How many Asians in film can you name? Sure, there are some of the obvious ones, like Ang Lee or Jackie Chan. But most people probably can't list more than ten.
To try and help spread the word of Asians in the film industry, Asians on Film had their first film festival this past weekend at J.E.T. Studios, celebrating those who did not follow the approved career paths that many of our traditional Asian parents set out before us. Instead of becoming doctors, businessmen or lawyers, these festival attendees opted for the arts.
The man at the helm of the event? Co-editor of the AsiansOnFilm.com blog, Scott Ericksson, who is noticeably not Asian. But this falls in line with what the night was about: appreciating the works of up and coming filmmakers…who just happen to be Asian.
Over fifty shorts and features screened over the three nights, featuring subject matters of varying degrees of Asian-ness. Toward the higher end of the spectrum is the fest's Best Feature Documentary winner Lost Years, which looks into the 150 years of racism against the Chinese in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the winners of Best Feature Comedy (Starting from Scratch) and Best Feature Drama (Model Minority) deal with the more universal themes of divorce and low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods, respectively.
Proving that the festival was not just for films that comment on the Asian culture was Ruby Booby, a quirky indie film about a socially awkward woman's search for the musician Jose Feliciano, as she believes he's her father. It stood out not only for its title, which is reminiscent of some playground taunt, but for the fact that the only time an Asian character appears onscreen is when he informs Ruby (Tara Samuel) and her new friend Judy Dench (Kathryn Winslow) that he's called the cops. Though the real reason the film qualified for the festival was thanks to its Korean American producer, Andrew Ahn. And, technically, Samuel could be considered an honorary Asian: she was born in Taiwan and Mandarin was her first language. (Although, the only thing she can still remember how to say in Chinese is “bathroom” — but with a surprisingly accurate accent.)
Another film with an intriguing title was Anita Ho (hint: say it out loud), winner of Best Ensemble Cast, which pokes fun at the inter-Asian stereotypes and prejudices as a Chinese woman brings her Korean boyfriend home to meet her parents. Loosely based on the true events of real-life couple Steve Myung and Lina So Myung, the writers and stars of the film, Anita Ho centers on Anita's parents' blatantly obvious disapproval of their daughter's boyfriend and wannabe fiancé over his occupation as a writer — instead of something respectable, like a doctor — and not being Chinese.
When asked about their parents' initial reactions to their decision to work in film, Steve Myung admitted that his parents weren't exactly ecstatic about it at first and Lina So Myung got her MBA in part to appease her parents' wishes for her to have a career to fall back on.
For its inaugural run, the festival attracted a decent turnout of seventy or so filmmakers — including some who simply came just to show support for this minority community. Hopefully, next year, they'll get a bigger venue.