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Lowell Asian American Film Festival back for its second year


By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

Lowell is a city in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts best known as the former epicenter of the American textile industry. It is also the largest home to Cambodian Americans after Long Beach, California.

Tonight, the place that goes by the nickname of “Mill City” and upholds the motto that “art is the handmaid of human good” is launching its second-ever Lowell Asian American Film Festival (LAAFF).

The festival is completely free with advanced RSVPs or emails to [email protected].

The opening reception will kick off at 4:30 p.m. at the Richard and Nancy Donahue and Family Academic Arts Center at Middlesex Community College (MCC), including musical and cultural performances and pan Asian foods.

Virak Uy, director of MCC’s Program for Asian American Student Advancement (PAASA) organized the festival with a grant administered by the City of Lowell and made possible by federal COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

Uy wrote to AsAmNews about the inspiration to start the festival last year. “Many instances of hate crimes against Asian Americans had occurred in Lowell, Massachusetts and nationally, the event was planned to bring together positive voices and common experiences for the community to begin healing,” he said. 

The success of the locally-sponsored first event, which drew 300 attendees, greenlit the festival to return this year as a part of the ongoing national effort to promote pandemic recovery and the city’s goal to stimulate the vibrant small businesses in downtown Lowell. 

The seven-film program is small in scale but high in impact. It reflects both Lowell’s artistic spirit as a city and the unique influences of its Cambodian and Southeast Asian communities that are so underrepresented nationally.

The opening film of the second LAAFF is Elvis of Cambodia, screening at 7 p.m. tonight. The documentary honors the relevance of legendary Cambodian musical artist Sinn Sisamouth upon global Cambodian identity today. Director Chris Parkhurst will be present for a Q&A afterward. 

Events on Saturday, October 21, will start at 12:30 p.m. with a screening of MCC student film Sunday, with a directors’ Q&A. One O’Clock, a modern New York City ghost story, will screen next at 1:30 p.m., including a Q&A with Cambodian American director Vibol S. Sungkriem of Vibol Films. 

Skin Can Breathe will follow at 2:30 p.m. – the HBO Max 2022 Asian Pacific American Visionaries Short Film Competition winner, directed by Chheangkea, tells the story of a Cambodian American teenager who finds belonging in his high school pool. 

Dealing with Dad will screen at 4 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the director Tom Huang. The critically acclaimed feature is about Margaret Chang, who goes back to her hometown with her brothers to care for their ornery father after he slides into a state of depression. The siblings find that their “Dad” is a lot nicer, and question whether they even want his condition to improve.

After a closing reception at noon on Sunday, October 22, there will be a 1:30 p.m. screening of The Next Generation of Asian American Art. The documentary, directed by Steve Arounsack and first aired on PBS, explores how Asian Americans in the Central Valley of California use art to reshape narratives about and within their communities.

At 2 p.m., there will be a screening of Chinatown Rising about AAPI activists of the 1960s and 1970s in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The film will be followed by a Zoom Q&A with directors Harry and Josh Chuck. 

The closing film will be Vincent Who?, showing at 5 p.m., followed by a Zoom Q&A with guests yet to be revealed. The film is about Chinese American Vincent Chin, murdered in 1982 in Detroit by two white auto workers when racism combined with anti-Japanese sentiments fomented by economic competition with Japanese car companies. The killers paid $3,000 fines but served no jail time. The injustice provoked a new era of pan-Asian civil rights mobilization.

Uy wrote: “The festival has a mission of empowering Asian Americans through film and bringing Asian American films to the public with the hope of inspiring future generations of filmmakers. The weekend will provide an opportunity to bring the community together and celebrate diverse voices, experiences and entertainment that represent one of the college’s largest population of students.”

Peter Crewe, Director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the City of Lowell, also expressed forward-looking excitement about the festival in a press release.

“The City and City Council are thrilled to see the Lowell Asian American Film Festival continue to grow in scope, offer new narratives to bridge cultures, and uplift the voices of Lowell’s Asian American community,” he said, raising hopes that LAAFF is here to stay.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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