Asia in Winter
Austin Asian American Film Festival celebrates women in cinema
The Austin Asian American Film Festival may be taking the year off, but it's not gone anywhere. With its annual celebration of global Asian cinema now moved from November to June, the team at AAAFF is hosting a winter showcase to keep the event in people's minds until next summer. The theme is "Feminine Identities," appropriate as all four films featured are stories about women and – with one exception – by women.
Starting off the series is Origin Story, which focuses on its director Kulap Vilaysack's journey to find her biological father and learn more about her family's past. This deeply intimate documentary follows Vilaysack as she revisits her childhood home in Minnesota and eventually travels to Laos in search of answers. As Laotian-American content is hard to find, programming director Jenny Nulf notes that the film represents a welcome addition to the lineup. "We think that the film will personally be a real crowd pleaser," Nulf said. "It checks all of the boxes we were looking for for an opening night film."
The other documentary featured is Nailed It, a look into the world of Vietnamese nail salons and how one migrant community came to dominate the industry. Director Adele Free Pham's personal connection to the industry through her father allows for more engaging storytelling as opposed to a simple, straightforward presentation on the history of these salons. Nulf praised the film's neutral approach on handling the inevitable discussion around stereotypes. "[Pham] goes into the stereotype and breaks it down without having a bias, which I think is really fascinating and just makes it an incredible film."
Continuing the themes of personal exploration and self-discovery is experimental narrative Fish Bones, directed by Joanne Mony Park. The film plays with time and memory as its protagonist struggles to balance her artistic desires and emerging relationship with a Latina woman, with the obligations she must fulfill for her traditional, conservative family. Stunning cinematography and pitch-perfect performances contributed to its selection. "You'll be able to get sucked in and pulled into this universe [where] this girl is working through her own emotions," Nulf said. "There's a lot of things going on, and the film balances it so well."
Closing out the series is 3 Faces, an international narrative by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi which won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes this year. Though it is not directed by a woman, it does revolve around them. The titular three faces are three generations of actresses – a young girl whose aspirations rebel against what's expected of her, a woman renowned in the industry who travels to visit the girl after receiving a video from her, and an aging recluse broken down by years of working with male directors. "There's a lot of art that comes out of turmoil, and I think this [film] kind of dives into the culture of a country that most people don't necessarily even understand," Nulf said.
Outside of the main showcase, the festival will host a special screening of Long Day's Journey Into Night, a story of a man who explores and reflects on past relationships while home for his father's funeral. Directed by Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan, the film takes a technically innovative turn at the halfway point, with an hourlong take shot in 3-D. Though it doesn't really fit with the showcase's theme, AAAFF Marketing Director Elizabeth Spieckerman said she feels it aligns with the organization's goals in general. "[This showcase] is the chance to get this representation of perspectives that you really don't see in a lot of mainstream movies but are fascinating and really deserve to get more exposure," Spieckerman says. "I think really that's ultimately our main mission as a film festival."
“Feminine Identities: A Winter Showcase” Tue.-Wed., Nov. 6-7 & 13-14 @AFS Cinema.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Mon., Nov. 12 @Alamo Drafthouse Mueller.
Visit www.aaafilmfest.org for tickets and info.