The Asian American International Film Festival Returns in Fine Form

This year the AAIFF ’09 is leaner and more focused as a condition of our new economic reality. However, it is also an experiment on the viability of a community-minded event—spread by word of mouth and quality selections rather than by star filled premieres or flashy, usually forgettable, narrative bombs. The showcase will include 14 feature films and 50 short films during the weekend of July 23 – 26, 2009. Opening night of the festival starts with Ivy Ho’s reverse chronological narrative, Claustrophobia. Ho is a veteran Hong Kong screenwriter whose directorial debut trowels in the turmoil created by a clandestine work affair. Following is the much ballyhooed Sundance premierer, Paper Heart. Charlyne Yi, of Knocked Up notoriety, steers this faux documentary in a search for true love. Michael Cera also shows up as …himself?

Claustrophobia, Directed by Ivy Ho, 2008

The first full day of programming places displacement on center stage. One of the standouts is Hubad. Based on the play by the same name, Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes have aggressively adapted it for the screen. On first glance it is an all too familiar work of meta-fiction about the play rehearsals and the parodic explorations of sex from which the play draws its comedy. However, as the layers of pretense are peeled away, we are slowly exposed to the sexual repression supposedly endemic to Filipino society.

Hubad, Directed by Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes, 2008

The lead characters, Carmen and Delfino, inhabit their characters wholly and the line between fiction and reality never materializes. At moments, the film hazily drifts into documentary, as though the audience is witnessing real people slowly self-destruct. Once they start a poorly concealed affair, the actors brazenly jeopardize their perfectly curated existences. Ironically, the play becomes the only space of solace as their significant others begin to reject them. The third night is the presentation of the centerpiece film, Children of Invention, which has been handily racking up awards and praise on the indie festival circuit for most of this year. No small part of this is due to its timeliness. The impasse that separates an immigrant mother from her two young children is a classic pyramid scheme. The director, Tze Chun, expresses some disdain over these get rich schemes, but also recognizes them as a part of the defective American Dream.

Children of Invention, Directed by Tze Chun, 2008

I can’t say that watching this film was an enjoyable experience, but it was a poignant one. Following the two young children Raymond and Tina as they roam around Boston is as close to cinematic purity as one is likely to see this year. The two young leads are free of the common child actor tics like cloying sentimentality or broad over-acting. Drawn faces and slumped shoulders tell a story much more nuanced than dialogue could ever approximate. Chris Teague’s cinematography is deceptively simple. Moments like the realization of the “Sold” sign on the lawn of their old house or a slice of pepperoni pizza being eaten on the street resonate as seminal moments in the lives of these youngsters. The framing captures the intimacy of their cut-out existence, cut–out from society, from normality, from reality. They will never forget this time, and nor will we.

The final night of the festival is a celebration. The closing film this year is Fruit Fly. It is unlike anything else you will see in a theater I guarantee. Here are just a few reasons why: insanely catchy pop tunes that will swim in your head relentlessly for days after viewing; dazzling, funny special effects that re-imagine the San Francisco skyline as an electronic game board, Asian characters devoid of clichéd stereotypes, and an infectious sense of freedom which enlivens everything from the dialogue to the title sequence.

Fruit Fly, Directed by H.P. Mendoza, 2008

H.P. Mendoza has crafted a pitch perfect (literally) homage to post-college bravura. The lead, a Filipino-American named Bethesda (L.A. Renigen) is on a sojourn to finish her one-woman play about the search for her biological parents. En route she realizes that she is a fag hag, criminally horny, and a pretty vulnerable performer. Watch this film with a big group. It has that sort of energy that can only be dissipated by bantering back and forth and talking to the screen. You will leave just a little lighter on your feet.

– Wayne Lorenzo Titus

Tickets for the festival can be purchased here. And a longer version of this report is available on the Cinemism blog.

Explore posts in the same categories: asian cinema, festival dispatches, just for fun, what's on

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