S.F. International Asian American Film Festival Concludes, Announces Awards

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Singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura stars in David Boyle's "Surrogate Valentine."

The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March 10-20), presented by the Center for Asian American Media, has concluded with an estimated attendance of 25,000, including over 200 filmmakers, actors and other industry guests.

A total of 129 shows, more than half of which were sold out, created an exciting buzz throughout the 11-day event. This year’s program boasted five world premieres, seven North American premieres, four U.S. premieres, and 25 San Francisco premieres.

Festival Director Masashi Niwano said, “SFIAAFF has long been the nation’s premier showcase for Asian American and Asian films. But with 110 feature-length and short films from 20 countries, plus a host of interactive events, this year was CAAM’s most ambitious yet. We are delighted by the new ways the audience is engaging with the festival, and we look forward to seeing them at our 30th anniversary next year.”

Narrative Competition

For the first time, SFIAAFF partnered with Comcast to present the Narrative Competition awards. The jury included Aseem Chhabra, Quentin Lee and Leonardo Nam.

Best Film: “The Imperialists Are Still Alive,” Zeina Durra. Jury statement: “Great filmmaking has to be courageous. This film has a clever and engaging script and an inspired sense of humor. Depicting a slice of life of an artist, it takes us inside the world of eccentric artists in New York and reminds us of the freshness of Wayne Wang’s ‘Chan Is Missing.’ ”

Special Jury Prize: “The Taqwacores,” Eyad Zahra. Jury statement: “It’s an important thing for this film to be made because it shows the diversity of Islam that we don’t see in popular media. With well-drawn characters that we care about, the film is engaging to a universal audience.”

Documentary Competition

The documentary jury included Anita Chang, Jessie Mangaliman and Alex Rivera.

Best Film: “Made in India,” Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha. Jury statement: “An unflinching and surprising look at a rapidly growing industry that puts women’s bodies on a new global market.”

Visual Achievement Award: “Summer Pasture,” Lynn True and Nelson Walker. Jury statement: “A lyrical treatment of an ancient living tradition — set against a harsh and breathtaking landscape — battling the forces of urbanization and the free market.”

Award for Achievement in Citizen Journalism: “Open Season,” Lu Lippold and Mark Tang. Jury statement: “A nuanced approach to an urgent contemporary issue — that of refugee and migrant struggles to find a home and justice in 21st-century America.”

Audience Awards

SFIAAFF has partnered with Verizon for the first time to present the Audience Awards for Best Narrative Feature and Best Documentary Feature. Award winners are tallied based on paper ballots and a text-to-vote system provided by Verizon.

Best Narrative Feature: “Surrogate Valentine,” Dave Boyle

Best Documentary Feature: “One Voice,” Lisette Marie Flanary

Loni Ding Award

This year, for the first time, CAAM presented the Loni Ding Award in Social Issue Documentary in memory of the filmmaker, educator and activist’s commitment to illuminating the experiences of underrepresented communities. The award and a prize of $1,000 were given to director Sybil Wendler for her short film “Once Upon a Rooftop,” which chronicles the lives of the rooftop-dwelling population of Hong Kong.

Festival Highlights

The festival opened with the highly anticipated “West Is West,” starring Om Puri, with newcomer Aqib Khan in attendance to present the “East Is East” sequel at the Castro Theatre, and closed with the San Francisco premiere of Dave Boyle’s (“White on Rice,” SFIAAFF ’05) new comedy, “Surrogate Valentine,” starring Bay Area indie icon Goh Nakamura, who performed at the sold-out screening at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

This year’s Centerpiece Presentation, also at the Castro Theatre, was the packed screening of Le Thanh Son’s Vietnamese action powerhouse “Clash.” Stars Ngo Thanh Van and Johnny Tri Nguyen were on hand for a lively Q&A after the film.

A retrospective on Southeast Asian horror films featured a number of hidden gems: James Lee’s “Histeria,” Nonzee Nimibutr’s “Nang Nak” and Richard Somes’ “Affliction.”

Another spotlight honored the work of Gurinder Chadha, showing her latest work, “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife,” alongside modern classic “Bend It Like Beckham.”

Other special presentations included a screening and on-stage conversation of “The Learning” with Ramona Diaz (“Imelda,” SFIAAFF ’04) and an Out of the Vaults screening of “Charlie Chan at the Olympics,” contextualized by special guest Yunte Huang, author of the critically acclaimed book “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History.”

World premieres at the festival included San Jose opener “UPAJ” (Hoku Uchiyama, USA/India), “Almost Perfect” (Bertha Bay-Sa Pan, USA), “Saigon Electric” (Stephane Gauger, Vietnam/USA), and the documentaries “Tales of the Waria” (Kathy Huang, USA) and “Resident Aliens” (Ross Tuttle, USA).

The number of panels grew this year and included the sold-out “Look Who’s Laughing Now,” featuring young female comedians Ali Wong (San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Best of the Bay 2009), Thu Tran (IFC’s “Food Party”) and Anisha Nagarajan (NBC’s “Outsourced”), moderated by Leonardo Nam.

The festival opened its 10th anniversary in San Jose with a sold-out screening of “UPAJ,” a CAAM-funded documentary following the collaboration between Indian kathak dance master Pandit Chitresh Das and tap dance phenom Jason Samuels Smith. The film was preceded by a lively performance by the Chhandam Youth Company and followed by a dynamic performance by Pandit Das and Smith and an elegant gala reception at the San Jose Museum of Art.

SFIAAFF presented its inaugural independent game exhibition, “Pixels, Politics and Play”; hosted the panel “The Power of Play,” featuring Peter Brinson (The Cat and the Coup) and Susana Ruiz and Huy Truong (Take Action Games) discussing art, social issues and education in games; and hosted an educational event highlighting CAAM’s forthcoming digital game Climbing Sacred Mountain.

“Directions in Sound,” the festival’s main live-music event, featured the popular San Jose-based DJ collective The Bangerz and electro dream pop project Silver Swans, among others. The day-long Festival Forum in Japantown’s Peace Plaza showcased another selection of local musicians and dancers, from Hawaiian performance ensemble Halau ‘o Keikiali’i to Taiwan’s The Hola Sisters.

Attending Guests

Some of the guests in attendance at the 29th SFIAAFF were: actress Lynn Chen, actor/musician Goh Nakamura and director Dave Boyle (“Surrogate Valentine”); actors Ngo Thanh Van and Johnny Tri Nguyen (“Clash”); actor Aqib Khan (“West Is West”); actors Edison Chen, Ivan Shaw and Tina Chen, and director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan (“Almost Perfect”); director Stephane Gauger and producer Anderson Le (“Saigon Electric”); documentary filmmakers Ross Tuttle (“Resident Aliens”) and Kathy Huang (“Tales of the Waria”); director Hoku Uchiyama and dancers Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith (“UPAJ”); actress Goldy Notay (“It’s a Wonderful Afterlife”); “Suite Suite Chinatown” panelists David Chiu (president, San Francisco Board of Supervisors), Konrad Ng (professor, University of Hawaii and senior advisor of the Smithsonian APA Program); jurors Alex Rivera (“Sleepdealer”), Quentin Lee (“The People I’ve Slept With”) and Aseem Chhabra (director, New York Indian Film Festival); and moderator producer Karin Chien (“The Exploding Girl”).

The festival also continued its Verizon Student Delegate program and welcomed nine university students from across the country to participate in a rigorous program of screenings and private discussions with festival guests. In addition, over 50 delegates representing 15 Asian American film festivals from various U.S. and Canadian cities attended and participated in the annual national convening of film festivals.

The 29th SFIAAFF is supported in part by: Comcast, Toyota (official vehicle sponsor), Asian Art Museum, Verizon (official wireless provider), Wells Fargo, FilmFest, Underground*Design, Eagle Press, University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim and Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies Program, Grants for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Wallace Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. CAAM is supported with major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

On the Web: http://caamedia.org/

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