Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 3

Big Saturday. All on ~4 hours sleep and no caffeine until the final show. Because I am a freakin' bad-ass.

First up, one of the traditionally best shorts program of the festival, but surprisingly under-attended in this screening, the 3rd i South Asian Shorts:
NARMEEN: Somewhat experimental mood piece about Partition, Muslim-Sikh violence, and a grieving mother bridging the cultures.
CLAP CLAP: Stylish neo-noir about a gun dealer and his true love. Who was it who said all you needed for a movie is a girl and a gun?
ANJALI: Indian-American girl clashes with her parents, learns her father is a total hypocrite.
KAVI: Powerful drama about modern slavery (including child slavery) in a brick-making plant in India. Kavi has to choose to trust the only authority he has ever known, or the strange men who promise to rescue him and find his parents.
A DAY'S WORK: Mexican day laborers helping a white family move have a violent incident. And if you're wondering what that's doing in SFIAAFF and particularly in the 3rd i program, it was directed by Rajeev Dassani. See, the festival promotes the work of Asian and Asian-American filmmakers even if there's no Asian or Asian-American content.
WINDOWS VISTA: PREDATOR EDITION: Hilarious spoof of outsourced tech support and American military aggression. Sometimes a tech support job really, really sucks.

Next up, a really fascinating documentary, VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES. Be honest, when Katrina hit New Orleans, how many of you were thinking of the welfare of the Vietnamese community? How many new there was a sizable Vietnamese community in East New Orleans (a community the locals call Versailles after the first few low-income housing projects set up there)? I didn't. But this movie briefly takes you through their history--refugees from North Vietnam who fled to the south, then refugees again when they fled to America, and finally refugees a third time (at least, the elders were) when they fled the flood waters. But in strange ways, Katrina galvanized the community, bringing youth and elders together. And the surprising thing (and something I confess I'll probably never fully understand) is how connected they are to the land. It's odd for a thrice-refugee community to be so connected to their latest spot of earth, but the Vietnamese have a saying about the land where you bury your placenta (I assume it translates as more meaningful and less gross in the original intent). So when they could return and rebuild, they did. And when the city unilaterally declared they would create a new landfill--without the proper environmental controls--to hold about 1/3 of the post-Katrina debris near the community, the community protested. After a generation of being the quiet, timid, immigrant village, they were ready to be American and make their voices heard. And it's a beautiful thing. Best scene in the film: when they're protesting outside of the landfill and a landfill worker tells them they can't be there because "This isn't Vietnamese (sic), this is America." Everybody immediately recognized she got that backwards--this is America where you do have the right to protest.

My only note on VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES would be that its running time--a lean 68 minutes--feels too short. But it's just as well, because if it were any longer it wouldn't have fit perfectly in my schedule, leaving me just enough time to run up to the Clay for an afternoon conversation with Aasif Mandvi. I got there with 5 minutes to spare and settled into my traditional front row seat, about 3 feet from where Festival Director Chi-hui Yang would interview Aasif. The program started with a short reel of Mr. Mandvi's work. Of course there's the Daily Show, and the opening night film TODAY'S SPECIAL. But I had forgotten he had a small role in Spider-Man 2, and I knew nothing about his cameo as a (Greek!?) tech support guy in SEX AND THE CITY. But most important, I must now check out THE MYSTIC MASSEUR, which I've heard of but never saw.

Then for the interview itself, Chi-hui and Aasif talked about his life (born in India. Grew up in working-class industrial town of Branford in the north of England. Moved to Tampa, FL as a teenager, eventually settled on drama and won an Obie for his one-man show that eventually became TODAY'S SPECIAL). They talked about his career, his balance of drama and comedy, and what it's like to be a non-specific "brown" actor. He can play (and has played) Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, etc., which can be a blessing and a curse. And he has lost roles because producer's thought he didn't look Indian enough. Personally, I'm of the opinion that the best actor for the job might not necessarily be the same ethnicity as the character. So long as the character is still believable, that's just a skill called acting (although the believability also depends on the writing).

Where was I? Oh yeah, Aasif was engaging and funny, he took about 20-30 minutes of questions from the audience, and at the end I got to shake his hand, thank him, and tell him I enjoyed TODAY'S SPECIAL. That was cool.

So then I wandered back down to Post Street to visit VIZ cinema for the first time and catch the program of Classic Filipino American Shorts:
WINTER: Experimental animation of hand-burned, etched, and spray-painted film, set to Vivaldi's Winter Suite. Normally I don't go for such abstract work, but this was interesting in how it hinted at motion.
DIARY OF A GANGSTA SUCKA: A hard-ass Filipino American gangsta let's a filmmaker see all his gang activity, even though his mom doesn't even believe he's in a gang.
MAHAL MEANS LOVE & EXPENSIVE: Sex, politics, Catholicism, and Hollywood (the last two seem to be recurring themes in Filipino culture). Beautiful cinematography, evocative and provocative mood.
WHITE CHRISTMAS: After 400 years in a convent and 50 years under Hollywood, the Philippines knows how to celebrate Christmas with a heaping shovelful of razzle-dazzle. Michael Magnaye returns after 5 years in America, and comments on how the spectacle has become even bigger. Love the parade of Mary, Joseph, and 30 piece brass band.
BACK TO BATAAN BEACH: Just like he said he would, Gen. MacArthur returns, and it's time for a Beach Party, dudes! Babes, boys, and boards!
MARITESS VS. THE SUPERFRIENDS: Someone has to keep the Hall of Justice clean in this hilarious animation of Rex Navarette's stand-up comedy bit.
BALIKBAYAN: Based on a true story, circulated via e-mail. A recently deceased woman's body is sent back to the Philippines for burial. Inside, the daughter has stuffed the coffin with goods for the whole family.
THE APL SONG--BLACK EYED PEAS: A music video about Black Eyed Peas member apl.de.ap and his childhood journey from the Philippines to America and his adult journey back. Really cool.

And then I ended the night with a visually stunning but sort of slow Thai film AGRARIAN UTOPIA. It might be better to go in believing it's a documentary. It's not, it's completely scripted, but there's such a great verite feel that I'd be fooled if you told me it's a documentary, and it plays very well as one. The film follows farmers as they work the land, interspersed with political rallies that for all the noise never seem to deliver much. As one farmer notes, "They tell us to vote for the good men, but once they go to Parliament, they become corrupt and don't do anything to help us." Global forces have controlled the price of fertilizer and rice to the point where the farmers can't make a living off their small rice paddies alone. So instead, they are connected enough to see the other gifts the land gives them--frogs, mushrooms, honeycomb, etc. And despite the dire straights, there is a sense of joy and peace in being so connected. Little boys frolic in the water, families work and play together, and even the poorest people can afford a smile, and that is beautiful.

So then I caught the 22 bus down to the 16th St Mission BART, but since the Festival Social Club was just down the block at SOM, I decided to pop in for a couple of drinks. This was my first time at the Fest social, and it was loud, crowded, and overpriced. But at least I got a couple of drinks before I had to catch the last BART home, so that was cool.

And that was Saturday at Asianfest (aka SFIAAFF)

Total Runing Time: 358 minutes
My Total Minutes: 177,640
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