HomeAAPI ActorsThe San Diego Asian Film Festival (#SDAFF) Celebrates 20 Years Of Representing...

The San Diego Asian Film Festival (#SDAFF) Celebrates 20 Years Of Representing The AAPI Community Through Storytelling

by Erin Chew

The San Diego Asian Film Festival, which showcases Asian/Asian American independent films, celebrated its 20th anniversary on November 9. The festival has supported the careers of many of the known Asian American actors, directors, screenwriters, producers, filmmakers and so forth. The twenty-year journey has helped build a strong Asian American community within San Diego.

This festival, historically the largest platform of Asian cinema on the west coast, strives to represent the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community through storytelling. Over the years the festival has significantly influenced how Asian and Asian American cinema evolved and continues to evolve. In this twentieth year, the Pacific Arts Movement (the organization behind the festival) has commissioned a documentary called The Paradise We Are Looking For to commemorate the twenty years.

The Paradise We Are Looking For displays the AAPI community’s long-standing presence in San Diego. The documentary’s themes of identity, immigration, inclusion and military presence uncover the relationship between these elements and their lasting impact on AAPI communities. 

After watching the documentary, I really have a more heightened understanding of San Diego, its diversity and the issues the area faces in terms of being Asian American. As a San Diegan implant, I was not fully aware of many of the issues raised in the documentary. The Paradise We Are Looking For shows audiences that despite San Diego being a “tourist city”, there is a deeper layer that is not discussed enough. I definitely would recommend this documentary to anyone who wants to have this deeper understanding.

Brian Hu, San Diego Asian Film Festival’s artistic director, spoke about the importance of the Opening Night documentary and how momentous twenty years is for the film festival:

“Throughout our 20 years, we’ve discovered thrilling new directors with relationships with San Diego, some of whom grew up here, others who have passed through, but all of whom have something to say about our neighborhoods and communities,” Hu said.

Hu added that the festival wanted to challenge filmmakers to tell new stories.

“We wanted to challenge them to uncover buried histories and shed light on folks we might think of as ordinary — precisely the everyday laborers, students, family members we pass by every day but who deserve the big-screen treatment because their stories embody the San Diego we are all looking for,” Hu said. 

On Saturday, November 9, the festival held its 20th Anniversary San Diego Asian Film Festival Gala. The gala/awards banquet celebrated Asian achievements in film.

It was a star-studded gala at the US Grant in downtown San Diego with many familiar Asian American faces strutting their stuff on the red carpet. In addition to the filmmakers whose films received awards, famous names like Jeff Yang (writer and podcaster), his son Hudson Yang (Fresh Off The Boat), Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), Vivian Bang ( Always be my Maybe), Karin Anna Cheung (Better Luck Tomorrow), Parry Shen (Better Luck Tomorrow) and Kieu Chinh (Joy Luck Club) – just to name a few were also present.

Emcees Leonardo Nam and Tamlyn Tomita

The gala was emceed by Tamlyn Tomita (Karate Kid, Joy Luck Club) and my Asian Australian comrade Leonardo Nam (Westworld). The awards celebrated the best in Asian and Asian American cinema from the past year. Below are the award winners and some of the things they said about the festival and their win:

  • The winner of Best Feature Narrative (DRIVEWAYS) Andrew Ahn received his 3rd SDAFF award in the last decade.
  • Grand Jury – STRAIGHT UP, (director James Sweeney)
  • Feature Narrative – DRIVEWAYS (director Andrew Ahn)
  • Feature Doc – THE CANCER JOURNALS, REVISITED (director Lana Lin)
  • Special Jury Award – JADDOLAND (director Nadia Shihab)
  • Short Narrative – FIRST (directors Micaela Durand and Daniel Chew)
  • Short Doc – MY AMERICAN SURROGATE (director Leslie Tai)
  • Short Animation – UMBILICAL (director Danski Tang)
  • George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award – Miko Revereza for NO DATA PLAN

After the awards gala, I spoke with two of the award winners to get some brief quotes on how they felt about winning an award for their film, particularly on this twentieth anniversary of the festival. Andrew Ahn, whose name is a big one ( particularly after the success of film “Spa Night”) said receiving his third award in the last decade at the festival was personal to him.

“It is such an honor. SDAFF means so much to me, and I have a personal connection to San Diego; so, this for me is super special,” Ahn said.

Leslie Tai, Director of My American Surrogate, who won the award for the best short documentary category echoed the similar sentiments to Ahn but added how surreal the feeling is to celebrate her award with an “Asian American powerhouse”.

“Winning the best short documentary award means a lot to me because all of my films for the past three years have been shown here,” Tai said.

She added that receiving the award felt like a homecoming.

“It definitely feels like a homecoming because this programing team has supported me from the beginning,” Tai said. “To experience the community of all of these Asian American powerhouses, it is really inspiring.”

The San Diego Asian Film Festival 2019, will continue through Saturday, November 16. If you are in the area or plan to be here, please go check it out. If you would like to get details on the schedule, please check out the San Diego Asian Film Festival website by clicking here.

Images provided and from the Pacific Arts Movement Facebook page

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