By Don Simpson | February 11, 2012
The 30th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), a presentation of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), is the world’s largest and most prestigious showcase of new Asian and Asian American cinema. The SFIAAFF occurs between March 8-18, 2012, in San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose.
Characterized by its youthful energy, forward-looking programming, and legacy in social activism and education, SFIAAFF has earned its title as San Francisco’s fastest-growing film festival. Along with its strong local resonance, the festival has important national and international ties and reaches a diverse audience from across the Asian diaspora. Over the past 30 years, SFIAAFF has played a vital role in introducing emerging filmmakers and actors who have gone on to commercial success, such as Wayne Wang, Sandra Oh, John Cho, Mira Nair, Ang Lee, Deepa Mehta, Justin Lin, and Gurinder Chadha, to name a few.
With an emphasis on live events, multimedia performances, and ventures into the culinary and gaming worlds, the Festival unabashedly welcomes new media platforms with the spirit of curiosity—over the past 3 years, SFIAAFF has produced HAPAS.US, a social-networking site for mixed-race Asians; Filipino or Not?, an iPhone game that challenges notions of racial ambiguity; and Climbing Sacred Mountain, a game that teaches young women the tenants of teamwork. It’s no wonder that SFIAAFF has gained a reputation for fostering bold new talent and lifting marginalized voices.
Each year, SFIAAFF recognizes an individual who has made an indelible contribution to the Asian American experience through film; we are delighted to announce our 2012 honoree is the one-and-only actor/director Joan Chen. Born and raised in Shanghai, Chen was a teenager when she won China’s Best Actress award for Little Flower (1980). In the early eighties, she moved to the U.S. and became a star in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), winner of nine Academy Awards. Over the past decades, she has become a constant in mainstream and independent film and television, including Alice Wu’s Saving Face (2005), Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007), Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City (2008) and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. SFIAAFF will host a reunion screening of Saving Face, with many cast and crew in attendance, and Chen’s acclaimed directorial debut Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (1998), preceded by an intimate on-stage conversation with Chen, who has been a Bay Area resident since the mid-‘90s.
SFIAAFF is proud to open the Festival with the World Premiere of White Frog, director Quentin Lee’s much buzzed-about new feature. The film stars Booboo Stewart (The Twilight Saga) as high school freshman Nick, a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome who is often neglected and misunderstood by his seemingly perfect family. This powerful drama by the director of The People I’ve Slept With and Flow, boasts some of the most influential and recognizable Asian American talent today, including B.D. Wong (Law and Order), Harry Shum Jr. (Glee), and Joan Chen (this year’s Festival Spotlight Honoree).
The Festival in San Francisco is capped seven days later with the World Premiere of Closing Night Presentation Prison Dancer (dir. Romeo Candido). Based on the YouTube sensation that featured Philippine prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, this cutting-edge, web-based musical series paints a fictional portrait of the people behind the event, from a flamboyant, destined-to-be-choreographer and his gay minions to a pair of star-crossed lovers kept apart by the prison’s walls. This evening of “performative cinema” will include video, live performances by cast members, and maestro-led audience participation.
Paradise isn’t quite for lovers in Michael Kang’s refreshing new Hawai’i-based, island-powered romantic comedy Knots, SFIAAFF’s San Jose Opening Night Gala Presentation. Director Michael Kang’s (The Motel, West 32nd) third feature further demonstrates his directorial range in this fresh take on family ties and romantic entanglements. After a break-up, marriage-phobic Lily (Kimberly-Rose Wolter, who also wrote and produced the film) skulks back to Hawai’i where she finds herself back at the wedding planning business run by her two unlucky-in-love sisters and her oft-divorced mother. Filmed across Oahu and with a score by Hawai’ian phenom Jake Shimabukuro.
CAAM is proud to present the World Premiere of its new documentary on ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. The film follows Jake around the world on tour and visits home to his native Hawai’i, where he has risen from local hero to international star. Widely recognized as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele,” Jake Shimabukuro captivates audiences, and peels away stereotypes. Emerging filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura (whose acclaimed films include Yellow Brotherhood, Pilgrimage, and A Song For Ourselves) provides an insightful portrait of this first-class musician, backstage, at home, on the road, and into his early days. The event includes a special performance by Jake, as well as an on-stage Q&A and VIP reception with Jake and special guests.
This year’s Narrative Competition includes eight new works, including the critically acclaimed indie feature In the Family (dir. Patrick Wang), a delicately woven story about child custody, “two-Dad” families and parental loss and Surrogate Valentine 2 (dir. Dave Boyle), the sequel to last year’s Closing Night hit and starring local musician Goh Nakamura. Other competition films include Bang Bang (dir. Byron Q), a portrait of a resilient Vietnamese teenager looking for a way out of the gang life; psychological thriller I Am a Ghost, directed by local stalwart H.P. Mendoza (Fruit Fly) and an impressive debut by Mye Hoang in Viette, the coming-of-age story of a young Vietnamese woman.
The Documentary Competition features eight compelling and insightful portraits, including Give Up Tomorrow, (dir. Michael Collins), a harrowing and incredible journey through the Philippines criminal justice system; Love Crimes Of Kabul (dir. Tanaz Eshaghian), a heartbreaking portrait of Afghanistan’s “moral prisoners”; No Look Pass (dir. Melissa Johnson), the story of a professional basketball player as she negotiates personal fulfillment and her traditional Burmese family; Mr. Cao Goes To Washington (dir. S. Leo Chiang), a portrait of the first Vietnamese American to become a member of Congress; and Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful (dir. Yuriko Gamo Romer), the inspiring story of 98-year-old Keiko Fukuda who is one of only four people in the world to hold the highest black belt in Judo.
Films screen in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street; Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1865 Post Street; and the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street. In Berkeley, films screen at the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way. In San Jose, films screen at Camera 3 Cinemas, 288 South Second Street.
Excluding special events, panels, galas and special screenings, advanced general admission tickets are $12. Students, seniors (65+) and disabled adults are $11 (Limit 1 per program with ID Only!). Tickets for Center for Asian American Media members are $10 (Limit 2 per program per ID). There is a $1.50 service charge for all tickets purchased online. Tickets go on sale to CAAM members only on Friday, February 9, 2012 (online only) and open to the general public beginning Monday, February 13, 2012 (online only). Tickets can be purchased in person at our SFIAAFF box office at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas starting Thursday, February 23, 2012. Become a member of the Center for Asian American Media and start receiving discounts on tickets for the festival, avoid all processing fees, and get tickets to the films you want before they go to rush. For tickets and information about CAAM membership benefits and levels please visit www.caamedia.org.