The first film of the upcoming Asian American Film Festival is wide in scope and varied in appeal. “Surplus” explores the emotional torment one family must face after it abandons one child to feed the rest. While this story focuses on a Korean family, the themes of loss, love, abandonment, and betrayal are universal: they can impact a viewer of any ethnicity or background.
That universality is ubiquitous throughout the five-day festival, which kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 25. Organized by the Asian American Cultural Center, the event will bring a series of twenty films made by a number of talented Asian Americans directors. Each day will focus on a different theme, such as desire, sexuality, identity, history, and social justice.
Saveena Dhall, Assistant Dean of Yale College and the Director of the Cultural Center, said the festival “will help in creating links between the multiple identities of individuals.”
Clair Kwon ’05, the events coordinator for the Cultural Center, said the festival aims to “deal with issues that confront Asian Americans in general, and reach out to the larger community at the same time. These are problems that everyone faces in life. The festival is a Yale thing, not an Asian American thing.”
The eclectic mix of Yale organizations co-sponsoring the festival verifies that statement. Groups ranging from the Social Justice Network and the Film Studies Department to the Yale Graduate School and the Anti-Racism Group have jumped aboard the bandwagon.
“I think it shows that there are more similarities among us than differences,” Kwon said. “Even though the differences are what get emphasized most of the time.”
This broad support is a notable change from the Center’s festival last year. While certainly not a failure, it was put together on a much smaller scale.
“It was more a niche event for the Asian American community,” Kwon said.
The active attempt this year to appeal to everyone, she said, leads her to feel certain that the festival will be an enormous success.
The list of guest speakers will certainly add to the anticipation surrounding the event. On Saturday, “Surplus” director Joy Dietrich, “Face” director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan, and George Lin, the head of the Asian Pacific American Film Festival in Washington, DC, will all take part in a panel discussion from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., following the day’s screenings.
Lin’s work for the APA, a nonprofit organization aiming to “raise awareness and act as a catalyst for the discussion of issues affecting APA communities,” is entirely a product of his passion for film — his day job is in the area of biotechnology. Four years ago, he and a friend combined their interests — film for Lin and social activism for his friend — to create the APA and bring a wide variety of exceptional Asian American films to the attention of the larger community.
Lin said he hopes his film festival, as well as the Yale festival, can break down the mainstream stereotypes about Asian movies.
“There is a difference between Asian American films and Asian films abroad,” Lin said. “I think people tend to always associate all Asian films with Kung Fu films.”
In contrast, Asian American films often focus on issues of being different, trying to fit into society, and preserving one’s culture in a different cultural context, he said.
The festival will also bring award-winning filmmaker and Greg Pak ’99 on its final day, Thursday, Jan. 30. Pak will bring two of his most acclaimed short films, including “Fighting Grandpa,” which has played in over fifty film festivals nationwide and won twenty prizes. Pak said “Grandpa” is “an account of my search for evidence of love between my Korean grandparents.” He is also widely known for his wildly popular online shorts “Asian Pride Porn” and “All Amateur Ecstasy,” as well as his achievements in digital filmmaking.
With such a diverse slate of films and expert speakers, the festival has the potential to be a major community event. It should attract students not only because of its culturally unifying themes, but also because of its appeal to all film lovers.
Her main hope, Kwon said, is for people to “come, have fun, and meet the directors. That is the most important thing.”