Check Out Full Line Up Of Pac-Arts' Spring Showcase
Sidebar programming includes 'Songs Our Elders Taught Me,' 'Sovereign Cinema'
UPDATED STORY, April 16, 2021
In addition to the program of "Songs Our Elders Taught Me," created in response to the targeting of Asian American seniors in recent hate crimes, Pac-Arts artistic director Brian Hu has created another sidebar called Sovereign Cinema. The focus of this programming is on documentaries about Hawaii.
"I discovered that there is a film collective that's been around for decades called Na Maka O Ka ‘Aina and they've been making the most incisive, committed political documentaries that I've seen anywhere in the world," Hu said.
One of the films is "Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation," a video documentary from the 1990s. The technology may feel dated but the documentary is packed with information.
"It's so dense with information and it changes your entire perspective on Hawaii's notion of sovereignty. And that's exactly what these filmmakers or video makers were trying to do with this with these videos," Hu explained.
"Cane Fire" is a new documentary that cleverly uses Hollywood movies like "Blue Hawaii" with Elvis Presley to show what has colored our perspective on the islands.
"The culture has been appropriated," Hu said. "All of Hollywood films are very quote unquote respectful to the Hawaiian culture. That's very much about the music and the costumes. But what good does that do for somebody in Hawaii who is seeing all of their natural resources and their land being increasingly bought up and turned into property through the very same kinds of institutional mechanisms that are creating these kinds of respectable images."
Hu has also programmed a wonderful film from Iran’s Majid Majidi called "Sun Children," which looks to street kids.
"But he has the spin on it, which is it's a heist film," Hu stated. "It's still grounded in realism. But it has jolts of energy of the heist. Are they going to find the treasure or not?"
And since he mentioned jolts of energy, that is my cue to highlight my favorite part of the festival, Mystery Kung Fu Theater. The titles are a secret but you’re guaranteed outrageous old school kung fu action.
"It's going to be a double feature that you can watch from home and it will be live streamed via Twitch."
And streamed on a Saturday morning to remind many of us of how we discovered kung fu movies on TV. Attendees will be able to chat with each other online to savor every delicious line and applaud every crazy martial arts move. So despite a serious social context for this year’s Spring Showcase there is still joy to be found.
'Songs Our Elders Taught Me' Home Viewing List
"Chan is Missing" (Wayne Wang, 1982)
"The Fall of the I-Hotel" (Curtis Choy, 1983)
"Pushing Hands" (Ang Lee, 1991)
"Oh, Saigon" (Doan Hoang, 2007)
"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" (Wayne Wang, 2007)
"American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs" (Grace Lee, 2013)
"95 and 6 to Go" (Kimi Takesue, 2016)
"The Farewell" (Lulu Wang, 2019)
"Lucky Grandma" (Sasie Sealy, 2019)
Pac-Arts is holding a virtual launch party Friday for its upcoming Spring Showcase where it will reveal its full line up. Artistic director Brian Hu offers a sneak peek at his "Songs Our Elders Taught Me" program that he created in response to recent anti-Asian violence.
Hu noticed that many of the victims of these recent hate crimes have older Asian Americans and that troubled him.
"It is that elders seem to be the least likely to fight back. And there's something about them that makes certain racists feel like no one's going to fight for them either," Hu said.
"I'm not saying that a film series is a way of fighting back for them. The existential problem that your life is in peril, isn't going to be fixed by people watching movies," he said. "But I feel like it can combat this notion that our Asian elders are somewhat less than human. So much of the depiction of that is sort of (rooted) in this old 'yellow peril' discourse of the fact that they're sort of like sewer rats or something in the streets, like you can stomp them out or something. That to me is hugely disturbing and I think it is tied to the fact that people just don't see them as human. And that's where movies, I think, can play a part. And this isn't going to be solved right away. But I feel like if more people are aware of old people, where they come from, what does it mean when we can have subtitles for the words they say? What are their hopes and dreams for their families, for themselves, their love stories or anything as opposed seeing them as one dimensional in the most subhuman way possible. So that that was the motivation."
So the "Songs Our Elders Taught Me" program was created to affirm the humanity of Asian American elders by making them visible.
"Not just visible onscreen, but bursting with life, dialogue, and passion," Hu added. "It means acknowledging their faults, their hang-ups, and even their biases. It means seeing their lives as connected with our own, whether as their children, grandchildren, neighbors, or fellow Americans."
Hu has created two parts to the program. One part is a home viewing list. If the Spring Showcase was able to happen in person, he would have screened these films in a cinema but since the event will be virtual this year and so many films are available streaming, he decided to just encourage people to seek out these films on their own and watch.
But while the films of Wayne Wang and Ang Lee are easy to find online, other films are far more difficult.
"I think it's also important for us as historians and curators to think about what is no longer in circulation," Hu explained. "So I challenged myself to find some films, not just recall the titles, but actually find the films and make them accessible digitally on streaming. One of these films is called 'The Wash.' This is a 1988 film starring Mako and Nobu McCarthy, these legends of Asian American cinema. This is a film I watched at the media library at UCSD on VHS. I was doing some research because it was the only way to find this movie. Obviously, if this was in person festival, we'd find the 35 millimeter print. But I got a phone call with the director, Michael Ono, and he told me, if you can find the LaserDisc, you can play this movie. And given his permission, we went on eBay, somehow dug this up."
For the film "Cosmopolitan," starring Roshan Seth and Carol Kane, Hu dug back into the festival's archives to find a DVD that he secured permission to stream for the Spring Showcase.
It is that kind of dedication to bold and innovative film programming that makes the Spring Showcase and San Diego Asian Film Festival such great and richly rewarding events.