HomeCommunityVC Film Festival celebrates 40th year in Los Angeles

VC Film Festival celebrates 40th year in Los Angeles

By Alexandra Nguyen, AsAmNews Intern

A landmark for Asian Pacific Islander (API) cinema, the Visual Communications (VC) Film Festival prepares for its 40th run this May in Los Angeles.

Also known as the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), it will feature over 150 programs that cultivate this year’s theme of joy and wellness. AAPI stories from around the world will be shown on the big screen, spanning from animation, experimental documentaries, and narratives.

The festival will run May 1 – 10 in-person and online, kickstarting Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. And, for $15 a program, viewers can enjoy a combination of new work and past work, from the VC Archives.

Francis Cullado, VC Executive Director said “VC Film Fest honors our beloved elder cultural workers and their solidarity to work, linking them to present emerging artists who continue to empower our communities and challenge perspectives.” So, this year, the festival is dedicated to founding Executive Director Steve Tatsukawa

Steve Tatsukawa in 1984
1984 – Steve Tatsukawa. VC photo

Founded in the 70s, VC is one of the oldest API arts organizations. A decade later, the organization created the LAAPFF so that APIs could view programs with people just like them.

“Back in the day you couldn’t really access these things like on YouTube or Netflix,” Eseel Borlasa, a senior programmer at VC said. “It was the annual time” for people to be able to say “‘Oh, it’s a Filipino on the screen!'”

Since the 80s, the festival has continued to be a space for Asian Americans to share their stories.

2000 photo of actor Dante Basco
Actor Danta Basco in 2000. VC photo

“We have an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation and create an impact,” Borlasa continued. “And that’s really the driving force of this film festival.”

Every year the VC Film Fest program selection allows. range of different API voices to be heard. Voices, that may not have been heard otherwise.

“Growing up in the Bay Area, this is the story that I have always wanted to tell,” writer and director of “Dìdi”, Sean Wang said. “And now I have that opportunity.”

The cast and crew of "Didi" as well as some family and friends at Sundance // Photo by Erin Chew
The cast and crew of “Didi” as well as some family and friends at Sundance // Photo by Erin Chew

“Dìdi” follows a 13-year-old boy named Wang-Wang throughout his last summer before starting high school.

“I wanted to tell a story which was a version of my own story– a Taiwanese American boy growing up and going through the ups and downs all teenage boys experience,” Wang said.

The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will be screened at the VC Film Fest May 8 at the Japanese American National Museum.

Since its creation, the film festival has created a space for representation, for people like Wang to share underrepresented identities in the media. Consequently, it has opened doors for APIs in the film industry to create a sense of belonging for the next generations to come.

VC Photo 1998 of film festival committee
VC Photo 1998 of film festival committee

Borlasa adressed just how important this is, reflecting on how representation in the mainstream media can change adolescents’ self-confidence.

“I would feel affirmed, I’m like ‘Oh, there’s another human like me,'” Borlasa said. “I don’t have to feel so isolated or me against the world, which I personally feel I felt a lot.”

To reach all people, the 10 day festival has taken it upon themselves to increase accessibility. For the deaf and hard of hearing communities, they have encouraged filmmakers to use subtitles and will have ASL interpretations. And, for those who might not be financially able to attend, VC offers some free and “pay what you can” programs.

Borlasa shared that her biggest dream, for the festival, is to one day present the festival for free.

“That’s my desire, because I would like to see more multigenerational audiences experiencing these satires together,” she said.

Another important aspect of the VC Film Fest, is not only the Asians on the screen, but the Asians working behind the scenes.

Borlasa expressed this desire, “We want to see the Asian director or Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander creative who are leading the storytelling.”

Amongst these Asian creative, includes Steve Sue, the writer and producer of “SHAKA, The Story of Aloha”. The documentary will have its world premiere at the VC festival on May 2.

This feature-length film tells the origin-stories and meanings of the traditional Hawaiian hand gesture, the Shaka. In doing so, it takes viewers on a quest to find paradise and the secrets to maintaining the “aloha” spirit.

“I’m telling the story of the Shaka’s origin. You know, the history, meaning, and uses,” Sue said. “But, there’s actually a bigger play, which is I’m actually trying to define what is ‘Aloha.” How is Aloha used to make paradise and how is the Shaka a tool to spread all of that?”

Buddha Temple
From Steve Sue (Interview of Rev Ryoso Toshima at Honpa Hongwanji Hawai’i Betsuin)

The first time writer and producer created the feature on accident. What was originally supposed to be a 20 minute documentary grew into countless interviews and stories behind the culturally rich symbol.

Sue is honored to have his feature be a part of the VC film fest as an API in the film industry today. However, he also understands the Asian American struggle of feeling heard in the media. To that, he says “You’re better off just picking up a camera and doing it.”

A decade ago, API representation in film was close to none. But, today progress is being made and Sue encourages all Asian Americans to tell their stories.

“Now, everybody has a movie camera in their pocket. And so, if you have a story to tell that is impactful to the world, then go tell it.”

Shaka Film Sight & Sound Hawaii
Shaka production meeting at Sight & Sound Productions, Honolulu, Hawai’i. 

Yet, Sue also realizes that there is still room for improvement.

“I would love Asian American cinema, to just be part of the fabric of storytelling, an accepted one, not necessarily a special interest group,” Sue said. “I think there’s a place for that, we have specific Asian experience stories to tell.”

Tickets and more information about the VC Film Festival is available on their website.

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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