BY KARYN KUBO LAMBORN
Examiner Film Editor
With the Northwest Asian American Film Festival just a couple of weeks away, festival director Wes Kim took a few minutes from his hectic schedule of programming five feature films and more than 50 short films into the four-day festival to answer a few questions for the International Examiner.
KKL: This is the third year for the NWAAFF. How does this year differ from the previous two years?
WK: I wish I could say it’s been getting easier to put together, but it’s always a lot of work each year. Certainly our closing night feature “Sorceress of the New Piano” is an unprecedented event for us — having legendary avant-garde pianist Margaret Leng Tan perform for the first time in Seattle as part of our festival is a tremendous honor. And writer Frank Chin will be at the screening of the documentary “What’s Wrong with Frank Chin?” which should make for an interesting time.
KKL: What have you learned as a filmmaker after directing NWAAFF for three years?
WK: Keep short films short. If your film starts going past 15 minutes, it had better be extremely good or film festival programmers will simply lose patience and look for a shorter, better work. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great short films in the 15-30 minute range (some of which are in our festival), but after reviewing films for three festivals, I sometimes feel like imposing a 15-minute cap on the running time for shorts. I wouldn’t really do that, of course, but the temptation is there.
KKL: Short films outnumber features by more than 10 to one. Why do you think that is?
WK: Well, features are certainly harder to make. What I find more interesting is how documentary films outnumber narrative films. In some ways, it’s harder for narrative filmmakers. Any shortcomings in writing, acting, or production values can take a viewer out of the story. However, audiences have different standards for documentaries — a compelling subject can make up for so-so audio or video quality. Of course, making documentaries is hard in different ways, like the years of your life you can spend following a single subject and then editing down hundreds of hours of footage.
KKL: Do you have a favorite feature or short film collection? If so, why?
WK: Oh, that’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite! I think Grace Lee’s “The Grace Lee Project” is hugely entertaining, and Grace will be a gracious guest. (Did I really just say that?) I really like our narrative shorts program—actually, all our shorts programs. The Northwest program is a great showcase for regional artists, and it’s followed by a party with stand-up comedy and “Cineoke” (singing along with movie clips).
KKL: In your opinion, what is the state of Asian American cinema? Did or will “Better Luck Tomorrow” make a difference?
WK: Things are slowly getting better, but as always, the struggle continues. “Better Luck Tomorrow” made a difference by setting a higher quality bar for Asian American independent films, but as for increasing Asian American representation in mainstream Hollywood films, I think the jury’s still out. For the foreseeable future, Asian American stories will be relegated to independent film, so for better or worse, festivals like ours will continue to be necessary.
KKL: Anything else you’d like to mention about the 2006 NWAAFF?
WK: The festival passes are a really great deal, and they’re available for sale online at www.nwaaff.org and by phone at (800) 838-3006. And we also have a blog on our Web site where you can find out even more about the festival.