Rarely do movies made about the Asian American experience reach a wide audience, but an ongoing event at UC Davis is trying to change that.
UC Davis‘ Asian American Association is in the middle of hosting its annual film festival. The event, which kicked off on May 5, continues until May 15. The films run Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays each week.
This year’s theme is “Intertwining Perspectives,” which is an attempt to include all the different particular identities within the broader Asian American community. The festival showcases work from various communities including the South Asian, Hmong, Mongolian, Malaysian, Singaporean and LGBT communities for a collection referred to as “minorities within the minorities.“
The aim of the film festival is to present films (both short and feature-length) made by members of the Asian American community. In creating a space for their work to be exhibited, the AAA hopes to dispel common stereotypes about Asian Americans and to be able to encourage the community to tell their own story.
“If you look at the media … [Asian Americans] are portrayed as exotic figures [or] token figures,” said Allison Arachea, a recent UC Davis graduate with a B.A. in film studies and English and co-director of the film festival.
Festival co-director Tiffany Young, a junior double majoring in French and neurobiology, physiology and behavior, attested to this portrayal.
“We’re not all dragon ladies and kung fu masters,” Young added.
Though she talked at length about the dearth of great roles portraying Asian Americans, Young said “it’s possible to have multi-dimensional Asian characters in a film.“
Arachea said that many of the festival’s films explore “how [Asian Americans] feel about being Americans and how they have to balance between family culture and the culture they live in.“
“By showing these movies, it shows that the themes are pretty universal and anyone regardless of race can identify with [them],” Arachea said.
She added that the festival celebrates “differences while showing universality.“
The festival opened with an Indian American movie, which Arachea said was especially important since many people don’t think of Indians as part of the Asian community.
Assumptions like these can eventually lead to many of the stereotypes that the Asian American Association hopes to dispel. Arachea explained how film is an effective media for this goal. She described the surprising amount of conflict within the Asian American community and said that film had the potential to bring all of the different identities together.
“Being a film major, I never realized how much people talk about movies in general,” Arachea said.
Arachea added that since movies seem to be such a large part of how stereotypes are ingrained in society, it seemed to be the perfect way to counter that spread.
However, the film festival also has another motive. In showcasing films made by Asians and Asian Americans, the AAA hopes to encourage Asians to pursue careers in the film industry.
“It’s important for people to watch these independent films because it opens up the doors,” said Arachea.
The festival will feature guest speakers at some of the screenings. Amyn Kaderali, the director of the film Kissing Cousins, appeared on the opening night. Jimmy Tsai, who produced, wrote and acted in Ping Pong Playa, will appear in a Q&A session after the film‘s screening on Friday at 8 p.m.
“One of the chief things that the AAAFF does bring to the UC Davis community is a completely different perspective,” said David Vasquez, a senior film studies major and head of the liason committee.
The AAA has gone to great lengths to cooperate with many other on-campus groups for the festival. This year features collaborations with South East Asian Graduation Committee and Asian Pacific Islander Queers, who have participated in publicity for the festival and will be involved with the closing night’s benefit event and date auction.
Young said that AAA was particularly excited to work with APIQ since several of the festival’s films deal with issues of sexuality and gender identity.
Vasquez urged even those UCD students who don’t identify as Asian American to attend the festival’s screenings. The films, according to Vasquez, are the kind that most people rarely have the opportunity to see, but the kind that most people would benefit from seeing.
The films will run every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from until May 15. Screenings will be at 8 p.m. in 194 Chemistry.
LAURA KROEGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.