ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines.  They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author.  In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing which life throws at you.  The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere.  Image: CAAMFest

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines. They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author. In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing what life throws at you. The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere. Image: CAAMFest

The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist.  CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix.  Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience.  ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.

This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too.  Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film.  In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts.  Bravo!   There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora.   Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market.  It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme.  Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.

BIG NIGHTS:

Opening Night:  The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January.  A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.

Opening Gala:  After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy.  Image: CAAMFest

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy. Image: CAAMFest

CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie:  Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for.  Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”

Closing Night:  The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater.  The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape.  Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen.  Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia.  The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide.  Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996.  Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor's richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity.   Image: CAAMFest

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia. The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996. Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor’s richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity. Image: CAAMFest

Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984.  Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.

Perfectly Peachy:  The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food.  When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum?  CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art.   Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child.  She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy.  The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S.  Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy.  Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea.  In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one.  Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015.  Image: CAAMFest

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child. She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy. The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S. Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy. Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea. In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one. Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015. Image: CAAMFest

Music:  In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.

CAAMFEST Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members.  Special screenings, programs and social events are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general.  Click here for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.  Rush Tickets:  If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin.  Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2015

 

 

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March 11, 2015 Posted by | Asian Art Museum, Film, Food, Gardening, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not just film, CAAMFest, has super-sized into an Asian American cultural extravaganza—it starts Wednesday, March 13, and runs for 10 days in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland

New York artist Tenzing Rigdol’s poignant installation is the focus of Tenzi Tsetan Choklay’s feature documentary, “Bringing Tibet Home,” screening at CAAMFest 2014, March 13-23, 2014.   Following the death of his father, a Tibetan refugee, Rigdol embarks on a journey to bring 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil from Nepal to India. The smuggled soil is laid out on a platform in Dharamsala, the Himalayan hill town where the Dali Lama and many Tibetan refugees are based.  For many, this is a reunion; for some, this the first time that they set foot on their native soil; and for a few, this is probably the last time that they ever see anything of their lost nation.  A powerful portrait of artistic determination that explores homeland, exile and the transgressive power of art.  Image: courtesy CAAM

New York artist Tenzing Rigdol’s poignant installation is the focus of Tenzi Tsetan Choklay’s feature documentary, “Bringing Tibet Home,” screening at CAAMFest 2014, March 13-23, 2014. Following the death of his father, a Tibetan refugee, Rigdol embarks on a journey to bring 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil from Nepal to India. The smuggled soil is laid out on a platform in Dharamsala, the Himalayan hill town where the Dali Lama and many Tibetan refugees are based. For many, this is a reunion; for some, this the first time that they set foot on their native soil; and for a few, this is probably the last time that they ever see anything of their lost nation. A powerful portrait of artistic determination that explores homeland, exile and the transgressive power of art. Filmmaker will attend. Image: courtesy CAAM

CAAMFest is 32 this year and no longer just about great film.  The 10 day festival, which takes place between March 13th and 23th , in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, has long showcased the best and newest in Asian American film.  It got restless when it turned 30 though:  it changed its name from SFIAFF (San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival ) to the shorter CAAMFest , named after its sponsor, CAAM , San Francisco’s Center for Asian American Media.  Under the guidance of Festival Director Masashi Niwano, now in his fourth year at the helm, it also responded to changing times by tweaking its programming.  And growing.  And growing.  It now bills itself as the nation’s “largest showcase for new Asian and Asian American film.”

Music and Food:  In addition to its 121 films and videos, and stellar presentations and tributes, CAAMFest 2014 includes cutting edge musicians and the fusion of great food and film line-up.  Korean and Vietnamese hip hop and rock music, and leading female performers are the focus of the two “Directions in Sound” evenings. On March 22, 23-year-old rapper, singer and songwriter, Suboi (Hàng Lâm Trang Anh), tagged Vietnam’s Queen of Hiphop, will have her U.S. debut at 111 Minna Gallery.

Suboi, the first female rapper to make it big in Vietnam, makes her U.S. debut at CAAMFest.

Suboi, the first female rapper to make it big in Vietnam, makes her U.S. debut at CAAMFest.

Culinary artists like superstar Chef Martin Yan (of PBS and M.Y. China) and award-winning Chocolatier Windy Lieu of Sôcôla Chocolates are the focus of CAAMfeast,” a high-end tasting party/fundraiser, while three fabulous food films celebrate storytelling around Asian food.

CAAMFEST expands into artsy Oakland:  Promising to engage all the senses is “Super Awesome Launch,” an evening at the Oakland Museum of California (Friday, March 7) that includes a sneak preview of its highly anticipated upcoming spring exhibition, SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot, along with the chance to meet arts visionary and Eric Nakamura, who curated the exhibition.   What? Never heard of Nakamura? Then you’re WAY WAY behind the times and need a serious CAAMFEST infusion. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Nakamura founded Giant Robot, Los Angeles’ Little Osaka based store, magazine, art gallery that became an uber-destination for Asian and Asian American popular culture and art.  You can meet Eric Nakamura and experience the art in person at OMCA, which has become quite the hopping venue on Friday nights. The evening also includes high energy bands from Taiwan, a caravan of food trucks, and a screening of Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco’s Awesome Asian Bad Guys (2013) starring Tamlyn Tomita and Dante Basco.  Easy to see why they call it “Super Awesome Launch.”   And, this year CAAMFEST has its closing night party in Oakland as well (see below), marking what promises to be a sweet partnership with the community’s vibrant arts organizations and galleries.

Big Nights of Film

Opening Night: The festival kicks off this Wednesday, March 13 with the US premiere of Vietnamese American director Ham Tran’s (Journey from the Fall, 2006) romantic comedy, How to Fight in Six Inch Heels, at the historic Castro Theater.  The film was Vietnam’s top box office draw for 2013 and features San Jose native Kathy Uyen as a New York fashion designer who infiltrates Saigon’s high-fashion world to test her fiancé’s fidelity. After the premiere, CAAMFest heads over to the Asian Art Museum for its Opening Night Gala, which features food from local chefs and restaurants, a special presentation by fashion stylists Retrofit Republic, dancing to beats spun by local DJ’s and the Asian’s amazing new exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation.

How To Fight In Six Inch Heels (Âm Mưu Giày Gót Nhọn)  

Select Special Presentations:  Each year, CAAMFest highlights the works of significant media makers and their contributions to modern cinema.  In Conversation with Grace Lee: Award-winning documentary filmmaker Grace Lee will be in conversation at the Castro Theatre on Saturday, March 16, discussing her new documentary, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013), profiling the extraordinary life of activist and feminist Grace Lee Boggs which screens right after the conversation.  Lee’s narrative feature comedy, American Zombie (2006), screens on Friday, March 14.

American Revolutionary:  The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

Tribute: Run Run Shaw:  CAAMFest offers a three film tribute to the legendary movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, who over the course of nine decades fostered some of the greatest filmmaking talent in Hong Kong, and produced some American classics such as Blade Runner (1982).  The films—The Kingdom and the Beauty; King Boxer (The Five Fingers of Death); and my personal favorite, Come Drink With Me, will all screen at the Chinatown’s Great Star Theater on March 15th..  The Great Star, refurbished in 2010, hosts both Chinese-language film and Chinese opera.

Set in imperial China, Chinese director Li Han-hsiang’s dazzling musical drama “The Kingdom and the Beauty” (1959) consolidated the Chinese operetta’s popularity in Hong Kong.  When  restless Chinese emperor (Chao Lei) disguises himself as a commoner and takes a stroll, he falls in love with a country peasant (movie queen Lin Dai) and promises to marry her after spending one night together—only for their budding romance to be abruptly curtailed. The film is part of a three film tribute at Chinatown’s Great Star Theater to Hong Kong entertainment and media mogul Run Run Shaw.

Set in imperial China, Chinese director Li Han-hsiang’s dazzling musical drama “The Kingdom and the Beauty” (1959) consolidated the Chinese operetta’s popularity in Hong Kong. When restless Chinese emperor (Chao Lei) disguises himself as a commoner and takes a stroll, he falls in love with a country peasant (movie queen Lin Dai) and promises to marry her after spending one night together—only for their budding romance to be abruptly curtailed. The film is part of a three film tribute at Chinatown’s Great Star Theater to Hong Kong entertainment and media mogul Run Run Shaw.

Closing Night: The Closing Night Gala, Sunday, March 23, marks the festival’s expansion to downtown Oakland’s arts district.  The evening starts off at the New Parkway Theater with a screening of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy’s documentary, Delano Manongs (2013).  A prescient chronicle of the life of Filipino activist Larry Itliong (1913-77), who organized the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and helped launch the United Farm Workers, the documentary explores the vital contribution of Filipinos to the American Farm labor movement.  Following this screening, the Gala moves one block to Vessel Gallery for a closing party that takes place amongst the art exhibition “Periphery: New Works by Cyrus Tilton and Paintings by Tim Rice.”

CAAMFEST expands into Oakland:

Stay-tuned to ARThound for detailed film picks, which will include:

Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo (2013) Winner of the Caméra d”Or at Cannes this May, a mesmerizing portrait of a middle class Indonesian family in crisis that sprang out of the director’s childhood in the Singapore and his nurturing relationship with his Filipina nanny who worked as a domestic helper for his family for 8 years from 1988 to 1997.  (Screens March 15 at 6:30 PM at Pacific Film Archive and March 17 at 6 PM at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)

Director Yuya Ishii’s The Great Passage (2013), Japan’s 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film about a shy, eccentric young man, who joins the Dictionary Editorial Department of a big Tokyo publishing house to help compile a new dictionary, “The Great Passage” and over the course of years is transformed.  (Screens: March 15 at 2:30 PM at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas and March 16 at 3:30 PM at Pacific Film Archive.)

Tenzi Tsetan Choklay’s feature documentary, Bringing Tibet Home (2013). Following the death of his father, a Tibetan refugee, Rigdol embarks on a remarkable journey to bring 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil from Nepal to India. The smuggled soil is laid out on a platform in Dharamsala, the Himalayan hill town where the Dali Lama and many Tibetan refugees are based.  For many, this is a reunion; for some, this the first time that they set foot on their native soil; and for a few, this is probably the last time that they ever see anything of their lost nation. (Screens: March 14 at 5 PM at New People Cinemas and March 19 at 7 PM at Pacific Film Archive.)

CAAMFEST Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2014 runs March 13-23, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, galleries, bars and music halls.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings are $12 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members.  Special screenings, programs and social events are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general.  Click here for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2014.

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Film, Food, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

interview: Director Mye Hoang, whose edgy film “Viette” closes SFIAAFF30, talks about coming of age traumatically and putting it all on film

In “Viette,” Mye Hoang (left) is Viette, a Vietnamese American high school student, who leaves her traditional and very controlling Vietnamese family for her older boyfriend Matt (Sean McBride). Photo: Andrew Amsden

The 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) closes its 10 day run this evening in San Jose and director Mye Hoang’s compelling first feature film Viette, which had its world premiere last Saturday in San Francisco, is sold out.  Viette is an enthralling story modeled after Hoang’s own experience as Vietnamese American teen trapped in a very suppressive family environment, a situation that looks ok from the outside but in reality is toxic and life-threatening.  When Veitte uses her older lover as a means of escape, she trades in one kind of pain and betrayal for another.  The film captures a remarkable journey of private struggle, perseverence and reconciliation with the past.  I caught up with Mye Hoang this weekend and she agreed to speak candidly about her courageous film and the secret demons many Asian Americans of the 1.5 generation may battle.

How did you come up with idea of making Viette and what does Viette actually mean?  

Mye Hoang: Viette is based on my life as a young Vietnamese American woman (born in the US) during the most transformative years of my life, my late teens.  I was trying to live my own life while being a dutiful daughter to my parents who were very traditional and didn’t speak English.  It was a very painful family situation, and the experiences I had trying to break free were extreme and sounded like a movie to my friends who encouraged me to make this film.  It took time but I realized that I was not alone in this. There are many young women I don’t know who have similar life experiences but don’t talk about them—the humiliation, fear, shame. And once I broke free from my family, I found myself in another very controlling situation in which I was very vulnerable.  I wanted to explore all of that in the film and put it out there for others too, so that they don’t also have to feel alienated.

As for the title, “Viette” is the Americanized version of the common Vietnamese name, ‘Viet,’ which is often mis-pronounced and is broken down to the two-syllable “Viette.”  Also, the character is a die-hard romantic and I felt this name best suited her (it has a little French ring to it).

How did you come to play Viette?

Mye Hoang:  I knew what I wanted for the role and the picture and I knew that I was not going to compromise.  We could not afford to pay the actors and it would have been a very risky situation to ask for nudity —no one would have done it.  It’s also a huge risk to have someone agree and then back out at the last minute, compromising the film, so I cast myself in the role of Viette, knowing that no one else would be more committed to the project.

Mye Hoang directed, produced, and stars in “Viette,” which has its world premiere at the premiere at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) on March 10, 2012. Photo: Andrew Amsden

Viette also needed a certain sense of vulnerability that extended into her twenties and to project that vulnerability and loss of innocence. That comes with the way I look, my size and my experience.

This film spans 9 years with you playing Viette from age 18 through 27, about 9 nine years. Do you mind me asking you how old you are and how you managed to do this so convincingly?

Mye Hoang:  I am 35.  I have to thank my parents for the young gene. That was one complaint that I got from the film’s first screening that I looked young throughout the film and didn’t age. I really did try to look and act older.

What is the 1.5 generation exactly and does the term apply particularly to an Asian-American phenomenon?  Is it as simple as the children are growing up in the U.S. but their parents who brought them here are unassimilated and enforcing a traditional lifestyle that seems out of place in America? 

Mye Hoang:  Basically, it’s being in between the first and second generation. I/Viette was born in the U.S.  Technically, I should be 2nd generation but I had live by 1st generation rules. I should be assimilated but am kept from fully doing so.

Although I’m not an expert of Asian American studies, I do believe 1.5 generation can apply to both the community at large as well as to non-Asian communities. I’ve heard it used.

I have older siblings like the one depicted in the film who were born in Vietnam but were educated in high school and beyond in the U.S.  Technically, I’m not sure which generation they would fall into; but I know they had the same difficulties as me growing up, if not more so.

In this film you chose to depict the father as the harsh disciplinarian who beats and verbally abuses his child.  The mother, who is depicted as powerless and also under his thumb, capitulates and lets him go way too far, at least by American standards.  Are there some family situations you have heard of where the mother is the perpetrator of violence and, if so, how is that different?

Mye Hoang:  When I was young, it was actually my mother who was the harsher of my two parents and, later, it was my father.  She was definitely a believer in physical punishment and I am not sure why that is because she never spoke about it.  It probably had something to do with her being unhappy about being in the States and about her being so isolated and it was hard for her and she took that out on me.  In the film, the father has all these fears about Viette, especially about her being ruined before marriage which will reflect poorly on the family.  He doesn’t seem as concerned for her welfare as he does about this.  He is not able to be calm and to talk things through rationally.  She knows this and hides who she really is from him and from her mother.   He also displays a very strong distrust, intolerance, of her relationship with a Caucasian which is also very common among fathers whose daughters go with White guys.

Chi Pham plays the controlling father in “Viette,” who is vigilant about keeping his teenage daughter, Viette, sexually pure and opposes her having a Caucasian boyfriend. “Viette” had its world premiere at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) on March 10, 2012.

Ironically, the reason why they go to the U.S. is to escape the life in Vietnam and to provide their children with a better life than they had there.  Instead, they create this private hell which seems like it might be worse than the situation they left.  It does all backfire.   I wanted to show how it backfired for everyone though—the parents as well as for Viette.   And that is what really happened in my life too.  Without realizing it, she in the movie, and me in my life, went from an abusive family into another abusive and controlling relationship.  In both cases, I felt I had very little power and I wanted to show that for Viette too.

That first love relationship does represent a very real bond for Viette as well as for her boyfriend, but over time, this develops into an increasingly unhealthy situation.  She is trapped and she knows the truth but isn’t facing it.

Mye Hoang:  Yes and that is what really happened and it’s common. The situation in her family conditioned her to be like a child and to accept control.  She bonds to Matt sexually and emotionally and because the family is so unhealthy, she is very conflicted and really relies on him.  She loses herself in Matt and when she leaves them for him, pretty soon, she is trapped again. 

The issue of marriage also figures significantly.  They are together for nine years and she dreams of marriage but they never marry.  Why?

Mye Hoang:  Well it’s complicated.  In real life, I did get married and I took it very seriously.  We were together for 9 years and so we felt very married.  To simplify the story in the film, and to keep the budget trim, I omitted any kind of wedding for Viette but it was part of the dream for her.  They were in a long-term relationship that she took very seriously and yet she knew all along what the conflict areas were going to be.  She stayed and it got very out of control.

I understand that her parents were intolerable but she also leaves her older sister.  Can you explain that relationship to me—it seems strange that she doesn’t make any attempt to get back in touch with her sister and find out how she is. 

In “Viette,” Mye Hoang’s first feature film, Viette (Mye Hoang) and older boyfriend Matt (Sean McBride) spent a lot of time in bed over the course of the nine years covered in the film. Photo: Andrew Amsden

Mye Hoang:  In actuality, the sisters were not that close.  The sister is older and, at the most important times, sides with the parents when it comes to Viette—she wouldn’t dare defy them the way Viette does.  There’s that pivotal scene where the sister betrays Viette and shatters any bit of trust.  I think that says it all for the complicated kind of relationship (or lack of) that they had.  There was a huge age gap too, and a lot of resentment because the older sister wouldn’t stand up for Viette.  She, of course, also had to deal with the consequences of Viette’s defiance of the parents which must have been very difficult.

How did your experience impact your sense of identity?  Do you describe yourself as Vietnamese American or just American?

Mye Hoang:  I am Vietnamese American but if you ask me how I feel, I don’t really feel Vietnamese, nor do I have any strong ties to the culture.  Had I been able to embrace aspects of both cultures, it would have been easier to embrace the Vietnamese side and the language.  I grew up in a family that never really talked or showed affection or even hugged and I never understood that.  A lot of Asian Americans either really relate to this or they don’t. But I think anyone who has experienced extreme loss will be able to relate to Viette’s struggles.

Had you worked with any of the actors before?

Mye Hoang:  No but it all worked out very well. Chi Pham, the father, had starred in All About Dad (2009), which came out a few years ago and this was his second film. Yen Ly, the mother, had also played the mother in All About Dad and Bang Bang.  There are not many actors to choose from in the Vietnamese American community, but Chi and Yen are so generous and giving. We could not have pulled off the film without them. Sean McBride who played the boyfriend Matt had auditioned for the role— he was actually the very last audition and gave the best line reading. We were extremely lucky to find him.  Many had shied away and possibly didn’t understand the material, but Sean is very intelligent and thoughtful.  I think he has the most challenging role in the film because he has to display a wide variety of emotions, and he is convincing in each part.  I didn’t feel like we rehearsed very much, yet I rehearsed with Sean the most because he has to carry the film as much as Viette does, and it was important to me that we’d feel comfortable doing the love scenes together.  It was critical for those scenes to feel authentic, otherwise, why would the audience care about them if they didn’t seem in love?

Viette doesn’t shy away from sexuality.  How did you use sex in the film and are there particular stereotypes/themes that you wanted to explore?

Mye Hoang:  There’s a lot of sex sprinkled from beginning to end to foreshadow what is to come.  It’s not just a story about family issues, there’s a relationship at stake here too.  It’s very passionate and I tried to shoot it in a neo-realistic way, which is my style of the film. I wanted it to feel raw and honest.  In much of American cinema, we tend to sugarcoat sex when in reality it can get really dirty, and even unnerving, if we were to see it from the outside.  I also wanted to explore how their sex life changed as time went on, and as technology advanced.  The internet and cell phones have introduced a whole new element into our lives, giving easy access to pornography, and are portals to new forms of infidelity.  The intimacy they had in the beginning is no longer there in the end.

In creating Viette, and forcing yourself to revisit your past, what did you learn?

Mye Hoang:  Writing it was a good way for me to really process what I had experienced because, for a long time, I was surprised by how everything had turned out in a short amount of time.  It really seemed like a movie.  I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve been traumatized by these events, which were a long time ago.  I have a great circle of friends now and the film could not have been made without their tremendous love and generosity.  However, there will always be this void in my heart for the dreams that didn’t come true, for reasons that were completely out of my control.  I’m still learning to accept these facts of life.  Often times the things we want out of life just aren’t in the cards.  Sometimes we fall in love with people who aren’t good for us, or who are just plain not good people.  I’ve done that repeatedly.  I’ve been treated horribly by men who supposedly loved me.  They love you for one minute and then easily dispose you for the next new thing.  I’ve learned this is a common feeling (especially among women) in today’s times, and I’ve learned not to waste one more second on these people.  It’s better to be alone than with someone who keeps hurting you.  If there’s anything my film can impart on the viewer, it’s that.

Filmmaker Mye Hoang and cast at a Q&A following “Viette’s” world premiere at SFIAAFF30. From Left to Right: Mye Hoang (Viette), Joshua Bednarsky (friend Martin), Sean McBride (boyfriend Matt), Chi Pham (father), Anh Vo (sister Trinh), Julie Hwang (associate producer), Jon Lu (associate producer), Linda Blackaby (programming SFIAAFF). Photo: Kelly Lim

What was the world premiere like?

Mye Hoang:  Our first Q & A went on for over 40 minutes and a lot people had serious issues they wanted to talk about, so that was very positive. I’m glad that it has elevated this discourse and that it got to people.  The film starts out all lovey-dovey and sensual but it drops into something serious and dark and that’s what I wanted.

I understand you are very involved in the world of Asian American film despite this being your first  full-length film.

Mye Hoang:  In 2002, I started the AFFD (Asian Film Festival of Dallas) during the period that I was going through all of this.  It grew to become the South’s largest showcase of Asian and Asian American cinema but I eventually left that festival and moved away from my hometown of  Dallas.  I then moved to New York and became the public relations coordinator for ImaginAsian Entertainment and helped launch the first all-Pan Asian movie theatre in Manhattan.  In 2005, I co-directed and produced a short comedy called Press or Say 2, which has been shown all over the world and has won several awards.  Up until a few months ago, I worked in San Diego for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation/Festival, the 2nd largest showcase of Asian cinema in North America. I’ve probably rejected a lot of other filmmakers’ first films—always the worst part of the job—and I’m a little relieved to not be in that role for awhile.

What’s next?  

Mye Hoang:  We are going to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May and are trying to get Viette on the festival circuit.   I don’t even think about making another film these days. I’m trying to find a job, and I’m just in survival mode.  I’m not trying to be a filmmaker.  I honestly think you have to be independently wealthy to keep making films.  But if one day I do return to filmmaking, I’m interested in documentaries.

Viette‘s trailer on Vimeo:  http://vimeo.com/37965287

You can learn more about Viette at http://undertowpictures.com/

or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/viettemovie

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s film festival time again– SFIAAFF 28 Opens on Thursday March 11, 2010

 

It’s film festival season again and this year’s 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens its 10 day run on Thursday March 11, 2010, with a gala premiere at the Asian Art Museum of  David Kaplan’s food-centric romantic comedy “Today’s Special,” starring “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi and celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey.  This year’s festival offers a fantastic program, showcasing 109 of the very best new Asian and Asian American films and videos from around the globe, with 4 films mkaing their global premieres.  Thirteen films have special connections to our Bay Area.  I always attend SFIAFF because the films are wonderfully diverse with fantastic storylines and I love their “out of the vaults” selections of old classics like the 1960 South Korean black and white cult thriller, “The Housemaid” (“Hanyeo”) whose director Kim Ki-Young is South Korea’s Luis Buñuel.  This film was discovered in the West in 2003– 40 years after its debut in Korea and considered one of the top three Korean films ever made.  The story revolves around a music teacher and his live in help–rat poison, blackmail, abortion, suicide and murder—all contribute to a farfetched but engrossing story.    The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), in San Francisco, is actively involved in producing a lot of these films, so the screenings have a warm familial quality to them.  This year, there is a strong emphasis on Filipino and Filipino American media-making through retrospectives, exciting new films and a CAAM-produced mobile game. The festival takes place in San Francisco (Castro Theatre, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Landmark’s Clay Theater, VIZ Cinema), Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive) and San Jose (Camera 12 Cinemas).  Most of these films sell out early, so buy your tickets online in advance, or you can try on the day of the event at the screening venue.  Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Catch a Lino Broca flick—This year’s SFIAAFF featured director is Filipino Lino Brocka (1939-1991) and if you aren’t familiar with his work, you need to be.  The festival offers a unique chance to see four of his rarest masterpieces, beloved classics that delve into the heart of being Filipino and melodramatically capture themes of marginalization, family life and honor.  His 1985 political commentary “Bayan Ko” (screens Thursday, March 18 at PFA) had to be smuggled into France to be shown at Cannes which led to his citizenship being revoked by an angry Marcos regime. But even Marcos could not stop him, and he and a few others made the 1970s and early 1980s a golden age for Tagalog films in a country whose people are still among the most avid filmgoers in the world.  “Insiang” (screens Saturday, March 13 at Kabuki) may be Broca’s greatest film ever– depicting motherhood turned on its head–offering a mother so selfish and treacherous that we can hardly believe the impact of her poor judgement and cruelty as it plays out on her daughter, Insiang, in the slums of Tondo.  

“In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee(world premiere)  Berkeley director Deann Borshay Liem journeys back to Korea to explore her true identity  after living with the knowledge that the name on her adoption papers “Cha Jung Hee,” given to her at age 8, is not her true identity at all.  Liem was adopted at age 8 from the The Sun Duck orphanage in South Korea in the 1960’s and sent to America as “Cha Jung Hee” for her eager American adoptive family–Borshays.  Liem grew up as “Deann” in this very loving family and lived her life quite successfully.  She ultimately became the executive director of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association.  She essentially forgot who she was before she came to America.  Through dreams and events that jarred long-suppressed childhood memories, the urge to know her story became an obsession.  She began to believe that she was both victim and complicit in a complex hoax that altered the course of her life and the life of the real Cha Jung Hee, whose place she had taken in America.   The film captures her attempts to heal as she pieces together her identity with what facts she can find and people she meets along the way.  Masterful editing, blending scenes from the Korean war, with stills of the orphanage, with Liem’s home movies from the 1960’s, with Liem’s experiences in Korea  add to the dreamlike quality of this film.   This is a sequel to her Emmy award winning “First Person Plural” from 1999.   

“Tehran without Permission” is Sepideh Farsi’s intimate portrayal of contemporary life in this mysterious Persian capital city that was thrust to our attention last year with its notorious election scandal.  The film was shot entirely and discretely with a Nokia cell phone and captures the pulse of what’s happening in Tehran’s streets as well as within private residences—the only havens where people can literally let their hair down.  What’s amazing about this film is its testament to the human spirit—these courageous, stubborn and hopeful people have adapted to the bizarre restrictions imposed on them with a kind of national schizophrenia that allows them to lead one life on the streets and another behind closed doors.  (In Farsi with English subtitles.) 

“Agrarian Utopia” is Thai director Uruphong Raksasad’s cinematically stunning acccount of the beauty and hardships of daily life in a traditional Thai farming community against the backdrop of globalization.  The film captures two tenant farmers and their families through a harrowing but typical rice crop season by focusing on their daily lives from dawn till dusk.  The pace is slow and unhurried and draws the viewer into the sublime experience of living in nature and being subject to its whims–floods, electrical storms, thick morning mists and spectacular sunsets.   Seductive were it not for the need to survive and the desire to offer a better life to your children.  They face crippling debts,  uncertain market prices, uncoopertive water buffalos, the forces of nature and a daily struggle for food.   Facing pressure from their wives, they refuse to abandon what they have and know for uncertain  factory jobs in an alienating urban environment.  They hold out against increasingly unsurmountable odds, hoping for a turn of events but distrustful of the electioneering politicians in distant Bangkok who are crying for reform and a return to farm subsidies with reasonable repayment rates.  We watch them trap and eat rats, snakes, dogs, worms, and honey-whatever they can find and–they remain genuinely thankful for daily survivial.   One neighboring farmer, divorced, and with no obligtaions, has embraced organic farming which requires more work initially but has long-term benefits.  Sadly, these families feel they do not have the luxury of time and chose to struggle on.  (In Thai with English subtitles.) 

“Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part 4-5” The West Coast premiere of Shanghai conceptual artist Yang Fudong’s (born 1971, Beijing) five-part black and white cinematic extravaganza that explores the uncertainty facing China’s new generation of urban youth as they confront the disparities between their real and imagined lives set against the backdrop China’s new and rapid modernity.  The highly-acclaimed series made a splash at the Venice Biennial and recalls the black-and-white prewar films of the 1930s and 1940s China and postwar avant-garde film noir.  The title references the legendary Seven Sages, a group of 3rd century Chinese intellectuals who separated themselves from civil society to lead Daoist-inspired lives (fueled with heavy alcohol consumption) in the countryside.  Parts 4 and 5 complement the Shanghai exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.  Part 4 covers incarnations of the seven intellectuals as fishermen and travelers in a new frontier isolated and alienated.  In Part 5, the seven intellectuals return to Shanghai, where they take up meaningless jobs. They are shown drinking and cavorting (full frontal nidity) in a banquet hall, and as the scenes take on an increasingly surrealistic tone, the nonsensical seems an analogy of contemporary urban life. 

The festival closes with a gala premiere of Bay Area-native Arvin Chen’s campy romance “Au Revoir Taipei,” set in Taipei’s markets, back alleys and karaoke bars.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment