. He worked in home -- he worked in Hollywood from the 30s to the 60s. And his contributions to production are legendary inside the film industry, but kind of unknown to the public. Pamela, how did you find out about hemp? I was watching Bambi on video with my preschooler over 15 years ago and at the end of the film, they had these making of documentaries and a discovered in that clip that there was a Chinese -- by the name of Tyrus Wong responsible for creating the look of the film. I was and trade . Watch? Chinese, and American, 1930s, Disney? Brett this Chinese aesthetic to the film? I was determined to find out who this man was and if he was still living in where he was. I tracked him down. You certainly did work let me play a clip from the documentary TYRUS. And this clip, which are about the influence has had on production design throughout the industry. It started when he drew sketches for the background in the Disney movie, Bambi, and they wound up in Walt Disney's hands. This is very simple.-Up like that. A little bit of oleander influence. I like that. Bambi does not look like other Disney films. Part of that is the personal style of Tyrus Wong and part of that is drawing on traditional Chinese art. You can see brushstrokes on the screen. It gave you the idea of a whole bunch of leaves or a bush, but they were brush strokes. Is from the documentary TYRUS, which will be screened at the Asian American film Festival here in San Diego. It's directed by Pamela Tom. The two people we heard in that clip in addition to Tyrus Wong himself was Charles Solomon, a film critic and Andrea Dejas, and animator.'s were contribution to the movies was in the look. Is that right? That's correct. It was really the visual design. He was what was called an inspirational artist. He didn't actually do the background. He created hundreds and hundreds of paintings that suggested the look of the film. Everybody from the background painters to the director to the animators would really look at that look and the whole look was cleaved into his style. And you say that he is an artist as indeed he was. He actually showed his pictures with Picasso is that right? Yes. At an exhibition in Chicago at the Chicago Art Institute. There was a group exhibition with Matisse, Kandinsky, Picasso, Tyrus Wong among others. That was when he was really just fresh out of art school. One of the things you found out about Tyrus Wong after tracking him down with the in addition to his talent, he has laid an incredible life. He came to America as a child, he was held in detention at Angel Island. Why was that? At the time, Chinese laborers were not allowed into the country and the only way you could really get in -- there were only four categories for entry for the Chinese. Merchant, diplomats students or when I can't remember. The family were laborers, so they came in and assumed name. The detention center was there to interrogate people to keep them there. So they could try to trick them into giving the wrong answer and automatically be deported back to China. Tyrus Wong had to memorize the answers to this assumed identity. So, he was detained for over a month as a nine-year-old without his father. His father had already gone into the country because he had been here before. He was left alone trying to remember all these answers and it was a very lonely experience for him. Very frightening. And the documentary is also a bit of a love story, isn't it? Very much so, yes between Tyrus Wong and his wife Ruth, who he met shortly after -- shortly before his father passed away and they had a 50+ year marriage. She was American-born Chinese, educated at UCLA. In some ways, the complete opposite of Tyrus Wong and became his lifelong partner and collaborator and really helped him in his career. One of the highlights of the film festival, Brian, will be the appearance of Tyrus Wong We tried to have a lifetime achievement award winner everything a year and if you look at the history of Asian Americans in Hollywood, there are so few to choose from. What made high-risk so special was he was one of the few so able to have a career spanning -- spanning decades. It was a no-brainer. He is such a pioneer, no one quite like him. We were so grateful that this documentary is also out and about Tyrus Wong is going to come all the way down to San Diego to speak with his fans. When will it be screened? Saturday and then again later in the week, Thursday I believe. It will be at the ultra-start in Mission Valley expect you also have a legendary Japanese, director and a very popular Doctor -- comedian. Tyrus Wong isn't the only legend. The other is Kegio Shita. His sums are legendary in Japan, but didn't really transfer in the United States. His films were political and you had to know the politics of Japan 20 stand them. We are bringing him as well. He is not quite as well-known as Tyrus Wong, but he is going to be here along with an actress to talk about his -- two of his legendary films. And before you go onto the other highlight, that is part of your Masters series, right? Tell us about the Masters series. Some people just want to go to film festivals because they are the great directors of the world, the same if there is a Picasso exhibit. You don't really care which pieces they are. Similarly, film festivals sometimes -- there are directors, they don't --, they've made, they just to see their work. People haven't seen his work in the United States, so we figured he should be in that section. And the start of hangover? Doctor Ken Jong, who many don't know was a licensed doctor before he gave stand up a try. He appeared in several major films like the hangover. He was on TV with community and this year he joins fresh off the boat with the second sitcom about an Asian American family on TV. His show Doctor Ken is loosely based on his own character is a Doctor, a rowdy one. Will he be participating in a panel of some kind? Is coming down to Sandy go this weekend and we are going to show an episode that has not yet aired. It's state from the labs at Sony and he is going to talk to the audience about what it has been like for him to launch this historic series. What others are many favorites at the festival? So many. The one I have been talking about endlessly as a film called the assassin directed by Hoshoi Shin. It's a film that's interested in what martial artists do when they're not fighting. One of they are kind of waiting around, contemplating their next course of action were watching their target without -- in silence, from a corner. It's rubbish Lee -- ravishingly beautiful and it's talking about the beauty of these characters worlds as opposed to the violence. Where can people find a rundown of the films that are going to be screened? 130 films are listed on our website. You can get information on tickets, and you can search by genre, director and category. Pamela, what does Tyrus Wong think about all this? He is always surprised. His first comment to me was why would anyone want to make a film of me. The second was why would anyone want to see it? He is so humble and modest. He doesn't understand why people make such a big fuss about him, but I think he's really glad for the recognition he has received after all these years. I think he's very happy. The first screening of TYRUS will take place Saturday ? Correct. Terrific. I want to thank you both. I have been speaking with Brian Hu with the San Diego American Asian film Festival which runs through Saturday to the 14th of multiple venues throughout town. Mission Valley all the way up to Encinitas. I have been speaking with Pamela Tom producer of the documentary TYRUS. Think about. Thank you. Thank you so much.

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Women directors, masters of cinema, pop culture and a 105-year-old former Disney artist. Those are some of the people and topics highlighted at this year's San Diego Asian Film Festival. It's the 16th annual event celebrating films from Asia and by Asian-Americans. In all, more than 130 films from 15 countries will be screened from Thursday through Nov. 14.

One of the films featured is documentary "TYRUS," produced and directed by Pamela Tom. Tom tells the story of Chinese-American arts pioneer Tyrus Wong, who is now 105-years-old and living in Los Angeles. Wong worked as a production illustrator from 1938 through 1968 for studios including Disney and Warner Brothers. His contributions to the Disney classic "Bambi" led to a Disney Legend award in 2001.

In an interview in the documentary, Wong described drawing sketches at home for the background in the Disney movie "Bambi" that wound up in Walt Disney's hands.

"He said 'gee, this is really simple I kind of like that'," Wong said.

"'Bambi' does not look like the other Disney films," said Charles Soloman, a film critic and animation historian in the film. "Part of that is Tyrus' personal style and part of it is drawing on the traditions of Chinese art."

Wong's successful life as a production illustrator was not without difficulty. As a Chinese-American, he experienced racism. He was unable to buy a home for his family until 1950 because Chinese people could not own property in the United States until 1948. On his first day on the job, an art director at a studio where he worked called him a name that's a derogatory term for Chinese people.

In the film, Wong visits Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay where he was detained as a 9-year-old because of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Wong's visit was transforming said filmmaker Tom. Wong was greeted on the island by a California State Parks ranger and a group of school children who had just finished learning about history of Angel Island, including the detention of Chinese immigrants between 1910 and 1940.

"The ranger was saying meet Mr. Wong, he was here at Angel Island," Tom said. "They had just gone through the whole tour and they were so excited and screaming 'Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong!' and they sang him 'Happy Birthday' and they interviewed him on the boat coming back."

"I think what happened is by going back and facing that and walking through those places, he was able to transform it from this bitter, horrible experience to something positive," Tom said.

The SDAFF will honor Wong with a lifetime achievement award at its gala on Saturday night. "TYRUS" will be screened on at 3:40 p.m. Saturday at the UltraStar Mission Valley at 7510 Hazard Center Drive in San Diego.