By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle Asian American Film Festival, previously the Northwest Asian American Film Festival, owes its previous and current existence to local Asian talent.
“I was a loyal fan of the Northwest Asian American Film Festival,” recalls SAAFF co-director Kevin Bang, “the previous iteration of SAAFF. NWAAFF ran from 2002 to 2007. I wanted the festival back after a six-year hiatus and teamed up with Vanessa [Au] in 2012 to organize and lead the revival of the festival.”
Explains Bang, “The [NWAAFF] began in the 1980s by a team of writers, editors, and photographers from the International Examiner. It also had a three-year run between 1994 and 1996. Wes Kim ran it from 2002 to 02007. I contacted Wes in 2012 to ask, one — why the festival had gone into hiatus, and two — if he knew others who were interested in helping me revive it.”
Kim resigned as director of the festival in 2007 due to time constraints, said Bang, and nobody replaced him.
“The team dissipated as a result. Wes connected me to Vanessa, who also expressed interest in reviving the festival. We met at Café Ladro in Capitol Hill in April 2012 and began organizing SAAFF. We decided to change the name to ‘Seattle’ instead of ‘Northwest’ because the name of the city would resonate better, both locally and nationally.”
Bang was born and raised in Seattle. “My parents are Chinese,” he said, “but lived most of their lives in Vietnam, so growing up, we spoke Cantonese, Vietnamese, and English in the house. He graduated from the University of Washington in 2005, with a Bachelor of Arts in communication – new media. “It was through college that I understood the importance of mass media representation for Asian Americans. There is a large population of Asians and Asian Americans in Seattle, so it’s important to share those stories and cultural experiences.
Bang and Au led the planning, recruiting, and organizing of the festival’s revival and intend to continue moving it forward.
“Our selection committee watched and rated all the films and democratically discussed and picked which one’s would be screened at our festival,” said Bang. “All of us have full-time day jobs or are full-time students, and running a festival is similar to another full-time job, so the effort we get from our team is tremendous and the passion and dedication to the festival is apparent.”
One of the many locally grown talents on display at the festival is actor Eddie Mui, who was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. He’s one of the leading actors in Someone I Used To Know, directed by Nadine Truong, a sometimes-funny, sometime-dark dramatic account of three childhood friends who reconnect amidst the glitz of Hollywood. They discover how much different they’ve become and how much they’ve stayed the same.
“I feel that we made a film that many people would enjoy watching, with a very strong ensemble cast and it was beautifully shot,” Mui reflects. “Someone I Used To Know is mainly about past and present friendships and how everyone values certain people in their lives that may have come and go. I think our film will make you think about your own friends and what they truly mean to you over the years… and perhaps even change your thoughts about your own self when you are around them. The overall vibe of our picture is kind of like past movies, from The Breakfast Club, Less Than Zero, and The Anniversary Party,” but of course, this film happens to be written, produced, directed by, and mostly starring Asian Americans telling an ‘American’ story that just happens to be taking place on one wacky night in LA… and not Chinatown.”
Asked his favorite films in the festival, Bang singled out Linsanity, directed by Evan Jackson Leong, a documentary study of basketball player Jeremy Lin, who Bang calls “a pioneering figure” for Asian Americans.
“His unprecedented rise from a basketball nobody to become a global sports sensation makes it the feel-good movie of the year,” he said.
Another one of Bang’s picks is Raskal Love, directed by Byron Q, which the festival co-director calls the true story of Seattleite Vanna Fut and how he overcame great adversities to pursue dreams in the arts — becoming a pioneering b-boy in Seattle during the 1990s, and then an actor.
“This is a documentary gem from our own backyard,” Bang said.
Asked how the festival will conclude, and about future plans, Bang said, “We’ll do a post-mortem after the festival and talk about our year. We talk about lessons learned and think about ways to improve next year. We foresee needing more volunteers as the festival and team grows.”
They also organized an outdoor summer film series last year during the offseason. (end)
The Seattle Asian American Film Festival runs from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9 at Ark Lodge Cinemas, located at 4816 Rainier Ave. S. in Seattle. For film titles, venues, prices, and show times, visit http://seattleaaff.org/2014/.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.