By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter
The Visual Communications Los Angeles Asian American Pacific Film Festival traditionally is held in May during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, but bending like bamboo to the concessions necessary with the pandemic, this 37th edition runs from 23 September to 2 October 2021.
The lineup includes Asian and Pacific Islander artists from across the world with virtual (panel discussions that will be released on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube channels) and in-person programming. (Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at the Japanese American National Museum, and Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center) .
Below are some of my recommendations amongst the films I’ve been able to screen already this year.
Thursday, September 23, 2021.
Ann Kaneko’s Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust looks into the history of Owens Valley and the incarceration of Japanese Americans and their connection with the the indigenous communities. These two groups join together to fight the LAWP over water rights. While the documentary seems unfocused, while filled with personal details, it does add an environmental slant to the socio-political concerns of marginalized communities.
Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust screens at the Aratani Theatre (JACCC). The film will be followed by Q&A with the filmmakers.
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Marvelous and the Black Hole is a family-friendly film about a decidedly unfriendly young teen. The black hole here is the emptiness left by the death of a mother and the anger of a 13-year-old girl, Sammy (Miya Cech), which swallows up every opportunity of youth.
While her older sister, Patricia (Kannon), and father, Angus (Leonardo Nam), have moved into the fifth stage of grief (acceptance), Sammy is stuck at stage two: anger, pushing Angus to make an ultimatum: Sammy must pass a summer course in business, or she will be sent to a boot camp specializing in straightening out delinquent youths.
Sammy is determined to find a way around this and lucks into something marvelous. Director Kate Tsang said this film is “about finding hope and resilience during dark times.” The film won the Audience Award at the Sun Valley Film Festival.
Marvelous and the Black Hole screens at 12 p.m. (81 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. The film will be followed by Q&A with the filmmakers.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Wuhan Wuhan is, as one might expect, about the reason the world knows the name of this place. If you aren’t overcome with mental fatigue over COVID-19 documentaries, director Yung Chang’s documentary shows a more intimate side of the early days of the pandemic by following five different stories outside of the headlines.
“Wuhan Wuhan” won the DocEdge Award at the Documentary Edge Festival, the Audience Choice Award and the Best Documentary at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Wuhan Wuhan screens at 1 p.m. (95 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. The filmmakers will be in attendance and there will be a Q&A after the film.
Try Harder! is about kids in San Francisco who are driven to excellence and under pressure to get into the best colleges and part of that plan includes being enrolled in Lowell High School. Director Debbie Lum (“Seeking Asian Female,” 2012) has inadvertently preserved a system that was dismantled soon after the documentary was filmed–first by the school board and then by the pandemic.
Try Harder! screens at 1:30 p.m. (85 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. A Q&A with the filmmakers follows the film.
National Geographic’s The Rescue is from the wife and husband team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin who won as Oscar for Free Solo. The documentary is about the Tham Luang cave rescue operation to save members of a soccer team and their assistant coach when heavy rainfall trapped them deep within a cave system in the summer of 2018.
The filmmakers emphasize both the nature of the expert cave divers and the international team effort required to save all 13. The documentary won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Rescue screens at 3 p.m. (117 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. This screening is a free or pay what you can offering.
Tribeca alum Dan Chen’s documentary, Accepted, lures you into the web the charismatic claims and apparent success of the school’s founder, Mike Landry, but ultimately the film challenges our perceptions of social media videos of high school students celebrating their acceptance into colleges of their choice.
Accepted screens at 4 p.m. (92 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. The film will be followed by Q&A with the filmmakers.
Ascension might not be so kid-friendly since it features a segment at a sex doll factory, but Jewish and Chinese American hapa Jessica Kingdon directed this mesmerizing documentary, Ascension, about people in pursuit of the Chinese dream. More objectively impressionistic than a measured thesis, the documentary looks at the labor market and the rise of capitalism within a communist country.
Ascension screens at 6:30 p.m. (94 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. This screening is a free or pay what you can offering.
Friday, October 1, 2021
In Islands, screenwriter/director Martin Edralin, a Filipino Canadian, captures the patience required as the tyranny of aging. The eldest son Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) works as a humble janitor and takes care of his elderly parents. His mother’s death brings a cousin, Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), to visit.
Marisol has been earning money in Kuwait to send home. Outside of their support system in the Philippines, Joshua and Marisol, lead lonely existences and they find some comfort together. Balagtas won a special jury award at SXSW Film Festival. The film includes references to masturbation and sexual harassment.
Islands screens at 5 p.m. (94 minutes) at the Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center.
Saturday, October 2, 2021
For director Dante Basco and screenwriters Dante Basco, Darion Basco, Dionysio Basco and Arianna Basco, this film, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, is truly a family affair. While I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they are truly fabulous, they are funny in this film where each brother is featured in a separate story that is linked to a wedding.
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers screens at 8 p.m. (106 minutes) at the Aratani Theatre @ JACCC. The film will be followed by Q&A with the filmmakers.
For more information or tickets, visit the LAAPFF website.
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