Previewing the 2016 Austin Asian-American Film Festival
Sorry Fantastic Fest, AFF, and SXSW; my favorite Austin film festival is the Austin Asian-American Film Festival, which starts tonight! It lasts just a few days, so there’s no time for festival fatigue to set in, and it happens on just one screen, so there’s no agony about what to see and what to skip. And yes, I happen to have a lot of attachment to Asian cinema (see my bio at the bottom of the page.)
This year’s AAAFF (it’s not my favorite acronym) takes place at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas where I enjoy gainful daytime employment. After work I will take a short walk from the Tower through the live oak trees and Spanish-style architecture of the university grounds to the museum, which houses thousands of pieces of art from around the world, from the medieval period to the contemporary. There, in the museum’s screening room, my weekend of catching up on the latest cinema from Japan, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific (as well as movies from America about Asia and Asian-Americans) will commence.
Here’s what I’ll be seeing and ranking:
Tyrus – That impressionistic, subtly fantastical forest art from Disney’s Bambi (1941) was partly the work of one Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-American artist who also contributed his vision to a number of famous live-action Hollywood movies. Wong is still alive at 105 years old, and his story as told in this documentary touches on “immigration, poverty, and racial prejudice” – issues of current as well as historical import.
Kissing Cousin – The title of this Korean movie seems to be meant literally, as it is about a pair of cousins that share an intimate bond despite long periods of separation.
Finding Phong – The Outsider Festival and the Transgender Education Network of Texas co-present this documentary about a transgender Vietnamese woman. The topic is on the bleeding edge of social consciousness in Asia as well as America.
Grass – Pia Shah and Emily Chang star in a Tanuj Chopra buddy comedy about a graduate student and her pot-smoking friend who have to decide what to do with a large amount of marijuana that’s come into their possession.
Mele Murals – Urban muralists are fish out of water in rural Waimea, Hawaii, where their beautiful spray-painted art merges with native influences.
The Wolf Mask – The political atmosphere in South Korea is often quite tense. The country’s first woman president is currently facing widespread calls for resignation on the news that her spiritualist advisor has had an inappropriate amount of access to sensitive information, but this documentary covers an earlier moment during her election. At that time she faced ugly opposition from a South Korean “men’s rights” organization that wanted to slam the breaks on social progress. The doc follows one of her nastiest critics.
Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story – An Asian-American California prison inmate provides an example of “what is wrong in our system” in this doc from director Ben Wang.
Nostrum – The story of a girl and her ferret!
Unbroken Glass – A son tries to understand his parents, who died when he was quite young, and winds up with a story about the intensely personal struggles of an immigrant family.
Kaili Blues – Director Bi Gan’s characters go in search of a missing boy in this highly cinematographic drama from southwest China.
Additionally, a ton of shorts are playing at this year’s festival, and I will highlight any standouts.
As always, we’ll be adding these films to the Flickchart database so that you, too, can track them down and rank them.
Check back early next week for my recaps and ranking of the AAAFF 2016 slate!