The San Diego Asian Film Festival was created with one mission in mind: to foster better understanding of the different cultures within the Asian community. With the festival's 12th year beginning next week, the mission remains the same as San Diegans continue to learn.
From Oct. 20 through Oct. 28, the festival will bring together directors, films and actors from 21 different Asian countries. On top of film free screenings, the week includes a gala, award ceremony and several after parties.
Organizers said there won’t be a resounding theme or collective realization gained from the festival, however that may be its strong point—each culture that falls under the categorization of “Asian” brings something different to the table.
Members of each ethnicity are still struggling to be understood by others in the Asian community—let alone by those of non-Asian decent, said Lee Ann Kim, the festival’s executive director.
“There’s still a lot of misunderstanding about who we are as a community,” Kim said of Asians in San Diego. “There’s lack of opportunity to do so, but we’re trying to change that.”
The breadth of the films at the festival identifies these nuances, said Brian Hu, artistic director for the SDAFF.
For example, the festival features Hello Ghost, a Korean film about a man haunted by comedic ghosts after a failed suicide attempt. On the same day, the festival will also screen the Filipino film Left by the Ship, about the mixed-race children of sex workers impregnated by U.S. sailors in the '90s.
And they aren’t just movies by Asian directors either. A few of the films are by Americans or Asian-Americans looking through their own cultural window into other ethnicities. An example of this is Big in Bollywood, a film about an Indian man struggling to become an actor in America. After a few unsuccessful and typecast roles, he decides to audition for a Bollywood film and finally sees success.
“Through the process of discovering other cultures, I can laugh over their jokes, or shed a tear over their stories,” Hu said. “It’s a gateway into a greater understanding.”
There are some universal elements of the films featured as well. Many of them tackle the one-dimensional stereotypes of Asians often seen in mainstream films; Characters are often intelligent, but antisocial or weak. The characters of the festival’s films are more dynamic, and they struggle with the same problems as other cultures, Kim said.
Marissa Dodds, a La Jolla resident and junior at , joined the SDAFF as a student intern with Reel Voices. The group studies digital storytelling and showcases a film during the festival. She said her community in La Jolla may be surprised to see how universal many of the festival’s films are.
“The films shown during the festival work to show the commonality in the human experience,” Dodds said. “Even though cultural differences exist, the festival connects its audiences by exploring the idea that we all as humans share many of the same joys and hardships.”
One film that challenges the Asian stereotype is Bang Bang, directed by alum Byron Q. The plot centers around the Asian gang culture on the West Coast. Gang violence is typically associated with members of the Mexican or black communities, but few realize that Asian-American diasporas also see gang activity, Q said.
“The characters [in Bang Bang] are the furthest away from those stereotypes you could possibly get,” he said. “I’m just showing people what I saw. I wasn’t around a lot of those smart Asian kids you see in mainstream films.”
Several of the scenes were shot in areas such as Mira Mesa and Clairemont Mesa—areas that often deal with gang violence off-screen as well. Q said he hopes his film brings awareness to gang violence—not just among Asian gangs, but in all lower-income communities.
Though Q said he could not have made the film without the support of the Asian community, he hopes it will stand out for its story—not just because a Chinese-American directed it.
For more information on the events and films featured in the festival, visit the SDAFF website, sdaff.org.