First up was the shorts program Wrench in the Works, shorts with a disruptive side to them:
LITTLE MAO: A knock on the noggin turns a 12-year old kid into the new hero of the workers. He organizes them against bullies, but then his corruption gets the best of him.
FOOTSTEPS: A North Korean kid, on a dare from his friends, sneaks onto a heavily guarded beach to collect clams. The prank turns into a showdown between the North and South, and the standoff becomes life-threatening as the tide comes in.
BANZAI RISING: As a Mexican boy immigrating to America, Pedro Gomez made friends through skateboarding. Now that he's moving to Shanghai, he looks to skateboarding again as a way into the community. Pretty cool how a simple board and four wheels makes a Mexican-American at home in China.
DAWN: A black man watches as an Asian man makes an awkward glance at him before getting off the bus. Interpreting it as racist, he goes and confronts the man, pretending to mug him...well, actually mugging him, but to teach him a lesson. But it turns out there's a different lesson to be learned.
SHAYA: They may have escaped war, but for this Pakastani family in Los Angeles, that doesn't mean their troubles are over.
BORN TO DANCE THIS WAY: Joo-Si!!!! I saw this back at Indiefest, and it was still fun a second time.
ANTI-VERSARY: Old friends get together to play Mah Jong. One man is late, but he's brought a bottle of old wine. This was the wine he was supposed to drink with his wife at their first anniversary, but things kept getting in the way. Now that she's gone, they're all the people he has left to drink with.
Then I saw the controversial feature, WHEN NIGHT FALLS, the story of Yang Jia, a man who allegedly killed six police officers, and was put to death after a quick, closed-door trial and a series of equally quick appeals (the crime happened on July 1, 2008 and he was executed November 21st of the same year.) I linked to the Wikipedia article so that you can get some sense of the drama of the story, because the movie itself is an interesting, dramatic, and important story...not told. It opens and closes with a slide show explaining the crime and the punishment. The fictionalized account focuses entirely on his mother, shown in static shots, as she works with her lawyer to plead her case to the appeals court. The whole process is just...tedious, not dramatic. I fully acknowledge that I came into this screening with no knowledge of the Yang Jia case, and I'm sure someone who has been steeped in the media coverage and online commentary of the case would have a different experience. My experience, however, was just confusion, boredom, and disappointment.
But luckily, I followed it up with my favorite shorts program of the festival so far, WYSIWYG (What You See Isn't What You Get)
...OR DIE: A hilarious take on the annoyingly real racist reaction three "brown" comedians get when they try to pitch their ideas to a certain online comedy video site--officially in the film it's the fictional site Funny or Fail. I wonder if the title might hint at what the real site was.
SCREAMING IN ASIAN: The frustrations of a young Asian-American actress trying to find work. Director Joyce Wu is fundraising to expand this into a feature film (about her character returning home to Michigan). Details here.
MORE THAN A FACE IN THE CROWD: A loving portrait of director Samantha Chan’s great-aunt Jane Chung. Jane acted in dozens of movies, TV shows, and commercials. Often as an extra, so finding her can be a bit of a challenge. There are rumors that she was on an episode of I Love Lucy. She was an extra in THE BIRDS. Her most famous role was as one half of a documentary couple in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (ironically, in her most famous role she doesn't speak a word, her "husband" says everything.) She also beat up the Incredible Hulk with a broom once. Quite a career, for an unknown. And her career gives a unique perspective to the portrayal of Asians in American cinema (e.g., how often the leads were played by white actors.)
TAIWANFAMOUS: A self-documentary by Chinese-Iranian-American actress Sarah Tadayon, who happened to have some success on a Taiwanese talk show, and is now trying to be a bigger star in Taiwan. The thing is, anyone can be on TV in Taiwan, it's actually pretty easy. But to be popular enough to make a living at it is a lot harder. Especially body issues (lose weight, put invisible tape on your eyes to give them a fold, etc.) which seem to be even more ingrained in Taiwanese TV culture than they are in America.
MOTHER AND CHILD: A Filipina mother in America prepares for her husband to join her, with poignant and frightening overtones.
AT YOUR CONVENIENCE: A hilarious green-screen sitcom, about friendship, gangs, racism, crocheting, and crack. Sweet, beautiful, non-discriminatory crack.
And then I ended my night with ABIGAIL HARM, an odd, dream-like journey through a traditional Korean folk tale set in New York. Abigail (Amanda Plummer, as excellent as ever) is a reader for the blind. She has a lot of interesting clients, including Mr. Warren (Burt Young) who asks her to read pornography and describe the pictures to him. That foreshadows the odd, displaced eroticism that will follow. The one story that sticks in her mind is a Korean folk tale about a woodcutter who rescues a deer who then tells him the secret to winning a nymph's undying love. Soon enough, similar events occur in her own life. The visitor (Will Patton) appears, and she tends to his wounds. He tells her that if she steals the robe of the visitor (Tetsuo Kuramochi) he will be hers forever. And so that's exactly what she does. Or maybe this is all an erotic fantasy in her mind. It's hypnotic, quiet (it takes the visitor seemingly forever to say anything), tender, and...strange. I was tired, I don't know if I processed it well, but it is sticking in my brain. In fact, I had a ticket for the late show of TURN IT UP TO 11, PART 2: WILD DAYS, but it was late, I was tired, and this movie wouldn't exit my brain so I decided to call it a semi-early night, go home, get some sleep, and continue thinking about it. The next day, I had no further insights. But the acting was amazing.
Total Running Time: 331 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,197