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NYC Film Festivals

High-Profile Slate Marks NYAAIFF's 30th

Vera Farmiga and Jung-woo Ha in Gina Kim's Never Forever, the closing-night film at this year's NY Asian American International Film Festival (Photo: Vox3 Films)

By Chris Willard

Asian CineVision became the first Asian American arts organization in the country in 1976 when a group of activists in Chinatown banded together to create a workspace for artists, writers, and filmmakers determined to work collaboratively. One of the results of their efforts was the New York Asian American International Film Festival, which opens today at Asia Society. The annual fest remains committed to providing an outlet for both emerging and experienced Asian American filmmakers, who sometimes struggle to find an audience in mainstream cinema.

“A lot of the stories these filmmakers tell have not been told,” festival director William Phuan told The Reeler. “More often than not, the industry outlets don’t [provide] a platform or the opportunity to show films and reach the audience, and that’s where our festival comes in.”

The 30th annual AAIFF features a line-up of films from several promising newcomers, as well as some of the Asian American film community’s better-known filmmakers. Opening the festival is director Justin Lin’s Finishing the Game, a mockumentary that picks up after the death of martial arts film legend Bruce Lee on the set of Game of Death and the ensuing search to find his replacement so the producers can finish the film. The festival also features a centerpiece screening of the debut of director Chen Shi-Zheng’s Dark Matter, the story of a Chinese student studying in the U.S. whose career ambitions are shattered due to university politics (Meryl Streep co-stars). Director Gina Kim will close the festival with her Sundance drama Never Forever, featuring Vera Farmiga as a married woman who seeks fulfillment (and a child) by pursuing an affair with a Korean immigrant.

Together, the three movies form a reliable sample of the increasingly broad range of subject matter in Asian American films. “We just want to show the range of talent and creativity out there and also to reflect that Asian American filmmakers [have] gone beyond just talking about identity issues or immigration issues, [and there]’s really a lot of depth and a lot of creativity at work,” Phuan said.

Another highlight of the fest is its short film programs, which cover topics ranging from identity issues and expectations (You Are Not Your Khakis) to the complications of growing up as an Asian American teen (For Youth by Youth). AAIFF executive director John Woo said the short filmmakers represent a new generation of Asian American cinema. “We have a great history of fostering Asian American voices,” Woo told The Reeler. “And now we have a new generation coming up ... and the talent comes in when you look at the short films [and say], ‘This guy’s got it; this guy’s the one; these are the ones.’ And we look after those filmmakers and make sure we can do the best we can to position their careers, and if they come back to us and they’re grateful, that’s great.

"But," Woo continued, "talking to the young filmmakers so they’re encouraged to see people who look like them and talk like them and can give them advice and not be intimidated -- that’s the best thing we can do with the film festival."

The Asian American International Film Festival runs July 19-28 at Asia Society and Museum. Visit the festival's Web site for complete program and ticket information.

Posted at July 19, 2007 8:06 AM

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