By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The annual Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) returns this year, and returns to the big screen, for the first time since early 2020 before the statewide shutdown. And it’s securely in the hands of folks who’ve called Seattle home for awhile.
“I have vivid memories of visiting the Chinatown-International District (CID) as a child,” remembered Festival co-director Ellison Shieh, a Seattle native. “Tagging along with my mom to get Chinese herbs and walking past the old post office, where Hing Hay Park has now extended. Due to my work—day job at the Wing Luke Museum, and arts organizing as a volunteer with the filmfestival—I spend most of my time in the CID. Getting to work and build community in the neighborhood, as well as share and learn stories and histories there, has been life-changing.”
Shieh’s fellow director, Victoria Ju, came from another direction. “I was born in Shanghai and grew up in the Pacific Northwest,” they recalled. “My family first lived in Portland, Oregon, before moving up to Seattle in the late 90s. I’ve lived in and around the Greater Seattle area (Newcastle, Shoreline, Mercer Island, Redmond, White Center, now Renton) because my mom didn’t like staying in one neighborhood for very long.”
Shieh started volunteering for the Festival in 2015, and worked their way up to co-director after a long time of that volunteer work. Ju goes back further; she heard Professor Vanessa Au call for volunteers back in 2013, and ended up the Volunteer Coordinator for that year.
This year’s presentation marks the return of SAAFF to big-screen showings, at the Northwest Film Forum. As Victoria Ju points out, masks will be required, and a few other regulations apply. “Doors typically open 30 minutes prior to our in-person screenings and we recommend everyone to plan to arrive at least 15-20 minutes prior to the screening,” they indicated. “Seats are not guaranteed if you arrive after the screening begins as empty seats will be re-sold to those waiting in our Rush Line for any screenings that have sold out. Passholders are required to redeem their tickets online prior to the screening.”
The Festival’s total programming this year consists of 91 films total: four Narrative Features, six Documentary Features, 60 Narrative Shorts, and 21 Documentary Shorts. Ellison Shieh picked out a few of their personal favorites.
‘House Rules,’ directed by Aimee Pham and Kai Sampadian, makes its world premiere this week at our Festival. It is a narrative short about a teenager who invites a boy over while her mom is out on a date. Plans take a turn because he won’t take off his shoes in the house. ‘Riceboy Sleeps,’ directed by Anthony Shim is a feature film you can’t miss, especially since it will be in-person only. It follows a Korean mother and son who immigrate to Canada, and how they try to adapt to their environments. Folks who enjoyed films like ‘Minari,’ ‘Goodbye Mother,’ and ‘The Farewell’ would like this one.
‘Handwritten,’ directed by Jaime Sunwoo, is another film making its world premiere, a paper- puppetry animated documentary short, exploring the director’s ever-transforming penmanship through her youth, and a deeper look into handwriting and today’s technology.
Asked about the future of the Festival, both directors had a few thoughts. “We are looking forward to sharing space again with everyone and all the in-person interactions we’ve missed in the past two years,” Ju summed up. “We hope you feel the warm community spirit of our festival through the stories and connections we all bring together.”
Added Shieh, “As we continue to grow, we hope to have more year-round programming and events to further connect with our community. CID Summer Cinema will return this summer in Hing Hay Park, but hopefully we will be able to host some off-season screenings as well. Follow us online or through our newsletter to stay updated!”
The Seattle Asian American Film Festival presents its program Feb. 23-26 in person at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Avenue on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. A separate and slightly different version is online Feb. 27-March 5. For more information, and to purchase passes, visit https://seattleaaff.org/.For the Northwest Film Forum’s COVID-19 regulations, visit https://nwfilmforum.org/nwff-covid-19-guidelines/.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.