Festival showcases many ethnic films

Arranged marriages, unlucky feet (not to be confused with their happy equivalent) and honest thieves will bring a cinematic perspective to both racial and universal themes this weekend.

The fifth annual Asian American Film Festival, hosted by the Asian American Cultural Center, will offer a collection of internationally recognized shorts and features. Over the last half decade, the festival has become a tradition of bringing to campus notable and rare Asian American movies selected not only for content and technique, but also for diversity and application to the lives of students. Despite the festival’s title, AACC Special Events Coordinator Julie Yang ’09 said it is not intended for certain racial or ethnic groups, but for the entire student body, since the movies present universal themes ranging from identity to homosexuality to finding happiness.

“We don’t mean for this to be only an Asian American film festival,” she said.

In view of recent racial tensions ignited by on-campus publications, Yang said, the organizers hope to spark cultural dialogue and discussion of race and identity while avoiding controversy.

Jerry Nguyen ’08, who has attended previous Asian American film festivals at Yale, said he enjoys seeing characters on screen who resemble him. But he also said the films are not just intended for Asians and can help ease the understanding of race and culture.

“Some may think non-Asian/Asian-Americans can’t relate to a self-identified Asian/Asian-American on screen, but it’s when the characters are more specific that they become more real and more universally understood,” he said.

The festival’s opening feature, “Americanese,” deals with a prejudice-induced conflict in a relationship between an Asian man and a “Hapa” (half-Asian) woman. “Americanese’s” director Eric Byler, who is bi-racial himself, will take part in a Q&A session after the screening Thursday night in the Whitney Humanities Auditorium. Byler’s first feature “Charlotte Sometimes” was nominated for a 2003 Independent Spirit Award, while his senior thesis film “Kenji’s Faith” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won seven festival awards.

The festival also features the official Phillippine entry to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences for best foreign film, Auraeus Solito’s “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros,” which focuses on a family of thieves. Their formerly friendly relations with the local police are disrupted when the family’s youngest son falls for a newly-hired cop. In “Man Push Cart,” directed by Ramin Bahrani, a former Pakistani rock star is forced to make a living selling coffee and donuts from a push cart in Manhattan while trying to provide for his young son.

Ronald Gregg, programming director for the film studies program, said that it is important to support student-run festivals that bring films in limited distribution to campus.

“This film festival is especially important given the under-representation of Asian Americans in Hollywood film and how few films made by Asian American filmmakers make it to theaters or even local video stores,” he said.

Quingan Zhou ’10, who is helping to advertise the event, said the movies in the festival’s selection are universally relevant because everyone has dealt with conflicting values and issues of morality.

“They are films that will move you and inspire you in a different way,” she said. “You don’t have to be there for the Asian American aspect of it.”

The Festival opens Thursday with a gala beginning at 7 p.m. in the Whitney Humanities Center. It closes with “Man Push Cart” on Saturday at 7 p.m. in LC 101. All events are free of charge.

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