Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2007 SFIAAFF—Opening Night Introductory Remarks

Yul Kwon, the winner of Survivor: Cook Islands served as Opening Night Master of Ceremonies for the SFIAAFF screening of Justin Lin's Finishing the Game. "I'm excited to be here for a number of reasons," Kwon enthused. "On a personal note, this is probably one of the first times I've been asked to appear in front of an audience fully-clothed."

Kwon introduced Stephen Gong, Executive Director for the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). Formerly the Deputy Director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Gong is likewise a film historian featured in this year's Centerpiece presentation of Arthur Dong's Hollywood Chinese.

Gong straightaway complimented Yul Kwon on how he has worn his celebrity, carrying himself with integrity and respect. Emphasizing the festival's 25th anniversary, Gong recounted: "Key anniversaries such as this provide us with an opportunity to take a look at the past and see how far we've come even as we also look ahead into the future. When we started this organization 26 years ago, we did so to fill a void. There was a lack of authentic and truthful images of Asian Americans on movie screens, on television screens, and the absence of our images and our stories in libraries and class rooms. Over the years we've helped filmmakers get their films made and seen on public television, into class rooms and on the screens of movie palaces like here at the Castro. We're very proud of this work and we're appreciative of the support and efforts that [our audiences] have made, that our filmmakers have made, that our members of the organization [and] our donors, to help us get to this point; but, there is still so much to do.

"The whirlwind changes of technology both promise to and threaten us with the fundamental shift in the way that we are entertained, the way that we're informed, the way we access information, the way we communicate with one another. Whether it's called Web 2.0 or The Living Web, the challenge for public media and entities like CAAM remains the same: how to make this technology accessible to a wide range of people and to provide content that is socially and culturally relevant, that is truthful, that matters? We have both an obligation and a unique opportunity to tap into our community's desires for connectiveness and, in turn, to educate and inform a much broader audience and to transform those virtual ties into real world action for social change, for betterment, for greater tolerance, and respect for difference.

"There was a review of our festival in this morning's San Jose Mercury News that our board member Glenn Osaka passed on to me that spoke of Asia America as 'the infinite empire' and the way that this was a vast terrain at our festival surveys. Now that's an intriguing idea. We once thought we were a very small marginalized community. Our eyes have been lifted. …Our task now is not only to survey this sweet terrain but to help reshape this territory that is Asia America. This, then, is the work for the future: to stay current, to stay relevant, to stay true to our crowning mission, presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest possible audiences. Please join us on that journey.

"Now, returning to the real world, let me put in a plug for the importance of gathering together in person as we are here tonight to commune with one another. This is the other part of community and it's the part that is so very special about our festival. Thank you again for coming."

Yul Kwon then introduced Chi-hui Yang who has been Festival Director for the last nine years. "Which is pretty scary," Kwon joked, "because in the last nine years I've had nine different jobs." Chi-hui graduated from Stanford University and writes about culture, music and film. His curated film programs have been screened at film festivals nationwide, including the Seattle and Washington, D.C. international film festivals and the Barcelona Asian Film Festival.

"When the festival started in 1982," Chi-hui contextualized, "it was a pretty small affair—12 films over a weekend—and in the last quarter century it's grown into the largest festival of its kind in the country. This year: 3 cities, 11 days, 130 films." He provided a down and dirty primer of how to best experience and appreciate the festival. "In terms of major themes for the festival, there's a whole bunch of sub-themes but there's one umbrella [theme] that brings stuff together; that's one of returns. We have a lot of folks coming back that have been at the festival in the past coming back with new films, a lot of folks who were at the first film festival in 1982." Chi-hui singled out Arthur Dong and Curtis Choi as being present at this year's festival and congratulated Ruby Yang, also from the Class of '82, for her Oscar win for The Blood of Yingzhou District.

Chi-hui congratulated Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza (Colma: The Musical) for the festival trailer and—because there is so much going on in the trailer—Chi-hui offered some tips on three things he wanted audiences to look out for: 1) Where is the horse and what happens to the horse? 2) How many San Francisco firefighters are in the trailer? 3) What actually happens with the stuffed yellow duck?

Finally, Yul Kwon introduced Justin Lin, director of the opening night comedy Finishing the Game. Justin Lin's first short film screened at the festival in 1997 and, since then, the festival has screened many of his films including Shopping for Fangs (1997), Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) and Spotlighting (2005). His recent films include Annapolis (2006) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Finishing the Game had its world premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Justin Lin thanked his audience for coming and CAAM for inviting him. "This is a very special festival for me," he admitted, "because it was my first festival when I was a student at UCLA. My friend Quentin and I drove up in the rain and crashed in a friend's apartment. It's been 10 years and this is also where I learned that a community is about your experience and it's been great to grow and share all the films. [Finishing the Game] is appropriate in the sense that everybody that I've met in the last 10 years are in the film and they're here." Lin invited his audience to stick around after the film to talk with him and the cast.

Cross-published at Twitch.

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