Geneva Anderson digs into art

27th San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival

SFIAAFF March 12-22, 2009


It’s film festival season again but in this new economy, the operative term is downsize. The 27th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens today with a smaller than usual but exceptional program of 100+ new Asian American films. Fortunately, most of the financing was arranged last year before the crisis really kicked in, so most of the sponsorship was locked in.  Other festivals will not be so lucky.  I am particularly attached to SFIAFF because the programming is wonderfully diverse and the Center for Asian American Media (CAM) is actively involved in producing a lot of these films, so the screenings have a warm familial quality to them.  The festival takes place in San Francisco (Sundance Cinemas, Castro Theatre, and Landmark’s Clay Theater), Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive) and San Jose (Camera 12 Cinemas). Most of these films sell out early, so buy your tickets online in advance.  Here are ARThound’s picks:

The Festival opens with the world premiere of H.P. Mendoza’s exhilarating musical “Fruit Fly” which was shot in San Francisco.  Mendoza was the lead actor and director of “Colma: The Musical” which premiered at SFAAFF ’06.  “Fruit Fly” follows Bethesda, a Filipina performance artist-adoptee and “fag hag” as she navigates her own self discovery in song.  The term “Fruit Fly” is a softer, gentler interpretation of “fag hag” but Mendoza’s candid exploration of stereotyping and the impact of labels in the gay community is what gives this refreshing and candid musical its substance.  Mendoza wrote the 19 songs and brings Colma’s lead songtress, L.A. Renigen, in the lead role.

Tokyo Sonata”: Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s penetrating portrayal of the impact of economic downsizing on Ruhei Sasaki, a Japanese mid-career administrator and his family.  Initially, the shamed Ruhei hides that he lost his job from his family and suits up and pretends to go to work everyday.  Meanwhile, his idealistic teenage son decides to enlist in the U.S. military, while his younger son embarks on secret piano lessons going against his father’s will.  His lovely wife has her own crisis and suddenly, everything seems to unravel in the family as Ruhei’s sense of purpose and identity fade.

“The Chaser”: If you’re hungry for penetrating psychological horror, “The Chaser” by South Korean director Na Hong-jin will pre-occupy your thoughts and dreams for days.  The film is essentially a cat and mouse game between a former cop turned pimp whose call girl has gone missing and a serial killer with a fetish for hammers, chisels and religious iconography.  It turns triangular when the cops get involved.  Set late night in the back alleys of residential Seoul, the film’s plot is refreshingly unpredictable and skips special effects and high tech forensic crime scene analysis in lieu of a simple black satchel filled with killing implements, a jingling set of keys and lucky car crashes.

Ang Lee and “Lust, Caution”: Ang Lee will be talking with UC Berkeley’s resident sexologist Linda Williams about his new epic film at a special screening of “Lust, Caution” at UC Berkeley.  Set against the back-drop of a 1940’s Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, the film follows an assassination attempt against the imperious official Yee by Wong Chia Chi, a beguiling young actress in a resistance theatre troupe. Wong Chia Chi befriends Yee’s wife (Joan Chen), a mahjong mistress, so that she can seduce and entrap Yee.  A mesmerizing epic whose deeply passionate, consuming and at times violent sex scenes have slowed its mainstream release.       

“Project Kashmir:” Situated between India and Pakistan, breathtaking Kashmir is the destination for two American women, Geeta and Senain, who want to know what life is really like in this paradise turned blood bowl.  Shot by Academy-award winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman, “Project Kashmir” tracks the two women as they search for the truth through interviews with aid workers, journalists and activists and their friendship is put on the line when their beliefs differ.

March 12, 2009 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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