The 39th edition of Visual Communications’ Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival opens up today, Thursday, 4 May 2023, with a free event at the Japanese American National Museum. Screenings won’t begin until Friday. Between 5-9 May, the annual showcase of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island, diasporic and Asian international cinema has in-person programming in Little Tokyo, Gardena Cinemas and the Regal LA Live, as well as online programming. Here are a few film recommendations (in alphabetical order).
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Asian communities abroad hard. Chinatowns are under threat. Director Karen Cho presents a documentary about the movements to save Chinatowns in Vancouver, New York and Chicago. This film isn’t just about the Chinese communities, however. Some Chinatowns are a major source of income to cities as tourist attractions. The Chinatowns in San Francisco and Los Angeles have been location sites for a variety of films. For people abroad, even temporarily, Chinatowns can be a source of familiar foods. I once made a long trek on a train to visit a Chinatown with other people of Asian descent just for groceries while I was a student in England. After that, I decided I could never live in a city without a Chinatown. Just this week, I saw a TikTok video about a tourist, someone who was not of Asian descent, who, while traveling in Spain, sought out the nearest Asian grocery store just to get hot sauce.
Moreover, Chinatowns originally formed because of prejudice, and that old-fashioned hasn’t died. It has flared up recently due to the pandemic. While it’s hard to imagine a Los Angeles without a Chinatown since we now have several, it’s also hard to imagine traveling anywhere without the safety net of a Chinatown. Will communities be able to remember their past if the buildings that bear testament to the legacy of racism have been erased by redevelopment and urban renewal?
Doua Moua writes and stars in a film about a son, Thai, who harbors a secret, even as he returns home to help care for his ill father, Cher (Perry Yung). The son isn’t the only one in this Hmong American family who has a secret. The mother, Youa (Dawn Ying Yuen), seems to be suffering under the constant care that Cher requires. Thai’s sister, Sue (Chris Chorr), has taken over many of the responsibilities that had once been Thai’s. Then, there are the old friends who Thai had left behind. Under the direction of Caylee So, this film is a thoughtful, sensitive portrayal of a son and father trying to reconnect and provides a window into the Hmong and many other immigrant communities in which children often become interpreters and caretakers for their hard-working parents, who for various reasons are unable to learn the language of their new country.
LA Live Regal, 13 May 2023, 3 p.m.
The Los Angeles-born co-director Vivek Bald is an associate professor of Comparative Media Studies and Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose work focuses on the histories of migration and the diaspora of the South Asian subcontinent. He’s the author of Bengali, Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America (Harvard University Press) and was one of the experts interviewed for the PBS five-part series Asian Americans, which premiered in May of 2020. Bald’s segment (Episode 1) looked at the fourth- and fifth-generation descendants of Mossad Ali, a Bengali Muslim silk trader who settled in the African American community in New Orleans, marrying an African American woman (Ella Blackman). Now, Bald is telling another personal story.
Bald first met co-director Alaudin Ullah after one of his presentations. Through Ullah, we get a personal story of a Bengali immigrant who entered the U.S. during a time when most legal immigration was restricted and managed to build a life in Harlem. Ullah’s father was significantly older than his bride, but she was divorced at the time.
Ullah himself has focused on his Bengali American identity as a playwright and also as a comedian who has been featured on BHO, MTV, BET, PBS and Comedy Central. He co-stared in the 2001 film American Desi and was a voice actor for the 2008 animation Sita Sings the Blues. His play Dishwasher Dreams will make its West Coast premiere under the direction of Chay Yew at The Old Globe in San Diego this fall.
Bald helps Ullah learn his parents’ stories and visit the people they left behind and, in doing so, Bald uncovers another personal history of Bengali Americans. In the end, this is a collaborative effort as both Bald and Ullah share credits as co-directors and writers (along with Beyza Boyacioglu).
The film is in Bengali and English. The filmmakers will be in attendance, and a Q&A will follow the screening. The film is part of the Documentary Programs.
Filmmaker So Yun Um follows up and expands upon her Armed with a Camera short film, Liquor Store Babies, which followed the experiences of two Korean American children of liquor store owners in Los Angeles. Liquor Store Dreams is her first feature film, and it’s a personal look at the struggles and perseverance of immigrant business owners as they navigate different cultures and subcultures through the eyes of two second-generation Korean Americans, So and her friend Danny. But one can’t touch upon the topic of Korean American liquor store owners without remembering both the 1991 killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by the 49-year-old Soon Ja Du and the six-day 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Both brought national attention to the conflict between the Korean and Black American communities in Los Angeles. Yet the film shows ways that bridges could be built between the communities.
So was a Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program Grantee and CAAM 2021 fellow with mentorship support from Nanfu Wang. Liquor Store Dreams had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and won the Local Jury Award at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The filmmakers will be in attendance, and a Q&A will follow the screening.
People who don’t wear corrective lenses might be perturbed by the experimental cinematography of this movie, but those who have poor vision will likely feel a sense of familiarity when all they can see on the screen is blurry objects. Don’t yell at the screening crew. Filmmaker Set Hernandez plays with the camera’s focus to approximate what it is like to be blind as he tells the story of a blind, undocumented immigrant named Pedro.
Pedro’s parents sacrificed everything to bring him to the U.S., but he doesn’t quite qualify for DACA. He entered the U.S. when he was just over the maximum age. Despite the lack of a robust national healthcare system, Pedro’s future almost depends upon remaining in the U.S.
This is the U.S. premiere of Unseen, which is in Spanish and English with English subtitles. The film will also have open captions and an audio description available.
The filmmakers will be in attendance for a Q&A that follows the screening.
General public tickets and complete details are available for purchase at festival.vcmedia.org
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