BY BYRON AU YONG
“By holding our festival in January, we can cherry-pick films from other festivals,” explains director Wes Kim.
It’s a Sunday morning two-and-a-half weeks before the 2007 Northwest Asian American Film Festival (NWAAFF). I sit with Kim in a local caf». He wears glasses and a baseball cap. While eating a muffin, he continues.
“The granddaddy of Asian American film festivals happens every March in San Francisco. Then there are festivals in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and D.C. By now, I know which films have been featured and which have good word-of-mouth.”
From these recommendations and a call for entries, Kim and the rest of the all-volunteer NWAAFF staff schedule an array of films that befit the low-key intelligence of film goers in the Pacific Northwest.
Three of the recommended featured films this year are “Red Doors,” “Colma: The Musical” and “The Slanted Screen.”
“Red Doors,” a bizarre Chinese American family comic-drama directed by Georgia Lee, won Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. Co-presented by Women in Film/Seattle, this will be the Washington premiere of Lee’s directorial debut.
“Colma,” a rock musical set in the suburbs, features 13 numbers with original music by co-star H.P. Mendoza. Directed by Richard Wong, this coming-of-age film has been called “fresh, easy-flowing and irresistible” by the Los Angeles Times and an “unexpected delight” by Variety. The Seattle premiere, co-presented by Three Dollar Bill Cinema, is sure to be a favorite of the festival.
“The Slanted Screen,” a documentary about Asian American men in film and television by writer/director Jeff Adachi, includes interviews with actors such as James Shigeta, Dustin Nguyen and Tzi Ma. This work examines how Asian American men have been portrayed and stereotyped in Hollywood films.
“The Slanted Screen” won the Best Short Documentary award at the New York International Independent Film & Video film festival. It will be paired with Director Steven Okazaki’s film “American Sons,” which explores how racism affects four Asian American men. “American Sons” includes Seattle actor Yuji Okumoto who acted in “True Believer” and “Karate Kid II.”
Other local talent is featured in “Northwest Shorts,” a program that celebrates regional filmmakers. The films include “Community Stories: Uncle Jimmy” directed by Shannon Gee; “Happy Valentine’s Day” directed by Mark Ratzlaff and “The Invisible Dog” directed by Madeleine Grant and both produced by Jessica Cheung; “Palweiser Beer” directed by Brad Wilke; “Room 710” directed by Ann Marie Fleming; “Smells Like Fish Sauce” directed by Chau Nguyen Tony Ngo, Boon Tran and Quang Pham; “Tokiwa” directed by Doug Ing; and “Little Red Riding Hood” directed by SJ Chiro.
“I was pleasantly surprised by Chiro’s film,” said Kim. “It is a stylized and fantastical retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story.”
Kim first learned about Chiro, a former artistic director of the Annex Theatre, through her submission to Northwest Shorts. He is dedicated to continue showcasing local talent like Chiro in the festival.
“Asian American Activism,” another shorts program curated by Media That Matters, includes the Asian American documentaries “Day of Remembrance” directed by Cynthia Fujikawa, “A Girl Named Kai” directed by Kai Ling Xue, “How Wal-Mart Came to Haslett” directed by Meerkat Media Collective, “Night Visions” directed by Kathy Huang, “The Rules of the Game” directed by Garance Burke and Monica Lam, “Slip of the Tongue” directed by Karen Lum, “Something Other Than Other” directed by Jerry A. Henry and Andrea J. Chia, and “Vision Test” directed by Wes Kim.
In addition, there is the crowd-pleasing “Animation: The Illusion of Life” curated by the San Diego Asian Film Festival and co-presented by ASIFA (Association International du Film d’Animation/International Animated Film Association) Seattle. This program includes 19 animated shorts that range from “Kungfu Gecko” directed by Nickson Fong to “Talking About Amy” directed by Yorico Murakami.
Another popular event at the festival is the late-night “Cineoke!” hosted by Three Dollar Bill Cinema. In “cineoke,” a twist on karaoke, audience members perform with their favorite movie musical scene.
Other films include the documentary “Mighty Warriors of Comedy” about the San Francisco sketch-comedy troupe, the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, written and directed by Sung H. Kim. This program includes a live performance by Seattle sketch-comedy group Pork Filled Players.
Winner of the Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award, Linda Hattendorf’s documentary “The Cats of Mirikitani” is about once-homeless, 86-year-old artist Jimmy Mirikitani. New York Magazine calls this film “a profoundly gripping film with a cumulative impact that may well wipe you out.” Mirikitani’s paintings were featured at the Wing Luke Asian Museum last September.
Local indie filmmaker Jon Moritsugu will attend screenings of his films “Scumrock and Crack.” His subversive films have received awards from the New York and Chicago Underground Film Festivals and have been called “gripping, strangely beautiful and poignant” by The Village Voice.
New to this year’s festival are screenings of 35 mm prints at the Northwest Film Forum. The two features will be presented on opening night.
The first is “Eve and the Fire Horse,” by Vancouver, B.C.-based director Julia Kwan. Film critic Roger Ebert called the work “Luminous! One of the most beloved films at Sundance this year.” It is a story about a Chinese North American girl with an overactive imagination.
The second is “Journey from the Fall (Vuot Song)” by filmmaker Ham Tran. Told from the viewpoint of the average Vietnamese person’s experience leading up to and the consequences from the fall of Saigon, Kim called this work “a sweeping and powerful film that is like the television mini-series ‘Roots,’ but for the Vietnamese American community.” USA Film Festival award-winning writer/director Ham Tran is scheduled to attend the screening.
Speaking of the opening night features, Kim said, “Both of these films are perfect examples of the level of craft and sophistication that Asian American film has reached.”
Now in his fifth year of the festival, Kim is cautiously optimistic about the future of Asian American filmmaking.
“The success of Asian American films like ‘Better Luck Tomorrow,’ ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ and ‘Robot Stories’ opens younger Asian Americans up to the idea that they can do film … still there needs to be a special level of encouragement in seeing Asian American films,” he said.
As a filmmaker, full-time copywriter and father of two boys ages 6 and 8, Kim knows the importance of balancing time with values. The 2007 Northwest Asian American Film Festival brings thought-provoking, entertaining and personal films with eight features and numerous shorts from Jan. 25-28.
“I want to create movie-going experiences that are worthwhile and fulfilling,” said Kim. “I hope this festival becomes a welcome and expected event.”
For schedule, ticket and venue information, visit www.nwaaff.org.