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San Diego Asian Film Festival At 20

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San Diego Asian Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary tonight with the opening night film "The Paradise We Are Looking For."

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego, Asian film festivals celebrates its 20th anniversary tonight with the opening night film. The paradise we are looking for to preview the 10 day event. KPBS film critic Beth Armando sat down with the festivals, artistic director, Brian who?

Speaker 2: 00:17 Brian, you are the artistic director of the San Diego Asian film festival. It is celebrating its 20th year this year. You've been there almost half that time. So what kind of changes have you seen or how have you seen the festival grow in that time? Well, it's amazing. When I first arrived in 2011 we were showing films on 35 millimeter prints. I was lugging these 50 pound boxes for every single film. Now we get films on flash drives. So I was thinking about this year, like we really are the history of film of the last 20 years. Thinking about the material of film, like we've shown 35 millimeter, we've shown films on tape, on disc, now you get films on hard drives. We're showing films on virtual reality and that's been part of the fun and challenge because it means we have to constantly adapt. But it also shows sort of the sense of anything is possible.

Speaker 2: 01:03 Like film is trying to figure itself out and Asian American filmmakers are trying to figure out where they fit within that shift in the cinematic landscape. And the, we as a film festival are also trying to figure out what can, how, how best to serve our audience now. So I was at the San Diego Asian film festival the first year it started and there was a push for it to be mostly Asian American films. I was supposed, I was programming the international titles and I know I had to like twist some arms to get us to Zuki Sage on film and to get a host chow Shen film there. And I got voted down on a, an old Vietnamese political comedy that was making fun of the communist while under communist role. So I've been really thrilled when they took you on as artistic director that you really pushed it to balance the Asian American and the international films.

Speaker 2: 01:52 So what have you kind of seen in that respect in terms of the films you're able to program? Well, I mean I'm lucky that in the years I've been here we've seen an explosion of Asian cinema. I mean like when you were involved w that was like the beginning of the Korean cinema was arriving and we're discovering Thai cinema and I feel like I'm lucky that's like I, I arrived when it's blossomed. And so this is just so much to choose from. But meanwhile, in the Asian American side, we're finding a lot of filmmakers now who are last few years, especially in the interested in television and, and web content. So film is perhaps not the only option for Asian American media makers. So I'm also seeing in terms of what is available out there, I get a plethora of stuff from, from Asia, but in Asian America it's really, that's what, that's what we have to do our research and find out that I think about the fact that these homes aren't necessarily coming to us.

Speaker 2: 02:43 We have to seek out the filmmakers. Sometimes they're filmmakers who don't normally work in Asian-American spaces. They may work in avant garde spaces, queer spaces or just more mainstream spaces and we, so we have to discover them as opposed to we can't just wait for them to anymore. That's best a been a big shift that we've seen. And also you've been pretty daring in some of your programming choices as well. And you don't pick just kind of crowd-pleaser films or films that are easily accessible. You have gone for some really interesting choices in documentaries and in really long beautiful melodramatic films from the Philippines. So you've really been pushing the envelope in a lot of different ways. Yeah, I mean I, I joke that this year my longest film is only three hours. Like so like I've, last year I showed a eight and a half hour documentary that was there.

Speaker 2: 03:31 Yeah, you made it. And so I mean like moments like that are partly to test our audiences because film festivals should be ways to stretch our audiences or just to remind audiences that they're capable of so much more than what Hollywood is offering them. So if we don't play these films, who will now explain a little bit about PAC arts, PAC arts sponsors, the Asian film festival, and this year it's kind of exciting that you're opening night film is a film that you guys have actually produced. Yeah, Pacific arts movement is a nonprofit. We are, we call them smart. We call ourselves a media arts organization. That means we are involved in all elements of promoting different kinds of voices through the media arts. For instance, we have a youth filmmaker training program called real voices, which is here to train teenagers in documentary production to tell stories about San Diego.

Speaker 2: 04:23 And so in thinking about what to do for our 20th year, we wanted to make sure it's not just about exhibition like we're most famous or putting on our film festival instead of celebrating ourselves. We wanted to celebrate all of those who have sustained us for these last 20 years specifically, um, different neighborhoods around the city that often don't get their stories told on screen. So we thought we'd say, let's gift those communities some stories. And so we commissioned filmmakers who we've met through the years. Um, so we invited them to, to pick a, pick a neighborhood in San Diego and that they feel a particular connection to or that they know people from and they want to tell their stories. And in particular I wanted to give them a challenge of thinking about the documentary form more expansively. So there's so many ways to make a documentary.

Speaker 2: 05:09 I don't just want to watch films where it's just professors talking about the history of San Diego or something. So really immerse these, immersed the filmmakers in these neighborhoods and just soak it all in. And the name of the film, the name of the film is the paradise we are looking for. There are a lot of films at the festival that are going to attract crowds because of either the master filmmakers that are involved or the topics. But I always like to point out some films that maybe will not be discovered. And one of these is called what we left unfinished. And this is about Afghan cinema. Tell us a little bit about this documentary and how you found it. I'm so glad you mentioned that. Oh, so this is, this is a classic example of a film by an Asian American filmmaker who is not really in the Asian American space and she's, she's doing things, this is working in Afghanistan, but she, I think she sees her art as beyond just film festivals.

Speaker 2: 06:02 She shoots, she exhibits in museums. And so we really, we had to go out of a way to, to find this one, but it will, boy, it was well worth it. So the film is about the eight, 1980s and nineties in Afghanistan. When you have just continued regime changes and with each regime there's propaganda. But as soon as it takes, sometimes it takes longer to make a film then for regime to stay in power. So what happens is the regime changes and you have all these unfinished films. And what we forget is these filmmakers are artists. They're entertainers. They're not your PR PR, especially for ideological purposes. And they've left their passions behind. And so the filmmaker got access to these unfinished films that have never really been showcased anywhere, uh, restore them. And it got the filmmakers to talk about these unfinished projects and tell the stories of how they are making films in this very unique political situation and what it means to be a filmmaker and artist and storyteller during this time.

Speaker 2: 07:00 And are there any other films that you have that are favorites? I know it's like asking which is your favorite child, but do you have any other films that you want to mention for people to maybe seek out? A really bizarre but beautiful touching film is called hope frozen. It's a documentary from Thailand drugged by Thai American director. It's about a family and his family of scientists. The dad is a scientist, the son is in high school. His name is matrix. If he wants to be a scientist one day, like his dad unfortunately matrix, his younger sister is dying of a terminal illness and the family because they believe in science so much decide to cryogenically freezer and they know that we don't have the technology now to revive her, but who knows, maybe when we were just 10 years away and were thrilled at the director is going to be here. Yeah. I'm really looking forward to that.

Speaker 1: 07:50 That was artistic director Brian, who speaking with Beth Armando about the San Diego Asian film festival that kicks off its 20th season tonight at the Conrad previs performing arts center in the Hoya. The festivals Homebase through November 16th is at the ultra star mission Valley theaters.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.