L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival expands to Long Beach
“The sexy ninja.” That’s how Korean American actor Sung Kang described the bulk of his roles to filmmaker Ernesto Foronda, his director in "Sunset Stories." Fononda was happy to give Kang the opportunity to do something different, and more complex, in his dark romantic comedy, which screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival this weekend.
“I’m really focused on telling Asian American stories and resisting these stereotypical depictions,” Foronda, who was born in the Philippines, said. “Where can you find a movie with an Asian American male lead with the romantic interest being a Latino woman? No one else is going to tell those stories.”
“Sunset Stories” centers on the chance re-encounter of May (Monique Gabriela Curen) and her ex-fiancé JP (Kang), whom she left five years earlier. Shot and set in East Los Angeles, the film premiered at Austin's South by Southwest festival in March. Now Foronda, the film’s co-writer/co-director, and Silas Howard, who co-directed, are looking forward to presenting it to a hometown crowd this Saturday, when it will be LAAPFF’s domestic centerpiece screening.
The festival runs today through Sunday, May 20, featuring movies from more than 20 countries, all with an Asian themes or by Asian and Asian American filmmakers. In its 28th year, the festival is again presented by Visual Communications, an Asian Pacific American media arts center based in L.A.’s Little Tokyo.
“Sunset Stories” is one of 46 feature films, along with 142 shorts, that LAAPFF’s organizers hope will reach a wider audience this year as they work to expand the festival to the outer reaches of Los Angeles County. In addition to returning to the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood and CGV Cinemas in Koreatown, the festival will screen films at the Art Theater in Long Beach.
“My goal is to really expand the scope and footprint of the festival,” said LAAPFF’s artistic director Anderson Le. “The Long Beach venue is the first initiative to expand.”
2012 marks Le’s first year overseeing the festival, after three and a half years as a programming consultant. He and Visual Communications executive director Shinae Yoon hope to bring festival screenings to the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County in the future.
“To reach into some of these larger Asian American communities in L.A. we knew that we would need to take our programming to other parts of L.A.,” Yoon said. “This year in Long Beach we’re doing a heavy run of Pacific Islander works as well as Cambodian films to reach out to those communities down there.”
Le also is hoping to create programming beyond the annual festival, including a potential mini-festival of Taiwanese films in the fall.
“Cinema in Taiwan is experiencing a renaissance, and actually a lot of Taiwanese American filmmakers are moving to Taiwan to make Chinese-language films. We want to showcase that trend,” Le said.
Taiwanese films will also be in the spotlight at this month’s festival, including on closing night with Mandarin-language “Joyful Reunion,” which Le described as “a cross-cultural romantic comedy.” He also warned, “It will make you really hungry afterward because it has great photography of the food.”
Opening the festival at the DGA theater tonight is “Shanghai Calling,” which stars Bill Paxton, “Happy Endings” star Eliza Coupe and Daniel Henney as a Chinese American lawyer who finds himself a fish out of water upon his relocation from New York to China. The film is the feature directorial debut of Daniel Hsia, whose short “How to Do the Asian Squat” screened at LAAPFF in 2002.
The festival is unveiling two new programs this year: the C3 Project Market, which will bring 10 filmmakers together to network with about 40 Hollywood movers and shakers, including representatives of CAA and NBC. The 2012 festival also kicks off the VC Film Development Fund, an invite-only competition among 20 filmmakers. From the approximately 40 scripts the filmmakers have pitched, six will be announced as finalists tonight. VC will develop the scripts throughout the year, and then in December will select three to be funded up to $100,000 by the program, which is underwritten by Comcast.
Also continuing is VC’s Armed with a Camera Fellowship. This year’s participants will screen their 10 digital shorts Sunday.
Foronda was a member of the inaugural class of the fellowship, and the “Sunset Stories” director hopes to see more films -– both in and outside of the festival -– that go beyond the story of the immigrant, or as Foronda describes them, “Why am I Asian and why am I here?” stories.
“With African American and Latino cinema, they’ve progressed to just being part of American culture so they don’t have to tell those [immigrant] stories anymore, and I think Asian American cinema has been lagging as far as carving out that space for us,” he said.
Tickets for LAAPFF are available at asianfilmfestla.org. General admission is $12. For students, seniors and members of VC or DGA, admission is $10. Tickets for special programs such as opening and closing night run from $30 to $100.
–- Emily Rome
Photo: Monique Gabriela Curen and Sung Kang in "Sunset Stories." Credit: Cherry Sky Films