San Diego Asian Film Festival Awards Gala highlights new and old

With more than 600 people in attendance, the San Diego Asian Film Festival took some time away from the theaters for some celebrities, charity and dinner at its annual Gala, which took place Nov. 3 at the Town and Country Hotel.   Guests included George Takei, who spoke with Meniscus about the recently-concluded stage run of “Allegiance”; Jamie Chung (“Sucker Punch”) who starred in the festival’s centerpiece film “Eden”; Lynn Chen (“Saving Face”); and Chung Chang-wha, the Korean director behind some of Shaw Brothers’ most memorable martial arts hits.

The event was hosted by Randall Park, a veteran TV, commercial, and comedy actor who also worked with Takei on Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninjahs,” and his wife Jae Suh Park, an actor who has been increasingly pursuing comedy with her husband in shorts and commercials.  They’re an attractive couple who charmed the guests and media before the Gala, and spoke about the appeal of the festival to the general moviegoer.

“I think the festival is very well-curated…a lot of the films, regardless of the specific Asian slant, they’re just good movies,” Mr. Park said.  “People like good films and hope that there’s a story they can relate to, and that that’s a priority at this festival.”

“Good stories – human stories, not just specifically Asian stories – are universal, something we can all relate to,” Ms. Park said.

“Well, it seems like mainstream films are pretty ‘cookie-cutter’ right now,” Mr. Park added.  “TV is going through a great time now with so many artful and challenging things on.  And I feel like at festivals like this you get a lot of that, too.  It’s part of the reason a festival like this is so great.”

Asked if he was comparing it to a good indie film festival like Sundance, Park said, “Well, I’ve never been to Sundance…”

His wife interjected, “But we’re free that week!  They can let us know in advance.  We have a baby so we would need a sitter.”

The couple’s baby turned out to be a featured player in the opening of the Gala.  The first 10 minutes were taken up by some inventive visual chicanery where they showed the audience cheekily Photoshopped pictures of their five-month-old daughter on a big screen.  (Someone seems to have neglected to tell the festival organizers that fundraising dinners are supposed to be boring affairs.)  An auction followed that was lively and funny, mostly due to the energetic banter of the auctioneer, and tens of thousands dollars were raised.

Other entertainment included the introduction of the most recent class of Reel Voices students, whose documentary film shorts, which were screened the next day.  The teenagers in this summer program, run by the festival’s parent organization, gain filmmaking experience and mentorship.  Live music included a powerful song from “Allegiance”  by two members of the cast.  If that performance is an example of the quality of the play, Broadway should be happy with what it gets come fall.

Finally, awards were given out to both experienced and new filmmakers.  The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to veteran writer and director Chung Chang-wha, a Korean director hired by the Shaw brothers in Hong Kong and most famous for his film “Five Fingers of Death” (or “King Boxer”) which started the martial arts craze in America in the 1970s.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival is one of the largest showcases of Asian and Asian American films in U.S., with more than 150 films from 25 countries.  It’s run by The Pacific Arts Movement, known until recently as The San Diego Asian Film Festival Foundation.  The group has accomplished more over the past 13 years of its existence than many other film festivals, a lot of which are content to show a series of films once a year.  The group has two key objectives: to be a community arts organization dedicated to creating positive social change and to act as a committee of serious cinephiles that provides venues for people to see interesting films.  Each year, “PacArts” hosts individual screenings, free discussion groups about cinema, and provides film programs for museums, private organizations, and even businesses.  It runs a mini-film festival in April called Spring Showcase.

In addition to the Reel Voices project, Pac Arts has documented social and family histories of various ethnic communities with Connect San Diego and has put on free film screenings during local cultural events.  This dual focus and synergy may explain the substantial turnout and success of their Gala fundraiser.

The festival award winners were:

Grand Jury Award – “Johnny Loves Dolores” directed by Clarissa de los Reyes

Best Narrative Feature – “Graceland” directed by Ron Morales

Best Documentary Feature – “Seeking Asian Female” directed by Debbie Lum

Best Narrative Short – “Monday Monday” directed by Eric Yue

Best Animated Short – “38-39°C” directed by Kangmin Kang

Special Jury Mention – “The World Before Her” directed by Nisha Puja

George Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award – Ernie Park, director of “Late Summer”

Video: Shaw Brothers director Chung Chang-hwa Q&A at the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival

video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Photo Gallery: 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival Gala
all photos by Jim Higgins / Meniscus Magazine

Meniscus Magazine was proud to be a sponsor of the 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival.  In addition to co-presenting the film “Chips” directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, Meniscus ran a ticket giveaway for fans, and posted reviews and social media updates throughout the duration of the festival, which ran from Nov. 1-9 in various venues across the city.