The SF International Asian American Film Festival unwrapped the titles for its 25th festival March 15-25 with an audio-visual presentation inside a cozy, yet state-of-the-art theater inside Dolby Labs. This year’s 125 films follow the festival’s growth from 13 films in 1982 in the wake of Wayne Wang’s “Chan is Missing.” An audience of 30,000 is expected, and the festival features a new home base in AMC Van Ness as the new Sundance Kabuki undergoes changes.
In an era when many festivals are championing virtual filmgoing experiences, Festival Director Chi-hui Yang and Festival Assistant Director Taro Goto stepped outside the box to emphasize the festival’s value in on-the-ground community-building, speaking about longterm relationships not just between the festival and filmmakers, but also of filmmakers amongst themselves in the early stages of their careers. As proof of the point, the directors pointed to many films resulting from collaborations spawned at the festival. Opening night marks the return of Justin Lin to the SFIAAFF with “Finishing the Game,” a comedic take on a fictional search for a Bruce Lee stand-in once the actor has died. Former festival director Paul Mayeda Berges (partner to Gurinder Chadha, who he met at the festival) brings “Mistress of Spices” with B-wood superstar Aishwarya Rai. Other returning filmmakers include Grace Lee (“American Zombie”), Chris Chan Lee (“Undoing”), and Romeo Candido (“Ang Pamana: The Inheritance”).
Chen Shi-Zheng’s “Dark Matter” — based on true events — closes the festival, and offers up the story of a cosmology student investigating dark matter, but caught up in a matrix of betrayal. A retrospective of Korean filmmaker Hong San-soo may be the highlight of the festival’s international programming, and indieWIRE’s top vote-getter in the “best undistributed film” category, “Woman on the Beach,” will be screened. Arthur Dong offers the festival the world premiere of his historic-minded “Hollywood Chinese” documentary as a Centerpiece Presentation.
The festival’s juried feature competition offers four world premieres: Desmond Nakano’s “The American Pastime,” Juwan Chung’s “Baby,” Kern Konwiser and David Ren’s “Shanghai Kiss,” and Joy Dietrich’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” Its documentary competition features three premieres: Duc Nguyen’s “Bolinao 52,” Y. David Chung’s “Koryo Saram: The Unreliable People,” and Doan Hoang’s “Oh, Saigon.”
The festival’s tributes highlight history — both the ageless Spencer Nakasako, whose much lauded “a.k.a. Don Bonus” introduced the world to the high art of first-personal video storytelling and the usually timely POV, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Nakasako will appear in person with Justin Lin, and POV will present Ellen Kuras collaboration with Laotian refugee Thavisouk Phrasavath, “Nerakhoun: Betrayal.”
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