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Where EAST meets the Northwest

FLICK FEST.’s Phil Yu chats with producer Taro Goto (White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) at the APA Filmmaker Reception. (AR Photo/Toni Tabora-Roberts)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #8 (February 20, 2007), page 9.

Asian-American filmmakers find support and opportunity at Park City fests

By Toni Tabora-Roberts

Special to The Asian Reporter

The 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest independent film fest, and the neighboring playful Slamdance, both in Park City, Utah, boasted a record number of Asian Pacific filmmakers who garnered enthusiastic responses from audiences packed with studio execs, industry folk, and film lovers.

Sundance featured Asian-American films throughout the lineup, including several features:

  • Dark Matter, by Chen Shi-Zheng, features a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn. The story follows a brilliant Chinese student and his struggles through the politics of American life, ego, and science. The film was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the festival.
  • Finishing the Game, by Justin Lin, is a 1970s comedy spoof which re-imagine’s Hollywood’s search for the next Bruce Lee.
  • Never Forever, by Gina Kim, follows the drama of a white woman married to a Korean-American man and her dangerous efforts to conceive a child.
  • Protagonist, by Jessica Yu, is a hybrid documentary exploring drama and the role of the protagonist through vérité, interviews, and puppets.
  • Smiley Face, by Gregg Araki, offers a comedic look at pot culture.
  • Slamdance screened some notable features as well:
  • American Zombie, by Grace Lee, a mockumentary-style comedy romp exploring the misunderstood Zombie community.
  • Dream in Doubt, by Tami Yeager, follows an immigrant Indian family’s struggle to deal with a highly publicized hate crime post-9/11.

In addition to receptive audiences, APA filmmakers also found support through the Asian Pacific American Film Experience, presented by Bud Select and hosted by the Asian Pacific American Film Experience Committee, a coalition of organizations including Asian CineVision, the Center for Asian American Media, the San Diego Asian Film Foundation, and Visual Communications. The program was created in 2001 "by a small group of Asian-American media professionals who wanted to recognize the fact that Asian-American filmmakers were a growing presence at the biggest American film festivals," according to Winston Emano, co-founder.

On January 21, the sixth annual Asian Pacific Filmmaker Reception was a lively, jam-packed (almost too packed) networking event bringing together directors, producers, actors, and other industry folk for an afternoon celebration of all the filmmakers screening at the prestigious festivals. "The result is, five years down the road, the growth of our event has mirrored the growth of Asian-Pacific cinema," said Emano. The first reception had just 200 guests and this year’s hosted over 500. Nearly 40 Asian-Pacific filmmakers screened their works in Park City, compared with 18 just five years ago.

The Asian Pacific American Film Experience expanded to include the first APA Filmmakers Lounge. The highlight was an all-star panel discussion, "If You Build It, Will They Come? Aspirations For the New Asian-American Film Movement," moderated by Chi-hui Yang, Festival Director at the Center for Asian American Media. The panel featured directors Justin Lin and Grace Lee, producer Janet Yang, actors Sung Kang, Suzy Nakamura, and Dustin Nguyen, as well as reality TV star Yul Kwon, winner of "Survivor: Cook Islands."

The discussion was animated and entertaining. Panelists spoke frankly about the difficulties of bringing an Asian-American sensibility to the narrow, celebrity-fueled mainstream movie-making business, while each expressed the desire not to have their work be completely boxed into categories like "Asian" or "Asian American." Lee said, "American Zombie is a totally American independent film, which is a label that I would embrace."

Lin added, "When I was a kid, I never wanted to be the best basketball player in the Asian league, I wanted to play in the NBA. I think that is the ideal situation, to hopefully break all these categories. But the reality is that it does exist … coming from the indie world to the studio world — you’re dealing with people who want to box things in."

Overall, the APA film scene in Park City reflected the five years of maturation. Filmmakers are now creating more complex works that go beyond the earlier staple of identity politics to more sophisticated storytelling that includes an Asian-American perspective. As Lin said, "Don’t go to our films just because we’re Asian American. Go see our films because they are good."