Unreeling the Film Festival

March 12, 2006

Unreeling the Film Festival

By AnnaBelle A. Udo, Mar 10, 2006

Relying on the breadth and energy of a dedicated staff, the annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) has been a mainstay of San Francisco’s arts scene since 1982, and moving forward with increasing fervor. This year’s exhibit from March 16 through 26, promises another robust line-up.

With new technologies everywhere — from the little screens of hand-held devices to the comforts of home theaters — marketing strategies by the producers of this year’s film festival has taken on innovative levels that also represent their name change from the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) to the Center for Asian American Media.

“Only the name has changed but the integrity of the work has not,” said Chi-hui Yang, festival director. “The old name was very 1980-ish and we felt it didn’t accurately capture the kinds of things that are going on now.”

Last year’s attendance was over 23,000, and producers expect to see sold-out shows once again. Still, the need to increase socialization in a computer-driven world has been one of their marketing challenges.

“There’s a lot of competition for entertainment outside of films,” said Taro Goto, assistant festival director. “You have music, portable entertainment systems, and DVD entertainment systems. In addition, people are staying indoors using Netflix and, of course, computers where they can sit and be entertained for long periods of time. We need to emphasize the stimulation of social functions that when they attend something like the film festival, they’re not just watching films, but they’re going to a place to get ideas and share them.”

Stepping into this new world of technology and creative marketing tactics has included reaching out to the cyber crowd. Tribe.net (http://asianamericanfilm.tribe.net) has been one of the more popular sites that offers an abundance of online discussions about Asian American films. An even more revolutionary site is Manja.org (http://manja.org/promote/), which provides a free service to bloggers who promote the film festival by merely registering and posting the festival’s logo on their blog. In return, bloggers receive recognition on a “blog roll” or a collection of links to other web logs.

Aside from fashionable marketing strategies, the business of a nonprofit film festival relies heavily on the financial support of foundations, grants, government support and sponsorship.

“This year is a good year and many sponsors have been supportive by providing giveaways at the screenings,” said Theresa Navarro, sponsorship coordinator. “They want to get more involved and are trying to be more vested in their festival sponsorship.”

Surpassing this year’s goals, major contributors include Wells Fargo, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Procter & Gamble and the James Irvine Foundation, in addition to Cathay Pacific and the Asian Art Museum as Opening Night gala sponsors and Comcast as the Closing Night gala sponsor.

Typically receiving more than 300 submissions a year, the cyclical production of the SFIAAFF begins almost at a point where it ends with a call for entries from June through October. Throughout the year, the producers attend an array of distinguished film festivals such as Cannes in France, Sundance in Utah and Toronto in Canada, gathering different perspectives and observing new trends in the industry.

This hunt for ideas helps sculpt the main theme of the festival. As well, a diverse set of jurors made up of filmmakers, critics, community activists and writers, provides a variety of perspectives when making their decisions on what films will be featured.

“Establishing the theme is really an organic process,” Goto said. “We see what is being made and how best to respond to that. We’ve done lots of research and usually just wait for the opportunity to just do it. There seemed to be a lot of convergences around this year’s theme of Asian American male masculinity.”

The festival begins in San Francisco and ends in San Jose with the heartbeat of this year’s selections paying homage to Narrative and Documentary Features. The films will undoubtedly challenge people’s preconceived notions of Asian American stereotypes. Specifically, many focus on redefining portrayals of Asian American men in today’s mainstream media.

Spotlight presentations (March 18-19) feature the illustrious career of silver screen actor James Shigeta, who was at the forefront in the ‘50s and ‘60s with groundbreaking roles that transcended color lines and social codes.

With more than 126 feature-length and short films, the line-up includes new works from more than 21 countries including Brazil, Tibet, Canada and India.

Among the platter of prime Bay Area hot spots that will participate as venues this year include Café Du Nord, 111 Minna, the famed Castro Theatre, Asian Art Museum, Kabuki 8 Theatres, Palace of Fine Arts, Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley) and Camera 12 Cinemas (San Jose).

The festival’s Opening Night premieres Eric Byler’s Americanese, an adaptation of Shawn Wong’s empowering 1995 novel American Knees. Featuring a stellar cast of Chris Tashima, Joan Chen, Kelly Hu and Michael Paul Chan, the characters find their way through the labrynthian politics of race and sexuality.

Directions in Sound: Notes from the Asian American Underground (March 17-18) offers a two-night concoction of crafty, new indie rock and a hip-hop showcase that includes the big Chicago beats of The Pacifics and the Bay Area’s legendary beat-boxer Lee Aucayan.

A tribute to action movie impresarios, The Shaw Brothers will present Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film, Part II (March 24-25). Included are some of the dynamic duo’s most masterful works, bringing back to the big screen the sword-slinging, tyrannical characters signature to the Shaw Brothers favorites from the ‘70s.

There will also be panel discussions, a rich assortment of short films and a choice selection of documentaries including this year’s variation of the quirky globetrotting series Chinese Restaurants: Latin Passions. Director Cheuk Kwan surveys the diaspora of family Chinese restaurants introducing stories in Peru, Brazil and Argentina. Additionally, a premier documentary, The Slanted Screen, by San Francisco’s very own Public Defender-slash-film buff, Jeff Adachi, takes a look at the rich cinematic history of Asian American male roles.

The Closing Night Gala in San Francisco takes places March 23 with director Ham Tran and the cast of Journey from the Fall at the resplendent San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts. The festival continues through March 26 with screenings in Berkeley and San Jose.

For more info, call (415) 865-1588 or visit http://www.asianamericanmedia.org.


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