It’s that time of the year again, and I’m not talking spring…it’s Asian American Showcase time @ the Gene Siskel Film Center! It feels like a long time coming though, as we have usually been in the first weekend in April. But I’m excited about being in May and to be part of APA heritage month. People have asked why we were in April and not in heritage month, and well, when we started in 1995, heritage month wasn’t fully realized or celebrated in Chicago, and I doubt when the Showcase started, nobody figured we’d last this long! But now heading strong into our 18th year and being an important part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s yearly programming, we couldn’t be happier or more excited about this years festival.
When we first put our updated website up, I immediately received a text from someone in LA, saying that our line up was strong, and looked like one of our best ever. I didn’t really think about it as a whole until it was mentioned, but yes, the films are all outstanding. Of the 8 films we are showcasing this year, 1 premiered at Sundance, 3 premiered at SXSW (South by Southwest) and the other 4 premiered at SFIAAFF (San Francisco International Asian American Film Fest), that’s impressive! Also 6 of the 8 directors have screened films with us in the past! And Speaking of films…
Our Opening Night film is White Frog, directed by Quentin Lee. Quentin is one of our festival favorites, having have screened his past films: Shopping For Fangs, Ethan Mao, and The People I’ve Slept With, we are honored to present his latest, featuring an all-star cast of old and new talent – B.D. Wong, Joan Chen along with BooBoo Stewart (Twilight Series) and Harry Shum Jr. (Glee).
And Speaking of talented cast…our Closing Night Film, Sunset Stories, directed by Ernesto Foronda and Silas Howard, had won a best ensemble cast award - featuring Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow), Zosia Mamet (Girls), Michelle Krusiec (Saving Face), and Monique Curnen (Fast and Furious). Ernesto Foronda might seem familiar too…as he co-wrote Better Luck Tomorrow with Justin Lin!
Every now and then we’ll find a film that is a perfect fit for our festival, and The Crumbles, directed by Akira Boch, is one of them. Described as an indie rock slice-of-life tragic-comedy about two young female musicians struggling with the ups and downs of being in the world's greatest band - that no one's ever heard of. Music is important to our festival, as it was founded by Sooyoung Park, William Shin (both from the band SEAM) and Ben Kim (a music journalist). SEAM, during the 90’s was one of Chicago’s much heralded indie rock bands (along with the Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus Lizard and Liz Phair) and probably won’t be known for being fronted by an Asian American, but more appropriately
For shaping the slowcore sound, that influences band even today. And like a great rock band, The Crumbles was voted audience favorite at SFIAAFF!
Not knowing anything about it beforehand, Someone I Used To Know, directed by Nadine Truong, took me by surprised. The bittersweet drama had a lot of familiar faces – Brian Yang (Hawaii Five-O), Rex Lee (Entourage), Eddie Mui (Gone In 60 Seconds), West Liang (Hollywood Heights), it was Emily Chang who stood out for me. Although she’s been tearing up television lately (with appearances on Body Of Proof, NCIS, Bones, 90210), it was her time in Chicago during the late 90’s - early 2000’s that stand out for me. Emily, along with Anida Yoeu Ali, Marlon Esguerra, and Dennis Kim, were known as I Was Born With Two Tongues, the Asian American spoken word collective who became the seminal voice for the Asian Pacific Islander in the spoken word and performance movement. Besides seeing them perform numerous times (KA-WIN benefit, Yellow Technicolor 2000), we had them perform for the festival back in the day. She was also part of Mango Tribe, before she left town for NYC.
I’ll admit it; I’m a documentary junkie. There, I said it. Now can I move on to step 2 in my addiction program? Well, until then I probably can’t stop talking about how good, but also how timely our documentary selection is.
When I Walk, directed by Jason DaSilva, just recently had its world premiere at Sundance, and that’s all I should say, but Jason was a filmmaker who had screened with us in the past, and then seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Well, not really. He was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) at a time in his life (age 25) where most would seem invincible. As cruel as this sounds, as a skilled filmmaker, Jason was able to document his journey with MS, but also his unbreakable spirit.
Speaking about unbreakable spirit, Mr. Cao Goes To Washington, directed by S. Leo Chiang, follows the journey of the first Vietnamese American elected to the US congress, and is the only non-white House Republican of the 111th Congress, and the only Republican to vote for President Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill. While politics are always going to be a hot topic, S. Leo Chiang does tell a compelling story and has directed some of our past favorite docs like To You Sweetheart, Aloha and A Village Called Versailles, which is where Rep. Joseph Cao is from.
Did I say hot topic? Seeking Asian Female, directed by Debbie Lum, could be called a documentary about Yellow Fever or even an unlikely love match, but it’s so much more and it more like unlearning stereotypes and the judgments that stem from them. Debbie’s work has been seen in our Showcase multiple times, not just as a director, but as an editor too, and now in her feature length debut she also becomes a character in the film having to translate for subjects in this complicated relationship. Don’t miss this movie… everyone will have something to say about it afterwards.
Another timely film is Xmas Without China, directed by Alicia Dwyer. China seems to be in the news almost every other day. Whether it’s about politics, finance or manufacturing, China is so misunderstood in American media. These misunderstanding are further explored when a Chinese immigrant challenge his neighbors to celebrate the Christmas season without any Chinese Products. What sounds like a consumer mission-impossible soon becomes a deeper journey to understand the complexities of the divided loyalties between the US and China.
Hopefully this little overview will give you some insight to the films but also get you excited about the upcoming 18th Annual Chicago Asian American Showcase.
Come out and celebrate APA heritage month with us!