film fest

Asian-American film fest is about ‘pretty much everything’

By Young Chang

Seattle Times staff reporterThe Northwest Asian American Film Festival, which starts Thursday, offers a four-day screening spree with stories about life and death, the mundane, the funny, the imagined.

There’s the short work about a Taiwanese immigrant facing his first Halloween (“Trick or Treat”), and an animated short about a timid girl who gets a cigar at the market — and a new, aggressive personality to go with it (“Pushover”). The lineup also includes a mockumentary about a guy looking for ways to increase the length of his penis (“The Quest for Length”), and the story of Tony and Pedro — a dog and a chicken — celebrating a rocky six-month anniversary as a couple (“Pedro 1 Tony?”).

“I’m not sure if a lot of people even have a very clear notion of what Asian-American cinema is all about,” said Wes Kim, festival director. “Ultimately it can be and is about pretty much everything. I think any film festival ideally exposes viewers to films and filmmakers they might not have seen otherwise.”

Presented by the Northwest Asian American Theatre (NWAAT), the festival will feature more than 40 films. Two feature-length films — “Searching for Asian America” and “Robot Stories” — will open and close, respectively, four days of mostly short works. A third of the films, divided into themed programs, are by Northwest filmmakers.

Film festival preview 

Northwest Asian American Film Festival,Thursday through next Sunday, Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., Seattle; $5-$15 for individual programs, $60-$70 for a festival pass. Part of the proceeds will benefit a scholarship fund in the name of the late Don Thomas, a producer/director/writer/animator.

Many of the works receive their Seattle premiere during the fest.

About seven guests — including producer Don Young (“Searching for Asian America”), local filmmaker Jamie Hook (“The Naked Proof”) and producer Kim Ima (“Robot Stories”) — are expected to attend. A panel discussion Sunday will look at how and whether Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow,” about a group of California honor students involved in drugs and crime, has changed Asian-American cinema. The critically acclaimed indie film made box-office news last spring.

Last year’s festival, which showcased 30 films over about 10 days, was a part of NWAAT’s annual arts event A-Fest, Kim said.

This year, the festival runs independent of A-Fest though still under the umbrella of NWAAT. Organizers held fund-raisers in the past year, received donations and procured a grant from the city’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

A rocky background

The history of an Asian-American film festival in Seattle has been off-and-on.

In the mid-1980s, an Asian-American media arts group called King Street Media — and one of its members, William Satake Blauvelt — started the Seattle Asian American Film Festival, according to Van Diep, public-relations director for this year’s festival. King Street Media had created the film “Beacon Hill Boys,” were looking to premiere it locally and used the event to feature other works as well.

That festival ran for about two years, fell dormant for several years as organizers went their separate ways, then started again in the mid-’90s under the leadership of Blauvelt and Emily Wong, who at the time was assistant editor at the International Examiner. The festival continued for four years.

Soon after, Jay Koh, also of King Street Media, took over the task of presenting the Seattle Asian American Film Festival. That version fizzled after a couple years due to lack of money.

This time, with a new name, the NWAAFF says it’s here to stay. Under the leadership of Kim, the festival aims to showcase area filmmakers and to bring works from other parts of the country to the Northwest.

“Seattle needs a festival again because there’s so much work that doesn’t get shown here,” Blauvelt said. “We had a lot of trouble finding filmmakers to fill the slots back in the ’80s. Now there are so many people making films. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.”

On the schedule

Here are some festival highlights:

• “Searching for Asian America,” produced by Don Young, features the stories of Gov. Gary Locke, two Filipino-American doctors living in Oklahoma and Los Angeles comic artist Lela Lee.

• “With Honors Denied,” by Seattle filmmaker and KING-TV reporter Mimi Gan, tells the story of Yukiko Kubo Shiogi — a woman sent to an internment camp with her family and other Japanese Americans during World War II. • “Who is Ms. Chow?,” by Garfield High School student Max Chan, poses the question: Do kids really know their teachers? Max interviews the children in his sister’s second-grade classroom to find out.

• “Eternal Gaze,” the award-winning animation work by director Sam Chen, examines the last moments of artist Alberto Giacometti’s life.

• “Robot Stories,” a film by Greg Pak that has also garnered awards at other film festivals around the country, looks at how human beings fare in a futuristic world of robots.

• “Masters of the Pillow,” part of the festival’s sex-themed program, focuses on a University of California, Davis professor who strives to correct what he considers a warped image of Asian-American sexuality by producing an Asian-American adult film.

“Regardless of what your thoughts are about what (the professor) is doing, you could never accuse it of being a clichéd Asian-American story,” Kim said. “It’s definitely something new.”