The San Diego Asian Film Festival showcases new talent and old classics – KPBS | Episode Movies

The 23rd annual San Diego Asian Film Festival kicks off Thursday with the documentary “Bad Axe” at the San Diego Natural History Museum. This year’s festival will present 130 films from more than 30 countries and will be screened in four venues.

The documentary “Bad Axe” opens the 23rd San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Kicking the festival back up

Film festivals, like so many arts organizations, have been hit hard by the pandemic and trying to get audiences back to the movies has been a challenge.

“Last year was a nice rebound,” said Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival. “We were back in person but we said let’s not do more than one venue at a time. Partly because we might still be a bit rusty. It’s a lot of work doing multiple venues at once and then we didn’t know if the demand was there yet.”

This year, they’re pre-pandemic with screenings at UltraStar Mission Valley’s home base, as well as the San Diego Natural History Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts and Price Center at UC San Diego.

“So we’re ready to do it, go back to what we used to be and multiple venues at once. And pretty soon we’ll be going back to 2019 in terms of our operations,” Hu added. “We feel great about it. The crowd seems to think so too. And ticket sales are going well.”

Presenting Asian diversity

Although the festival is more than two decades old, some moviegoers may still assume that an Asian film festival only showcases countries like China, Japan and South Korea.

“One of our goals is to remind everyone that Asia is the largest continent in the world and they make films everywhere, and they do really good ones,” Hu said. “So obviously India is one of the biggest film producers in the world and India makes more than just Bollywood films. India has this busy new independent film scene, films being made in multiple languages. And so we have some films from India.”

Films from Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands will also be shown. Plus a focus on Asian American and Asian Canadian films.

“This is a film festival largely founded and organized by Asian Americans,” Hu said. “I think one of our goals is to create a platform for marginalized voices here in the United States. I mean, Asian Americans don’t have a lot of exposure in Hollywood or in the mainstream media. So for those filmmakers and artists that are going to go out there putting themselves on screen, we want to give them a platform too.”

The festival will also screen an anthology film entitled We Are Still Here, featuring filmmakers from Australia and New Zealand. But it’s not your typical anthology film.

“This one is a bit more ambitious,” Hu said. “It allows filmmakers from New Zealand, Australia and Samoa to each have their own little short piece, but they are so intertwined that they overlap. One starts and then stops halfway. Another starts and later goes on. And what’s really ambitious about it is that they take Captain Cook’s arrival in the Pacific Islands as an impetus, as a kind of spark for indigenous peoples to have a voice, but then that cascades into it, via anti-colonial resistance to talk, and then that turns into this incredible vision of what the future might be like. So it shows not only that there are many voices of indigenous voices in the Pacific islands, but that they really think outside the box.

Highlighting new and experienced filmmakers

While “We’re Still Here” serves up young filmmakers and new voices, the sidebar called Masters reminds us of the great filmmakers who have been producing stunning art for decades. It allows us to see new work by veteran filmmakers and introduce those directors to a new generation. This year, featured artists include Jafar Panahi from Iran, Hirokazu Kore-eda from Japan, Hong Sang-soo from South Korea and Lav Diaz from the Philippines.

Master filmmakers can also be seen in the Classics Restored showcase. As someone who fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the 80’s when the Hong Kong New Wave hit, I’m thrilled to see two Johnnie To films on the slate: Heroic Trio and Executioners. These films represent the wild energy, bold style and insane madness of the Hong Kong New Wave. You feel like blowing the dust off everything that came before and inventing something completely new.

Both films feature a trio of female action stars: Michelle Yeoh (who rides high in Everything Everywhere All At Once), Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung.

“These are not films that one would normally consider the important films of world cinema. But they are,” Hu enthused. “These are simply the wildest Hong Kong action films of the 1990s. Not necessarily in terms of breathtaking action, but also all crazy. Above all, it just has the three most spectacular stars of Hong Kong cinema at the peak of their powers, kicking butt, wearing incredible outfits and just being totally memorable, on top of the fact that there’s a director like Johnny To who just allows them to do the craziest things to do. I mean, that’s too irresistible. We show both [in 4K restorations] and it sells well. And we know the audience is going to have a great time.”

I can also guarantee a great time at the amazing Mystery Kung Fu Theater where you have to trust Hu to choose a movie you will love. And he has yet to disappoint. The films tend to be kung fu gems of the ’70s and ’80s, and Hu is particularly excited about this year’s mystery selections.

There was a sound problem at the screening last year and the audience, which I was part of, voted to see the film and do live foley. It was also one of the most dizzying performances I’ve ever seen. So, as always, I look forward to this event and urge people to come for something magical.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival runs from Thursday to November 12th.

Leave a Comment