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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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New York: 2019 Asian American International Film Festival

 

Held from July 25 – August 3 and presented by Asian Cine Vision in association with Asia Society the 42nd Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) is the oldest film festival in The United States that focuses on Asian themes. It included 12 narrative features, 9 documentaries and 67 short films from 19 countries in its 2019 program. Numerous panels, a work-in progress seminar, a screen play reading, and other special events accompanied the screening program. The festival’s executive director John Woo oversaw 54 staff members in addition to numerous screeners and volunteers.  AAIFF was sponsored by 9 corporations, including several private and public groups and had 24 contributing sponsors as well as 32 exhibition and event partners. Support and cooperation were also obtained from 42 community-based organizations.

Through the annual National Festival Tour Asian Cine Vision (ACF) has been providing productions from the AAIFF program to numerous festivals and helped to launch festivals in other major cities in the USA and Canada including Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. Through its National Festival Tour held throughout the year ACF showcases AAIFF films and offers rental of more than 50 features, documentaries, and shorts to corporations and non-theatrical institutions.

This year about 6100 tickets were sold to an audience which was composed of about half Asian American. Programming was influenced by current concerns of the Asian American target audience and the community groups cooperating with the festival, some relevant productions shown at major film festivals, as well as topics emerging from films which were submitted to the festival. Given the changes in production technologies and the growing number of filmmakers there has been a remarkable growth in entries.  As John Woo suggests, the most important criteria is the fit between the production and the issues which are of primary concern for their south east Asian audience.  As distinct from other Asian or narrower festivals such as the NY Indian Film Fest, the AAIFF is exemplary in its long-term cooperation with general or specialized groups representing the Asian community groups. There is also close contact with other film festivals like as the Human Rights Watch and the Margaret Mead film festivals covering related themes. Close cooperation with community groups and the festival program meeting their concerns also facilitates attracting their members to the festivals. It can also help through American-Asian employee resource groups in large companies in fund-raising, though ever since the 2008 crash It has become more difficult to raise corporate funds. The 2019 success of AAIFF is due to a program that fills an important thematic niche for which no other festival competes, an increase in ticket sales now covering 40% of the costs of the festival, the constant effort to reduce costs, and the improvement of the festival’s infrastructure.

Being at home and sustaining an Asian-American identity in spite of the surrounding problems was one of the principle hemes of the festival. The generational conflict is accentuated if the children of Asian families have grown up in the United States and their identity is shaped both by their parental homes and child rearing strategies and the exposure to American values through their surroundings, the media, and schools.  They are also challenged by contradictory expectations and the persistent deep-rooted stereotypes and prejudices about immigrant families in the US.  This happens in the context of a rapidly changing society Asian-Americans live in, the instability of policy making and the growing economic disparities they are facing.  To complicate matters further there is a large ethnic, linguistic and cultural variety in the countries they have come from lacking the relative homogeneity we are used to. Common cultural denominators as distinct from problems addressed by productions selected for the 2019 Asian American International Film Festival are difficult to specify. We are dealing with more than a dozen countries to which the film makers and their topics are tied.  The films presented are problem and solution oriented showing what can be done by individuals and their communities. The need for action has become more urgent given the fact that hundreds of immigrant children are separated from their parents and live in unsanitary detention shelters without proper care. More crucial are the plans of the US government to have detention centers for illegal families without the currently mandated time limit of 20 days for children. In different terms, we observe the replay of holding families as the US did with Japanese families during World War II.  AAIFF is the only festival I have attended where the executive director reminds the audience of their obligation to vote to help induce change.  

 

 YELLOW ROSE, Diana Paragas, USA, 2018

This feature was the perfect opening night film by the Filipina writer and director.  Paragas worked on this project for 15 years, shooting in the USA and the Philippines, and was able to assemble a superb cast of characters with convincing persuasive representation. The objective of authenticity emphasized by Paragas was certainly achieved.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers (ICE) pick up a mother and rule that she must leave for the Philippines on short notice. She wants to take her teenage daughter Rose with her, but Rose is torn between attachment to her mother and her desire to become a country musician in Texas. She decides to stay in the states because her home has become Texas, the only place she knows. Penniless Rose links up with her well off aunt but is rejected by her aunt’s Anglo husband who does not want to give shelter to an illegal. She ends up working in a seedy Austin bar that presents country music and stays with the country musician Dale Watson.  Rose succeeds in finding a home and becoming a musician. Yellow Rose features superb acting by an established cast and an original soundtrack by the director, Dale Watson, and Eva Noblezada who has the central part of rose.  The tragedy of deporting immigrants and breaking up homes is conveyed clearly.  Victims held by the ICE report that they are treated like animals and identified by numbers rather than by names. Parents are often prevented from communicating with their children. As the husband of Rose’s aunt demonstrates, there is often refusal to help the illegals. But the feature stays clear of exaggerations and shows the human face of people working for ICE and demonstrates through Rose how obstacles can be overcome applying persistence and the will to succeed.  The rise of anti-immigrant sentiments and governmental actions can be met through empathy with the victims and civil disobedience, and if necessary, by even breaking the law.

MS. PURPLE, Justin Chom, USA, 2019

Justin Chom established himself as a challenging and creative director with the award-winning feature GOOK in 2017 and excels again with Ms. Purple. Abandoned by a mother who walked out on them and reared by her now dying father Young-il, Kasie takes on the role of his care giver, refusing to let him perish in hospice. Kasie reaches out to her brother Carey, estranged from his father after leaving the family  as a teenager.  Carey had been drifting from one job to next job, never finding firm employment. He decides to move in with his sister and bed ridden father, slowly developing an attachment to the motherless family.  There are flashbacks to their childhood and the father’s attempts and failures to reconnect with his wife. The former wife left finding a wealthier partner to replace Young-il whom she called a loser.  Kasie generates income for their household through money from a boyfriend but more importantly by serving as a hostess for foreign businessman at a karaoke bar.  She is involved in the domis (helpers) practice where young woman work through these bars in the darker part of Korea town, and for for an hourly fee provides social services such as talk and dance, but not sex, to mostly foreign male business men. The men rent a room for that purpose and can select from a group of women.  In his persuasive narrative and superb visual presentation Chom shows how the newly united siblings cope with their present and past experiences and the traumatic family baggage they carry.   Nocturnal footage of the karaoke and party scenes frequented by Kasei offer insights into the dark Korean urban culture and how to make living there. In spite of, or maybe because of their experiences, Kasie and Carey demonstrate identities able to overcome the obstacles they face in this story strong. 

SEADRIFT, Tim Tsai

SEADRIFT is set against the background of deep-rooted hostility between American crab fishermen in in the small town of Seadrift on the gulf coast of Texas who feel their livelihood threatened by Vietnamese trying to make a living in the same small town. They are part of the 130,000 refugees who fled Vietnam in 1975. This documentary reconstructs the case of an alleged murder of an American crab fisherman by a Vietnamese refugee in 1979. Using archival material, footage shot in Seadrift, and interviews, Tim Sai documents a past with strong similarities to what happens now in the USA.

Vietnamese women in that small town found jobs in a crab plant which Americans did not want to carry out. Tensions are fueled by the villagers objecting to refugees getting financial support from the government they never received and returning GIs coming back from Vietnam resenting their former enemies settling there. Cultural discrepancy between the two groups, racial tensions, and paranoia from both sides blaming each other for a reduction of the shrimp harvests accelerates the conflict and it results in the shooting of a white fisherman by a Vietnamese.   Accused of murder he and his brother are however acquitted because the court rules that the act was self-defense. The Ku Klux Klan firebombed homes and boats of Vietnamese fisherman after the trial. The brothers and other Vietnamese left Seadrift no longer no longer feeling safe there.   After three decades have passed the Seadrift residents recalling the conflict have become detached from it and do not seem to identify with the overt racism Tim Tsai found in the seventies nor do their statements reflect the right wing xenophobia we can observe shared by some sections of the US population and the politicians they have elected. On the local level they seem to have overcome the overt disparities separating them from the Vietnamese they live with.

RITUALS OF RESISTANCE, Tenzin Phuntsog and Joy Dietrich, H. 2018

After 65 years of China rule in Tibet after its 1950 invasion has left little available information about resistance by ethnic Tibetans against China. Ritual of Resistance is an original documentary showing the responses and actions of three individuals. They live now in Nepal, the USA, and India. The film makers use first hand oral accounts and supportive footage alongside the interviews of three generations that include a former monk embracing guerrilla warfare, a mother returning to Tibet illegally see her family after 30 years of separation, and a student native to Tibet living in India driven to suicide.  Of the three only the mother selects  the  Dalai Lama’s  solution, to adopt a nonviolent response to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The section on the path from being a devout monk to using arms and violence against the Chinese includes footage never seen before: an actual attack on a Chinese truck convoy by the Tibetan resistance, a stunning part because it also illuminates US involvement. Several hundred Tibetan refugees were trained in the US as evidenced by a film clip of an old training camp in Colorado. The mother’s story of breaking the law to see remaining members of her family but continuing to live by the Dalai Lama’s edict is compelling because her powerful family bonds were not broken by politics.  For the young student who attempted to kill himself there is no firm path he can pursue. The detailed interviews and visual records on actions taken provide superb insights into the psychological costs of resistance, except for the mother. The Tibetan film maker Tenzin Phuntsog provides the viewer with a realistic non-judgmental appraisal of the meaning of opposition and of being a displaced Tibetan.

 

Claus Mueller    filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

 

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