Last week, movie theaters across San Diego buzzed with the sights and sounds of international cinema during the 14th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF). The festival is presented each year by the Pacific Arts Movement (Pac-Arts), a media arts organization rooted in San Diego.
In 2012, USA Today online listed the SDAFF among the “Top Ten Reasons to Visit San Diego.” The crowds seemed to agree. Festival coordinators estimate a total of 12,000 to 20,000 in attendance this year. The bulk of the 150 showings were held at the Digiplex Theater in Mission Valley, and hoards of enthusiastic cinephiles constantly filled the lobby.
A fusion of foreign languages filled the theater before and between the screenings. In one ear you could hear a discussion in Cantonese about Japanese horror films, and in the other ear you might hear an argument in Tagalog about the artistic validity of Kung Fu flicks. These are examples of actual conversations that took place in the theater lobby during the festival.
The festival featured 140 films from 15 countries over 10 days. From Kung Fu to a heartwarming Indian love story to a rousing Taiwanese documentary, there was a little something for everybody. Short films, sweeping epics, blockbusters, and micro-budgets — this festival had them all.
Pac-Arts Executive Director Lee Ann Kim is very proud of this year’s film lineup. To her, the festival is not just about coming together and watching movies for entertainment.
“What we do is about more than just film,” Kim stated in a public letter. “It’s about expanding minds and creating transformational experiences. This is our year-round mission and commitment at Pacific Arts Movement.”
The SDAFF often has a theme that is the focus of its screening selections. This year the focus was on the issue of border crossing. In a letter to the audience, Pac-Arts Artistic Director Brian Hu addressed this theme.
“It’s not that fuzzy, we-are-the-world hand-holding between neighbors,” Hu said. “We’re book-ending our festival with two border-crossing films that ask us, sometimes uncomfortably, to think more expansively about mobility, legality, and the American dream.”
The top films in each category were recognized with special awards for remarkable achievement. The award for Best Narrative Feature went to director Junya Sakino for his culture clash comedy “Sake-Bomb,” while Lynne Sachs took Best Feature Documentary for “Your Day is My Night,” an examination of Chinese performers living in New York. The Grand Jury Prize went to the Thai film “Karaoke Girl,” the story of a young woman from rural Thailand and her struggle to support her family in Bangkok.
There were a handful of attendees from PLNU and they weighed in on their favorite films of the week.
Rick Moncauskas, Media Operations Manager at PLNU, has been attending the festival for four years. His favorite film this year was “Soul,” a horror film from Taiwan.
“The story was slightly spooky and it beautifully shot. The director can really take pictures,” Moncauskas said.
PLNU senior Carissa Gidding attended several screenings, and this was her first time to the festival. Her favorite film was “The Great North Korean Picture Show,” a Singaporean film that gives a glance at the film industry in North Korea.
In response to the film, Gidding said, “It was so interesting to get a glimpse at a country that is so isolated and controlled, and it’s crazy to think about the things they weren’t allowed to include in the film.”
A complete list of festival titles can be seen on the event website at pac-arts.org.
Many of the titles included in last week’s screenings will continue on the festival tour. Don’t expect them to hit San Diego theaters anytime soon, but watch for them on DVD and online streaming services in the months to follow.