The 10th annual Austin Asian American Film Festival returns this weekend Dec. 7-10 at the AFS Cinema. The 2017 festival marks an important milestone for AAAFF. In addition to its 10th anniversary, it’s also celebrating the formation of a nonprofit. “This is an important next step as we embark on our second decade,” said executive director Tim Tsai. “The new nonprofit board is excited to spearhead the continued growth and evolution of AAAFF.”
The lineup this year includes 11 features and 17 short films. “This year’s program celebrates the past, present and future of Asian and Asian American cinema,” said AAAFF programming director Anand Modi. “Filmmakers from around the world are investigating history, reckoning with contemporary life, and presenting their visions of the coming years and decades. Once again, we’re excited to present work by established and emerging filmmakers who are telling important stories and exploring the boundaries of what movies can be.”
Film lineup and synopses
Thursday, Dec. 7
“The Chinese Exclusion Act” (2017 U.S. documentary) – 6:45 p.m. *
In the late 1800s, anti-Chinese agitation led to federal laws targeting Chinese abroad and those already in the U.S. “The Chinese Exclusion Act” looks far beyond the legislation of its title and weaves archival photos, historian interviews, and first-hand accounts into a sweeping chronicle of Chinese American life in an era that still informs American conceptions of national and ethnic identity.
*This screening is free and open to the public.
Friday, Dec. 8
“Wexford Plaza” (2017 Canadian dramedy) – 6:30 p.m. **
Joyce Wong’s feature film is about two young adults lost in their loneliness—Betty and Danny. At a dilapidated strip mall, Betty (Reid Asselstine) meets Danny (Darrel Gamotin), a bartender, when she’s hired for a security guard position. Desperate for a connection, Betty immediately finds herself drawn to Danny, but unfortunately after a drunken and misunderstood sexual encounter, the two find their lives falling to pieces. WEXFORD PLAZA is a charming, sweet coming-of-age millennial tale that explores a young adult’s anxieties: creating connections in a social media-driven era.
** Director Joyce Wong will be available for Q&A via Skype after the screening.
“Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno” (2017 South Korean documentary) – 8:45 p.m.
Formed in 2010, two-man outfit Bamseom Pirates are as far away from K-Pop as you can imagine: they play short, fast, and loud—what connoisseurs might call grindcore, but what most would just call punk rock. Their lyrics and aesthetics are dadaist political satire, and they become favorites of fellow students opposing privatization, militarism, and South Korea’s pervasive puritanical streak.
Saturday, Dec. 9
“95 and 6 to Go” (2017 Japanese documentary) – 1:30 p.m.
A retired postal worker and recent widower in his 90s, Tom offers surprising suggestions for the film and candid glimpses into his own past. As memories intertwine with fiction and Tom’s daily routines, 95 AND 6 TO GO becomes a collaborative home movie about love, loss, family, and Japanese American identity.
“Chee and T” (2017 Indian comedy) – 3:30 p.m. **
Down and out in high-flying silicon valley, Chee and T (Sunkrish Bala and Dominic Rains) spend their days as bagmen and enforcers for ruthless Uncle Rob (Silicon Valley’s Bernard White). Ordered to help shiftless cousin Mayunk (Asif Ali) get ready for his engagement party, their day quickly goes sideways—Mayunk’s frantic energy turns suit shopping and a haircut into an ordeal, and romantic entanglements draw the trio into the orbit of a suspiciously clean-cut mayoral candidate.
** Director and writer Tanuj Chopra will be available for Q&A after the screening.
“Who Killed Vincent Chin?” (1987 U.S. documentary) – 6:45 p.m.
On a summer night in 1982, Vincent Chin was brutally beaten to death by unemployed autoworker Ronald Ebens, who ultimately escaped prison time. Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña’s Academy Award-nominated film WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? explores the economic decline of the American auto industry and the failures of the justice system through the public outcry and national mobilization of a pan Asian American civil rights movement.
“Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember” (2017 Philippine and German drama) – 9:15 p.m.
In a near-future Manila the pre-adolescent Koska gang run roughshod over the city until their boss is sentenced to 20 years after a big heist gone wrong. Once he’s out, he and his old cronies set out to reclaim their loot from the crooked cops who stole it, while a mysterious killer picks them off, one by one.
Sunday, Dec. 10
“Mixed Match” (2016 Canadian documentary) – 1 p.m. **
How do our genes matter? As North America’s multiracial population grows at an unprecedented rate, so too does a rarely acknowledged problem: the difficulty of finding suitable bone marrow donors for such a genetically diverse group. Jeff Chiba Stearns (ONE BIG HAPA FAMILY, the YouTube sensation YELLOW STICKY NOTES) uses colorful animation to bring complex scientific concepts to a broader audience, while personal anecdotes reveal the efforts of the afflicted, their families, and their communities to ensure lifesaving care for all.
** Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns and film subject Athena Asklipiadis expected in attendance
“Resistance at Tule Lake” (2017 U.S. documentary) – 3:15 p.m.
While the dominant narrative of the mass incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II has been one of general cooperation, filmmaker Konrad Aderer (ENEMY ALIEN) explores the much-suppressed history of those who protested their unjust imprisonment. When forced to pledge their unconditional loyalty to the United States government, many refused. Some were deported to Japan, and over 12,000 were deemed “disloyal” and relocated to what came to be known as the Tule Lake Segregation Center, a militarized camp where resistant citizens faced further abuse and torture.
“Who is Arthur Chu?” (2017 U.S. documentary) – 6 p.m. **
“This is not your country. You can live here, but you will never, ever belong.” These words stayed with Arthur Chu and shaped his upbringing, yet they did not come from his classmates, it came from his own father. A self-described “social misfit,” Chu buried himself in American television and pop culture growing up in the Midwest. This proved advantageous in 2014 when he became an 11-time Jeopardy! champion, winning $298,200 in the process, at the time the third-highest winnings total in the history of the show. His appearance, uncompromising personality, and unconventional gameplay led to much criticism and personal attacks on social media, and catapulted him into the public eye.
** Director Yu Gu is available for Q&A after the screening.
“The Future Perfect” (2016 Argentine drama) – 8 p.m.
Recently arrived in Argentina, 18-year-old Xiaobin (Xiaobin Zhang) is struggling with her Spanish: at her job in a market she does okay with the names of things, but struggles with quantities. She enrolls in Spanish classes with her saved wages and as her grasp of the language improves, her world expands, and our glimpses of her life become richer and more expressive.
AAAFF badges and single film tickets are now on sale. You can also find the full schedule of festival events and other films to screen on its website.