San Diego Asian Film Festival spotlights new talent, old classics

The 23rd annual San Diego Asian Film Festival kicks off Thursday with the documentary “Bad Axe” at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. This year’s festival will feature 130 films from more than 30 countries and will be screened in four venues.

The documentary “Bad Axe” opens the 23rd annual San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Relaunch the festival

Film festivals, like so many arts organizations, have been hit hard by the pandemic and trying to bring audiences back to the cinema has been a challenge.

“Last year was a great buildup,” said Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival. “We were back in person but we thought, let’s not do more than one location at a time. Partly because we might still be a little rusty. It’s a lot of work to do multiple locations in same time and then we didn’t know if the demand was still there.”

This year, they’re in pre-pandemic numbers with film screenings at UltraStar Mission Valley headquarters, as well as the San Diego Museum of Natural History, Museum of Photographic Arts, and Price Center at UC San Diego. Diego.

“So we are ready to do that, to go back to where we were and to multiple sites at the same time. And very soon we will be back to 2019 in terms of operations,” Hu added. “We feel good about it. The public seems to be too. And ticket sales are good.”

Showcasing Asian diversity

Although the festival is over two decades old, some moviegoers may still assume that an Asian film festival only features countries like China, Japan, and South Korea.

“One of our goals is to remind everyone that Asia is the biggest continent in the world and they make movies everywhere, and really good movies,” Hu said. “So obviously India is one of the biggest producers of films in the world and India doesn’t just make Bollywood films. India has this vibrant new independent film scene, films made in multiple languages . And so we have some films from India.”

There will also be films from Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. Additionally, the focus is on Asian American and Asian Canadian films.

“This is a film festival that is largely founded and organized by Asian Americans,” Hu said. “I think one of our goals is to give a platform to marginalized voices here in the United States. I mean, Asian Americans don’t have a high profile in Hollywood or mainstream media. audience. So those filmmakers and artists who will be going there to get on screen, we want to give them a platform as well.”

The festival will also screen an anthology film called “We Are Still Here” featuring Australian and New Zealand filmmakers. But it’s not your typical anthology movie.

“This one is a bit more ambitious,” Hu said. “It allows filmmakers from New Zealand, Australia and Samoa to each have their own little short film, but they are woven together in an overlapping way. One starts and then stops halfway through. Another one starts and picks up later And the really ambitious part about that is that they take as an impetus, the arrival of Captain Cook in the Pacific Islands, as some kind of spark for indigenous people to have a voice, but then it turns into talking about anti-colonial resistance, and then it turns into this incredible imagination of what the future might look like, so not only does it show that there are many indigenous voices in the islands of the Pacific, but that they really think outside the box.

Spotlight on new filmmakers and veterans

While “We’re Still Here” features young filmmakers and new voices, the sidebar titled Masters reminds us of the great filmmakers who have been churning out stunning works of art for decades. It allows us to see new works by veteran filmmakers as well as introduce those directors to a new generation. This year, the Iranian Jafar Panahi, the Japanese Hirokazu Kore-eda, the South Korean Hong Sang-soo and the Filipino Lav Diaz are among the artists presented.

Master filmmakers are also on display in the Classics Restored showcase. As someone who fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the 80s when the new wave of Hong Kong was hitting, I’m glad to see two Johnnie To films on the program: “Heroic Trio” and “Executioners”. These films represent the wild energy, bold style and delirious madness of Hong Kong’s New Wave. They feel like they’re dusting off everything that’s come before and inventing something entirely new.

Both films feature a trio of female action stars: Michelle Yeoh (who rides high in “Everything Everywhere All At Once”), Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung.

“These are not films that you would normally think of as important films of world cinema. But they are,” enthused Hu. “These are just the craziest Hong Kong action films of the 1990s. Not necessarily in terms of jaw-dropping action, but they’re also all deranged. Above all, there are only the three stars the most spectacular of Hong Kong cinema at the peak of their powers. , kicking, wearing amazing outfits and being totally memorable besides the fact that there is a director like Johnny To who just allows them to do the most deranged things. I mean, it’s too irresistible. We show both [in 4K restorations] and it sells well. And we know the audience is going to have a great time.”

I can also guarantee a great time at the amazing Mystery Kung Fu Theater, where you have to trust Hu to pick a movie you’ll love. And it has yet to disappoint. The movies tend to be 70s and 80s kung fu gems and Hu is particularly excited about this year’s mystery selection.

Last year there was a sound problem during the screening and the public, including myself, voted to watch the film and make sound effects live. It was one of the funniest screenings I have ever seen. So, as always, I look forward to this event and urge people to come for something magical.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival runs Thursday through November 12.

About Monty S. Maynard

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