With the growing popularity of independent and foreign films as well as the increasing availability of film-making equipment, a more diverse range of actors, directors and producers have had the opportunity to display their talents on camera. Hoping to continue this trend, the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) will offer a showcase of independent films, documentaries and student films in the Asian American Film Festival, which began Thursday night and will run through Saturday.

While it is difficult to identify a common theme in Asian-American cinema, co-coordinator Christine Tsang ’07 said the group is finding a trend in Asian-American cinema “as more and more directors and films are willing to target sexy and silent issues that appeal to not only an Asian audience: gender, sexuality, isolation, activism, et cetera.”

This year, the festival’s films will be divided under three headings: [our] youth, pop! and Movement(s). With these topics, organizers hope to capture the often complicated issues Asian Americans must face.

“The Asian American experience is one of mixed identity between distinctly different societies,” Tsang said.

The festival began with an opening night gala in the Whitney Humanities Center Thursday. The evening featured screenings of “Pol Pot’s Birthday,” a short in which the office staff of a brutal Cambodian dictator tries to throw him a surprise birthday party, and “The Grace Lee Project,” a feature film in which director Grace Lee documents the lives of the women who share her name and who break out of the stereotypes of Asian girls, characterized by the AACC Web site as the “reserved, dutiful, piano-playing overachiever” stereotype, as well as several student films.

Today’s films share the headings of “[our] youth” and “pop!” and deal with topics ranging from lost innocence and the bonds of brotherhood to the British invasion and Nike shoes. Included in the night’s films is a documentary on the Asian-American self help group “Yellow Brotherhood,” as well as “Whose Children Are These,” which deals with the challenges of life as a Muslim youth in post-Sept. 11 America. Lastly, there’s “Dance Mania Fantastic,” the story of a young man who finds himself addicted to a local arcade’s animated dance machine. Films will be shown from 7 p.m. on in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.

The events on Saturday, the final day of the festival, are slated to begin at 2 p.m. in LC 101 with an exhibition of films that fall under the “Movement(s)” heading, including “Continuous Journey” (Winner of Best Documentary Feature Audience Award, 23rd San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival), which documents the exclusion of South Asians from Canada because of a little-known immigration policy, and “Saving Face,” a movie by Alice Wu that showcases the struggles of a 28-year-old Asian American woman who is juggling a promising career as a surgeon, her responsibilities to her widowed mother, her love for another woman and the struggle of keeping up appearances in modern society.

Gita Subramony ’06, an AACC staff member and student film contributor, will also show one of her own pieces called “Gnome, Sweet Gnome,” a humorous mockumentary about a missing lawn decoration. Though she said Asian-American movies comprise a genre of American film rather than existing separately, she said screenplays written by Asian Americans often turn inward.

“Asian-American filmmakers clearly give voice to Asian Americans who have been silenced throughout their history in America,” Subramony said.

While many of the festival’s films will focus on the Asian-American experience, festival organizers said all students can find something to enjoy.

“There is an increasing number of second-generation Asian-American directors that are exploring the experience of growing up with a hyphenated identity,” co-coordinator Aditi Anand ’07 said. “Some of these experiences are unique … while others are universal. For example, coming-of-age stories like ‘The Motel’ will strike a chord with all audiences, regardless of ethnicity.”

The coordinators said they have selected films based on their cinematic value, not as a matter of ethnic parity.

“The features of the festival this year are the most widely acclaimed films of the Asian-American film circuit,” Tsang added. “But they aren’t just good Asian-American movies, they’re good movies.”