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October 1996, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 18 Oct 1996 17:15:00 EDT
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Members of the list living in the DC area may want to attend the Asian
American International Film Festival.  Opening night features FRESH KILL,
and filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang and scriptwriter Jessica Hagedorn will be
available to answer questions and discuss the film; Hoff Theatre, University
of Maryland Stamp Student Union, 7PM.  Reception follows.  For ticket prices
and information on other events (most are FREE), contact
[log in to unmask] or [log in to unmask]
Visit the festival web page at
Here is a brief essay on the festival program:
A Tour
by Gina Marchetti
        This year the Asian American International Film Festival of
Washington, DC celebrates its fifteenth anniversary.  From its inception, it
has been dedicated to bringing the best of current film and video produced
by Asian and Asian American artists to the DC area.  This showcase has
enabled the greater Washington area audience to see these film and video
artists works grouped together.  This has been of critical importance.
While Asian and Asian American film/videomakers contribute to world film
culture from a wide variety of national, ethnic, linguistic, religious,
political, and cultural cinema traditions, the opportunity to view works of
the Pacific Rim together regularly is vital to further an understanding of
the accomplishments and contributions these artists make internationally.
        Thus, this festival has always brought the global to local screens.
In doing so, it helps viewers locate the local Asian American community
within the world community.  This theme is particularly in evidence this
year as the festival traces the interconnections of Asian American and
global film culture with features and short films from around the world that
look at the experience of being Asian outside of Asia or of being displaced
and Other within Asia.  To cite one example, BONTOC EULOGY (Marlon E.
Fuentes) deals with displaced Philippine Islanders brought to the United
States to be exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair.  The film uses the
fictionalized memoir to draw the viewer into its meticulously researched
evocation of the villagers lives at the Worlds Fair.  However, it also
implicates the film viewers by questioning their own investment in the
visual politics of looking at the Asian native as silent and without a
personal history.  The image must be excavated through the voice-over
narration of a Philippine American descendant of the people depicted in
order to get at the tragedy of this apparently innocent display of the
primitive in 1904.  In showing this neglected tale of the connections
between these Asians on display in America and the lives of Asian Americans
today, BONTOC EULOGY begins to bridge an important gap in understanding the
complex cultural experiences of Asian Americans in national and
international arenas.  At the Worlds Fair, Asians become the objects of a
global gaze, and, through the course of the films critique of this gaze, a
new understanding of the power of seeing, saying, and being seen within an
international context begins to emerge.
        Following this theme, the opening night program of FRESH KILL (Shu
Lea Cheang and Jessica Hagedorn)  paints a picture of a multicultural New
York City in which a multiracial lesbian couple raises a daughter who
combines South Asian, Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Native
American, and Chinese ethnic heritage and becomes the cynosure of a plot
that investigates the complex, global relationships between transnational
capitalism and the local  community.  FRESH KILL offers both a critique of
the contemporary globalized economy as well as a vision of a transcultural,
metropolitan future in which racism, sexism, and homophobia have given way
to a genuinely diverse society.  Distopic and utopic simultaneously, this
film experiments with ideas of social change by providing a vivid picture of
what Asian American life is like and could be like within a global society
that has broken with commonly accepted categories of difference.  (See the
essay by Seth Silberman in this catalogue for more on this significant Asian
American feature film.)
        Throughout the festival, films are grouped to highlight this
dialectic between the local and the global.  The two special festivals
within the festival look at the diaspora of the Arabs and the Vietnamese in
the wake of war and national reconfigurations in the Middle East and
Indochina. Looking at the Arab and Vietnamese selections underscores the
importance of thinking of Asian and Asian American film culture as global in
scope and impact.
Many of the Arab films featured at the festival take a satiric look at the
ways in which Arabs have been viewed by the European and American media
throughout the years.  Ali Baba, Valentinos THE SHIEK, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA,
and even Elvis in Hollywoods harem pop up along with Gulf War reportage and
images of the ruins of Beirut.  The Arab feature ONCE UPON A TIME:  BEIRUT
takes a fantastical tour through the history of Beirut as seen by both
Western and Arab commercial film cultures, with two cosmopolitan young women
Bouziane) and TEACH ME both use found footage and popular music to take a
critical look at Arabs in the worlds imagination.  The experimental
ARGUMENT give a perspective on the politics of the Middle East sorely
neglected by the international media.  The documentary features A DREAM OF
Washington community critical information on Palestine and the on-going
peace process in Israel.  (All of these important works in this special
focus segment of the festival are discussed in more detail in another essay
in the catalogue.)
        LAND OF SORROW (Ha Thuc Can), a feature produced during the last
days before the fall of Saigon in 1975, shows a Vietnamese view of the war
generally absent from American screens.  Attempting to create a climate for
reconciliation by showing the suffering of all sides during the war, the
film was banned after 1975 and, unfortunately, has only had limited
screenings in Europe and the United States since then.  The festival is
fortunate to be able to bring this neglected film to a wider audience.  The
other films in the series look at the legacy of the war and the displacement
of many Vietnamese in its aftermath from a number of different
perspectives.  The locally produced documentary, WHO WE ARE:  VIETNAMESE IN
AMERICA (News Channel 8), provides an excellent introduction to the
experiences of many Vietnamese Americans in the Washington, Maryland,
Virginia community.  The experimental shorts, CYCLO (M. Trinh Nguyen),
RAINBATHERS (Phong Nguyen), and the Laotian American LETTER BACK HOME (Nith
Lacroix) all use cutting edge film and video techniques to investigate the
emerging identities of Indochinese Americans.  They reflect the experiences
of a generation who spent their childhood in Indochina and came of age in
the United States.  The fiction feature BASTARDS (Loc Do) and the short
drama SAIGON, I LOVE YOU (Timothy Bui) also reflect the experiences of this
generation as young men negotiate the temptations of crime within a society
ignorant of their sense of displacement and alienation.  The festivals
closing night feature, A VIETNAM LEGEND (Charlie Nguyen), takes the viewer
on a whirlwind trip through Vietnams mythic path.  With superb martial
artistry and a classic plot, this Asian American feature reminds its
audience of the rich linguistic, cultural and artistic traditions that give
it its special place within international film history.  (See my essay in
this catalogue for more on this feature.)
For martial arts fans, there will also be an event devoted to the power of
the samurai mythos in the Asian American imagination.  RETURN OF THE SUN
DEVIL (Steven Ayromlooi and Peter Chung) and JIROHACHI(Tsukuru Imanishi) are
short films that testify to the enduring power of the samurai within
international film culture.  See the essay by Joseph Schaub in this
catalogue for more on these films and the samurai genre.)  The wandering
ronin, the samurai without a master, still evokes a pathos that transcends
national boundaries and traditions.
        Indeed, themes of global displacements and diasporic alienation
surface throughout the festival.  The prospect of Hong Kongs future after
1997 and Macaos future after 1999 becomes text and subtext for the films
dealing with contemporary global Chinese culture.  The personal documentary
AH MINGS MACAO directly treats the impact the change-over in 1999 will have
on various segments of  Macaos population.  The popular comedy/melodrama
SUMMER SNOW (Ann Hui) looks at a contemporary Hong Kong family as it faces
the challenge of an elderly relatives debilitating senility.  Although
discussions of 1997 are only a minor subtext within the narrative, the story
of the displaced seniors WWII war record highlights the fact that he is
himself an exiled member of a global Chinese community, part of the old
order, while his daughter-in-law represents the new, professional woman of
a  transnational, commercial, Chinese, cosmopolitan culture, and the
challenges it provides.  The Canadian short documentary THESE SHOES WERENT
MADE FOR WALKING (Paul Lee) examines four generations of women in a Chinese
family that has made many complex global crossings throughout the years, and
the experimental short SOY MILK (Ava Wang) evokes the pain of an older
generation of uprooted Chinese women.  CROSSINGS (Evans Chan, director of TO
LIV(E)) provides a complex picture of the global Chinese as the narrative
explores a series of crossings from Hong Kong to New York, from innocence to
corruption, from sanity to madness, and from life to death.  Chans evocation
of lives in-between cultures, genders, classes, and nations places it among
the most ambitious meditations on contemporary Hong Kong to be produced to
date.  MEE POK MAN (Eric Khoo) takes a different look at global Chinese
displacement as it tells its story about the relationship between a simple,
lonely noodle chef and a young prostitute who dreams of emigrating from
Singapore and going to the West.  This experimental feature from the newly
emerging film industry of Singapore provides a provocative look at the
seamier side of that countrys commercial culture.
        Another experimental feature, THE PEOPLE IN WHITE (Yong-kyun Bae) by
the celebrated director of WHY DID BODHIDHARMA GO EAST?,  puts its shattered
protagonist in a series of devastated landscapes to look at the
fragmentation of contemporary Korean society. Claiming to be a Korean
American mental patient recently released from an asylum in the United
States, the film explores the fundamental impact the American presence has
had on Korean society in the South since the Korean War.  It tells a very
personal story of loss and displacement on a global scale.
        This feeling of personal alienation and desire to examine and
reconstruct a sense of identity also provides the impetus for the
experimental video documentary, WHOS GOING TO PAY FOR THESE DONUTS ANYWAY?
(Janice Tanaka).  This video uses the very personal story of a daughters
attempt to find and develop a relationship with an estranged, mentally ill
father to take a very close and critical look at the continuing suffering of
Japanese Americans victimized by their Internment during WWII.  Like THE
PEOPLE IN WHITE, this video uses the fragmented lives of its protagonists to
place the experiences of Asians and Asian Americans at the hands of the
force of the United States government in a critical perspective. The short
films AMERICAN FISH (Jesse Wine) and DRINKING TEA (Philip Kan Gotanda) also
closely examine this generation of Japanese Americans victimized by the
        Family tensions, personal revelations, and cultural specifics link
many of the short programs at this years festival.  NORMAL DEVIATE BEHAVIOR
(Adam Chin and John Voltz), BO SOOT (S. Yin You), ALIENATIONS OF A MOTHER
TONGUE, and KILL KIMONO (Lisette Marie Flanary) all deal with explorations
of self through the construction of a sexual identity within a larger,
largely racist American society.  South Asian traditions of marriage,
sexuality, gender expectations and womens roles are explored in a series of
short films, including JUNKY PUNKY GIRLZ (Nisha Ganatra), THE TEST (Tanuja
(Shashwati Talukdar).  Many of the other shorts featured throughout the
festival deal with the problem of coming of age as an Asian American in the
United States today, including BY THE THINNEST ROOT (Richard Kim) in which a
young Korean man searches for his identity with a pair of chopsticks and the
animated PEEK A BOO which provides a fanciful evocation of childhood.  Other
shorts explore sexual awakenings, including DOUG IS THE ONE and BITTER WHILE
I WAIT, about the disappointments of young love.  Several shorts look at the
particular challenges faced by gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered
Asian Americans, including FOREVER JIMMY and PLAYING IN THE SAND, discussed
in a separate essay in this catalogue.  A very different look at the
maturation process can be found in THE RIVER CHAO PHRAYA, a fiction feature
produced in Thailand, that looks at the exploits of two young boys who try
to help their impoverished mother by going to the city to make their fortune
as rat meat merchants.
        This years festival also pays a special tribute to the contribution
women have made to the global visibility of Asia on the screen.  A program
of short films about Philippine women highlights the prominent place of
women within Philippine society and their international visibility.  The
award-winning documentary SPIRITS RISING (Ramona Diaz) looks at Corazon
Aquinos Peoples Power revolution and the women who helped make the overthrow
of the Marcos regime a reality.  Other short films make by Philippine women,
(Maria Victoria Avic Ilagan), and ASONG SIMBAHAN (Sari Taissa Lluch
Dalena),  look at the tensions between traditional gender roles and the
dramatic changes occurring in Philippine society today.    The feature
documentary WHEN MOTHER COMES HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (Nilita Vachani) looks at
the life of a domestic worker from Sri Lanka who works in Greece.  This film
puts a human face on the international domestic worker who straddles
languages, cultures, and customs for minimal rewards.  Given womens
increasing visibility in the international labor force, this documentary
provides a needed critical perspective on womens role in transnational
domestic work.
        Looking at this years festival as part of a fifteen year history of
Asian American Arts and Medias commitment to bringing current film and video
work to the attention of the Washington, DC community, the undeniable fact
of the complex interconnections between the international and the national,
between the global and the local, and between the individual and the world
comes strikingly to the fore.  While these links may often seem vague and
distant, they surface in all their concrete specificity when media artists
bring them to the screens.  This festival brings them to screens near you,
so please take the opportunity to tour the world and tour your neighborhood
by looking at Asia and Asian America on your local cinema screens.
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