SAAFF 2019 is happening at a pivotal point in our history, with many events of the previous year impacting Asian Americans from all walks of life. Southeast Asian refugees became the latest targets of the president’s deportation orders, sending people to countries they’ve never known. We continue to be targets of increasingly emboldened verbal and physical racist attacks across the country. And the current administration continues to try to reverse the rights of LGBTQ people, even writing transgender people out of federal recognition. But last year also closed out on a high note, with Asian Americans making cinematic history. The Golden Globe nominated film Crazy Rich Asians was the first big Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years and became the highest grossing romantic comedy in a decade and the sixth highest grossing ever.
The 84 films in this year’s program are in many ways a reflection on the events of the last year, the effects they continue to have on us, and the multitude of ways in which we challenge and push back against the systems and individuals that attempt to keep us down or force us out. All this through a stunning array of short and feature-length narrative and documentary films that truly demonstrate how far Asian American independent filmmaking has come.
The four-day festival opens February 21 at Broadway Performance Hall with the screening of the provocative documentary Origin Story by director (and also actor, podcast host, and comedy writer), Kulap Vilaysack, who will be present for the screening and Q&A. Origin Story is a deeply personal but universally relevant tale of immigration, conflict, and identity that takes place in LA, Minnesota, and Laos. Other stories of Southeast Asian refugees who fled to America in the 1970s and 1980s also figure prominently this year. Finding the Virgo follows one family’s decades long search for the captain and crew of the ship that rescued them during the Vietnam War, while our closing film, Made in Vietnam, shares the journey of a 33-year-old man searching in Vietnam for the father he never met.
Films that highlight the Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ experience are well represented in this year’s program. Call Her Ganda tells the chilling story of a Filipina trans woman brutally murdered by a U.S. Marine, and the journey of three women seeking justice. Leitis in Waiting gives us a view into the lives of native transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in the South Pacific. Finally, our Queer AF shorts program provides glimpses into the diverse experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders navigating their intersectional identities.
For the first time in SAAFF history, we’ll also be screening two Oscar-nominated films—animated short Weekends plays in our Spotlight Shorts program, and One Small Step screens free as part of the Technologic free shorts program. These are just two of six beautifully produced digital animations that will be featured this year.
Like Crazy Rich Asians, the films that comprise the 2019 SAAFF program are truly noteworthy. A significant number of them have won multiple awards on the film festival circuit, a few have been nominated for Oscars, and we predict many of the films premiering at SAAFF will go on to earn similar accolades. This is why we are so excited about this year’s program.
We are also proud to kick off SAAFF 2019 this year with our biggest showcase of musical talent ever at the historic Washington Hall. The opening night party, emceed by comedian Bri Pruett, will be headlined by popular indie-experimental rock/pop act Japanese Breakfast, hot off an east coast concert tour. Also performing will be musician and multi-media artist, Jyun Jyun, with his dazzling audiovisual installations, and Ruby Ibarra, a fierce Filipino American rapper recently listed on Buzzfeed’s “15 World-Class Filipinos Everyone Should Know.”
Amazing films, a bigger party, bigger theaters, more venues (we’re at Broadway Performance Hall and Northwest Film Forum all weekend long). There is so much to experience at this year’s festival and we can’t wait to see you there.
Vanessa Au and Martin Tran
Co-directors, Seattle Asian American Film Festival
SAAFF runs Feb. 21 – Feb. 24. See the full SAAFF schedule.