The 2023 Seattle Asian American Film Festival’s “Bring It Home: Pacific Northwest Shorts”
program was an homage to the Asian American/Canadian diaspora in our region from Seattle to Spokane, Portland to Vancouver. The highlight, of course, was the hyperlocal nature of the program. There is honor in knowing that these filmmakers’ stories were created in our backyard.
This collection of PNW short films showcases the diversity of being Asian and living in the
Pacific Northwest, affirming that our experiences as Asian Americans/Canadians are not a
monolith. There are, however, similarities.
Starting in South Seattle, we meet muralist Eliseo Art Silva in “Eliseo Art Silva: Finding the Wide American Earth.” The short follows Eliseo as he unveils his process of creating a four-panel mural for the Filipino Community Village, an affordable senior housing complex that includes multigenerational programming. The film pairs unforgettable history with vibrant artistry to sustain the stories of his community in the intergenerational and affordable housing complex.
Next, “The Outlanders – from HKG to SEA,” explores the complex relationship between
memories, things, and places from an anonymous Hong Kong immigrant who left her hometown for the Pacific Northwest after the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement.
“Mak Fai Insider: Building Culture & Community,” features the iconic Chinatown International District Lion Dancers, following some young Asian American Kung-Fu apprentices of the neighborhood organization Mak Fai Seattle Lion Dance.
In “Diaspora Recipes,” two immigrant women, one from the Philippines and one from India,
share how they maintain their connection to their respective cultures by the way of food,
describing the challenges of preserving ties and adapting recipes in tandem with the beauty of cooking for their family and community in Spokane, Washington.
Five Chinese Canadians reconnect to their traditional names through dance in the spunky and choreographed short film “The Body of My Name 名自字体.”
“Midnight Rhythms” could be the visual manifestation of Lorde’s 2017 album “Melodrama” if only queer and Asian. The short portrays a young man’s journey to finding agency in his sexual identity, and along the way, he showcases his spoken word graced against the backdrop of a magnetic soundtrack and a fuschia fluorescent evening.
Based on the journal kept by the director’s Japanese American grandfather while incarcerated during WWII, “1945 April 11th, Wednesday” is a moving narrative of his grandfather’s experience, whose words describe the piercing pain of being interned, along with the indefatigable hope of seeing his family again.
The overarching theme in this program is cultural preservation. How do you sustain one’s
culture? How do you honor what you know and adapt to the limitations of where you are now? And, how do you harmonize your true self, ever-changing, with where you come from?
In “The Outlanders,” this means buying Vita Lemon Tea to stay connected to the place the main subject once felt close to and still has so much hope for. For Noreen Hisky in “Diaspora Recipes,” this means exploring, cooking, and sharing the variety of Indian regional cuisines in her work, despite not being able to fluently teach her daughter any of her parents’ languages. And for Eliseo in “Eliseo Art Silva,” this means painting the stories of his communities’ Filipino elders and ancestors so their history can be preserved for the younger generation.
These three films were the storytelling standouts of the bunch.
The most unique and beautiful aesthetic is in “Midnight Rhythms.” The color scheme of the
production perfectly captures the bliss of being in the middle of the city at midnight with
someone you’re infatuated with, giving way to the crash that comes after the high.
Notable aspects of the other films include learning the technicalities of Chinese lion dancing in “Mak Fai” and hearing from local youth about what lion dancing means to them. Watching “1945” is like looking back on a poignant, complex memory of one’s ancestors. And the most lighthearted short was “The Body of My Name 名自字体,” which was joyful and meaningful to watch, as someone with a traditional name.
The thread of this shorts collection can be encapsulated by a Filipino proverb shared by Armilito J. Pangilian, Chair of the Filipino Community Village mural committee, in “Eliseo,” which roughly translates to the following: “You cannot reach where you want to be without knowing where you came from.”