By Erin Chew
The 24th San Diego Asian Film Festival (#SDAFF) exploded with a bang this year. As the largest showcase of Asian and Asian American cinema in North America, the curated lineup of films encompasses the best in both award-winning and cutting-edge cinema worldwide.
The festival opened on November 2nd with the highly anticipated film Quiz Lady starring Sandra Oh and Awkwafina. Directed by Jessica Yu, the story revolves around two sisters- Anne Yum (Awkwafina) and Jenny Yum (Sandra Oh) being forced to band together when they receive threats to pay off their mother’s gambling debt.
They begin a crazy country-wide journey for Anne to become a quiz show champion and at the same time use the winning money to pay off the debt. Yu, who directed this wild film was recently interviewed by AsAmNews, and spoke about what she hopes audiences will enjoy and takeaway after watching the film.
“I think one of the biggest takeaways is the idea that as siblings, you can’t escape who you were as kids and the strong bond built even if you have been estranged from each other for some time. That bond can really overcome any trauma and negativity in the family unit. The other takeaway is that we as Asians are all flawed and imperfect – we are not the model minority”, Yu expressed.
Quiz Lady is now available to watch on the Hulu streaming platform.
Staying on the topic of issues around the model minority stereotype for Asians, Home is a Hotel is another film which defies this stereotype and shows that Asians in America come from all walks of life. Directed by Kevin Duncan Wong, this documentary film provides a glimpse into the lives of six tenants in SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the country. It screened as part of #SDAFF’s 2023 Asian American Panorama series.
This documentary film took five years to complete. This meant following these six tenants, understanding their trauma, complexities and problems. However it also meant discovering their hopes, dreams and courage to carry on. As the director for the film, Duncan Wong talks about this and how both these ideals were an obstacle in finding families living in SROs to follow and film.
“Following their hardships, hopes and dreams is a great ideal for any filmmaker. However, most of the Asian and migrant families living in SROs are very closed up communities and the number one issue to contend with was the shame of living in poverty, how they got into the situation and their past. This undertaking was my motivator and I wanted people to know that not all of us live that perfect life, stereotypes dictate Asians/migrant families have”, Wong stated in an AsAmNews interview.
The film shows the daily routines of SRO families which were often riddled with bureaucratic nightmares and the fight for these families to stay housed. The existence of SROs demonstrates the housing crisis emergency confronting the US and Asian/Asian Americans are in the thick of it.
“The model minority myth is a falsehood, and when you get to understand the lives of the families living in SROs ( many of which are Asian/Asian American), you realize how this myth makes our community seem invisible. It is a real challenge to get these stories out, and give a voice to those who are voiceless and invisible to society. This film also shows how the failing US economy has affected our communities and that this issue is an emergency of great proportions”.
Home is a Hotel has done the US film festival scene and will continue to this year and into 2024. You can access the screening calendar by clicking here.
For decades, Rose Pak was the king and queenmaker of San Francisco politics. Hailing from Chinatown, she ensured that no aspiring mayor or supervisor could ignore the needs of the Chinese American community. Rally is a very intriguing and well curated documentary film about a politician who had no official title and one who was motivated by her community. The film honors her legacy and shows the work that goes into working behind the shadows in making Chinese Americans feel seen and heard.
Rally was also the winner of the Best Documentary Feature category at #SDAFF 2023.
Producer for the documentary film, Michelle Moy, spoke to AsAmNews about the documentary film and mentioned that the level of political activism Pak participated in was at the highest levels, and it is rare that people like her existed.
“It was the director for the documentary film Rooth Tang who found me and I was drawn to the energy of the history of Rose Pak. To be honest, I haven’t heard about her name till she passed in 2016, but the more I research into her and worked on this film as a producer it made me see that despite being a divisive figure and one who worked in the shadows – she did all this for the advancement and empowerment of the Chinese American community”.
Pak passed away in 2016, so making this documentary film was no easy task. Research and searching through archival material was required to gather enough footage to create this film. Because she was always working behind the scenes, her public appearances were either news footage and/or photos taken by individuals. This required searching storage containers and garage boxes in peoples homes who were well acquainted and/or worked alongside Pak during her active years.
“The finding of archival material was definitely a challenge. Not in the sense that there was not a lot, but more that there was no organization as it was all boxed up in garages and storage lockers etc. Many who had some material didn’t even know they had it, so it was a huge process to put things in some sort of order that, so our film would move along fluidly. The whole creating this film process was an ever changing one in terms of where we would add archival footage, photos and the interviews conducted”, Moy stated.
Rally has done the US film festival scene and will continue to this year and into 2024.
Finally, the closing night film for #SDAFF 2023 was Mustache directed by Imran J. Khan. This is a 1990s coming of age Pakistani immigrant story and one which will make you think, reflect and reminisce if you grew up in this time period. Inspired by Khan’s own upbringing as an immigrant kid of the 90s, this film has an authentic story and one which contributes to better representation of South Asian and/or Muslim stories.
It is about Ilayas (Antharva Verma) who is thirteen years old and has the unfortunate prepubescent mustache. He is a good Muslim, so he knows that he can’t shave it off. He does go to the local Islamic school, but even then he still got picked on for the mustache. Things take a turn when his parents can no longer afford religious school fees and he has to attend the local public school, where his mustache and his social standing becomes unstable.
Mustache is doing the US and Canada film festival circuit and will continue to this year and into 2024. Follow their Instagram for more details.
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