S.F. International Asian American Film Festival Turns 30

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SAN FRANCISCO — The 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival will be held March 8 to 18 in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose.

A scene from Quentin Lee's "White Frog."

A presentation of the Center for Asian American Media, SFIAAFF is the largest festival and organization of its kind in North America. Characterized by its youthful energy, forward-looking programming, and legacy in social activism and education, SFIAAFF has earned its title as San Francisco’s fastest-growing film festival.

Along with its strong local resonance, the festival has important national and international ties and reaches a diverse audience from across the Asian diaspora. Over the past 30 years, SFIAAFF has played a vital role in introducing emerging filmmakers and actors who have gone on to commercial success, such as Wayne Wang, Sandra Oh, John Cho, Mira Nair, Ang Lee, Deepa Mehta, Justin Lin, and Gurinder Chadha, to name a few.

With an emphasis on live events, multimedia performances, and ventures into the culinary and gaming worlds, the festival welcomes new media platforms with the spirit of curiosity. Over the past three years, SFIAAFF has produced HAPAS.US, a social-networking site for mixed-race Asians; Filipino or Not?, an iPhone game that challenges notions of racial ambiguity; and Climbing Sacred Mountain, a game that teaches young women the tenets of teamwork.

Opening and Closing Nights

SFIAAFF opens with the world premiere of “White Frog,” director Quentin Lee’s much buzzed-about new feature. The film stars Booboo Stewart (The “Twilight” Saga) as high school freshman Nick, a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome who is often neglected and misunderstood by his seemingly perfect family.

This powerful drama by the director of “The People I’ve Slept With” and “Flow” boasts some of the most influential and recognizable Asian American talent today, including B.D. Wong (“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”), Harry Shum Jr. (“Glee”), and Joan Chen (this year’s Festival Spotlight honoree).

A scene from Michael Kang's "Knots."

The festival in San Francisco is capped seven days later with the world premiere of “Prison Dancer,” directed by Romeo Candido. Based on the YouTube sensation that featured Philippine prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” this cutting-edge musical series paints a fictional portrait of the people behind the event, from a flamboyant, destined-to-be-choreographer and his gay minions to a pair of star-crossed lovers kept apart by the prison’s walls.

This evening of “performative cinema” will include video, live performances by cast members, and maestro-led audience participation.

Paradise isn’t quite for lovers in Michael Kang’s (“The Motel,” “West 32nd”) refreshing new Hawaii-based, island-powered romantic comedy “Knots,” SFIAAFF’s San Jose opening night gala presentation. Kang’s third feature further demonstrates his directorial range in this fresh take on family ties and romantic entanglements.

After a break-up, marriage-phobic Lily (Kimberly-Rose Wolter, who also wrote and produced the film) skulks back to Hawaii, where she finds herself back at the wedding planning business run by her two unlucky-in-love sisters and her oft-divorced mother. Filmed across Oahu and with a score by Hawaiian phenom Jake Shimabukuro (the subject of SFIAAFF’s Special Presentation).

Jake Shimabukuro Documentary

Jake Shimabukuro is the subject of a documentary by Tadashi Nakamura.

CAAM is proud to present the world premiere of its new documentary on ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. The film follows him around the world on tour and visits home to his native Hawaii, where he has risen from local hero to international star.  Widely recognized as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele,” Shimabukuro captivates audiences, and peels away stereotypes.

Emerging filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura (whose acclaimed films include “Yellow Brotherhood,” “Pilgrimage,” and “A Song For Ourselves”) provides an insightful portrait of this first-class musician, backstage, at home, on the road, and into his early days. The event includes a special performance by Shimabukuro, as well as an on-stage Q&A and VIP reception with special guests.

Spotlight on Joan Chen

Each year, SFIAAFF recognizes an individual who has made an indelible contribution to the Asian American experience through film. The 2012 honoree is the one-and-only actor/director Joan Chen.

Michelle Krusiec and Joan Chen in a scene from "Saving Face."

Born and raised in Shanghai, Chen was a teenager when she won China’s best actress award for “Little Flower” (1980). In the early ’80s, she moved to the U.S. and became a star in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” (1987), winner of nine Academy Awards. Over the past decades, she has become a constant in mainstream and independent film and television, including David Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks,” Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” (2005), Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (2007), and Jia Zhang-ke’s “24 City” (2008). She has also been a Bay Area resident since the mid-’90s.

SFIAAFF will host a reunion screening of “Saving Face,” with many cast and crew in attendance, and Chen’s acclaimed directorial debut “Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl” (1998), preceded by an intimate on-stage conversation.

A Look Back and New Initiatives

SFIAAFF’s Special Presentations honor the legacy of Asian American founders, while highlighting the next generation of media forerunners.

A scene from "Nice Girls Crew."

• Cherylene Lee: “Scenes From a Memoir With Cherylene Lee” is an on-stage reading by the showbiz pioneer from her soon-to-be-released memoir, “Just Like Really,” and a conversation with her sister Virginia and film historian Stephen Gong, executive director of CAAM.

• Nakamura Family: Perhaps no family has made a greater impact on Asian American media than the Nakamura family: Robert A. Nakamura, his wife Karen Ishizuka, and their son Tadashi. Over a period of four decades, they’ve illuminated the experience of the Japanese in America and campaigned for the importance of diversity and community representation in media. The program will feature clips from some of their key works, as well as the family in conversation with Stephen Gong.

• “Nice Girls Crew”: Sheetal Sheth, Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen star in this raunchy “Bridesmaids”-meets-“Arrested Development” comedy series. Sophie (Chen), Leena (Sheth), and Geraldine (Krusiec) have been true “frenemies” since elementary school. As grown-ups, the ladies reunite in a book club where subjects of interest include sex, cannibalism, drugs and more. A CAAM production, “Nice Girls Crew” was created/written by festival staffer Christine Kwon and directed/written by filmmaker Tanuj Chopra (“Punching at the Sun”).

First-Time Breakouts, Compelling Portraits

SFIAAFF presents the best in new Asian American cinema in its Narrative and Documentary Competition sections.

A scene from "Surrogate Valentine 2: Daylight Savings."

This year’s Narrative Competition includes eight new works, including the critically acclaimed indie feature “In the Family” (directed by Patrick Wang), a delicately woven story about child custody, “two-dad” families and parental loss; and “Surrogate Valentine 2” (directed by Dave Boyle), the sequel to last year’s Closing Night hit and starring local musician Goh Nakamura.

Other competition films include “Bang Bang” (directed by Byron Q), a portrait of a resilient Vietnamese teenager looking for a way out of the gang life; the psychological thriller “I Am a Ghost,” directed by local stalwart H.P. Mendoza (“Fruit Fly”); and an impressive debut by Mye Hoang in “Viette,” the coming-of-age story of a young Vietnamese woman.

The Documentary Competition features eight compelling and insightful portraits, including “Give Up Tomorrow” (directed by Michael Collins), a harrowing and incredible journey through the Philippines criminal justice system; “Love Crimes of Kabul (directed Tanaz Eshaghian), a heartbreaking portrait of Afghanistan’s “moral prisoners”; “No Look Pass” (directed by Melissa Johnson), the story of a professional basketball player as she negotiates personal fulfillment and her traditional Burmese family; “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington” (directed by S. Leo Chiang), a portrait of the first Vietnamese American to become a member of Congress; and “Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful” (directed by Yuriko Gamo Romer), the inspiring story of 98-year-old Keiko Fukuda, who is one of only four people in the world to hold the highest black belt in judo.

SFIAAFF @ 30

Entering into its 30th year, SFIAAFF is delving into a decade of maturity, promise and adventurous new beginnings. This year’s vibrant programming includes “Present/Future: A Summit on Asian American Media,” a town hall featuring a diverse set of thinkers to speak on the changing landscape and opportunities facing Asian American media makers; the Cook, Groove, and Play Salons, symposium-style gatherings where artists working in different mediums will demonstrate their creative process and work with the audience to create a cultural object; and a variety of educational offerings, including a screening of the Himalayan Youth Voices Project, an intensive media literacy workshop for youth from Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet, and a free screening of “Tibet in Song” (directed by Ngawang Choephel).

Official SFIAAFF30 Jury

Comcast Narrative Competition: Benson Lee (director, “Planet B-Boy”), Priya Giri Desai (producer, “Match+”), Robynn Takayama (producer, “Apex Express” radio program)

Documentary Competition: Vincent Pan (executive director, Chinese for Affirmative Action), Brian Hu (artistic director, San Diego Asian Film Festival), Momo Chang (freelance journalist)

Emerging Filmmaker Award: Wajahat Ali (playwright and journalist, The Domestic Crusaders), Anderson Le (director of programming, Hawaii International Film Festival), Skye Christensen (executive director, Ninth Street Media Consortium)

The last two awards at SFIAAFF30 are the Verizon Audience Awards and the Loni Ding Award for Social Issue Documentary. See http://caamedia.org for full details.

The 30th SFIAFF is supported in part by: Comcast, Asian Art Museum, Pacific Islanders in Communications, Verizon (official wireless provider of the festival), Underground* Design, Cooper, White & Cooper, Eagle Press, Japan Center Malls, Southwest Airlines, LEARN ASIA at the University of San Francisco, Grants for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. CAAM is supported with major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

General Festival Information

Films screen in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1865 Post St.; and the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post St.

In Berkeley, films screen at the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way.

In San Jose, films screen at Camera 3 Cinemas, 288 S. Second St.

Excluding special events, panels, galas and special screenings, advanced general admission tickets are $12. Students, seniors (65+) and disabled adults are $11 (limit one per program with ID only). Tickets for CAAM members are $10 (limit two per program per ID). There is a $1.50 service charge for all tickets purchased online.

Tickets go on sale to the general public beginning Monday, Feb. 13 (online only). Tickets can be purchased in person at the SFIAAFF box office at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas starting Thursday, Feb. 23.

This year there are two early bird ticket sales (online only). Tickets are now on sale for the Jake Shimabukuro documentary and the opening film, “White Frog,” and gala.

Become a member of CAAM and start receiving discounts on tickets for the festival, avoid all processing fees, and get tickets to the films you want before they go to rush. For tickets and information about CAAM membership benefits and levels, visit www.caamedia.org.

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