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L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest Starts This Week

The 35th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival will be presented May 2 to 10 at select cinemas in the Los Angeles area, including Little Tokyo, Downtown, and the L.A. Live Entertainment Center.

This year’s festival will showcase over 200 films, including both features and short films, with eight feature film world premieres.

Since 1983, the LAAPFF has presented over 4,000 films, videos, and digital mediaworks by Asian international and Asian Pacific American artists, and additionally features seminars and panels, in-person guest appearances, and filmmaker awards. It continues to be the largest festival of its kind in Southern California and is the premier showcase for the best and brightest of Asian Pacific American and international cinema.

The LAAPFF is a proud Academy Award-qualifying film festival for short film awards. Recipients of the festival’s Golden Reel Award for Narrative/Animated Short Film will be eligible to submit in the Animated Short Film/Live-Action Short Film category of the Academy Awards.

For program information, visit

Opening Night

This year’s festival kicks off with the world premiere of “Yellow Rose,” written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Diane Paragas. The film stars Tony Award nominee Eva Noblezada, Tony Award winning actress and Grammy nominee Lea Salonga, country music star Dale Watson, Liam Booth, Gustavo Gomez (“The Walking Dead”), Libby Villari (“Boyhood”), and Princess Punzalan (“Mula Sa Puso”), and features original songs written by Watson, Paragas, Noblezada and cast.

“Yellow Rose” tells the story of a headstrong Filipino girl, from a small Texas town, fighting to pursue her country music dreams while facing the threat of deportation.

“I am so humbled that our film has been chosen for this honor,” says Paragas. “‘Yellow Rose’ has taken over 15 years to make and it couldn’t come at a more important time when anti-immigrant sentiment is at an all-time high. This is a story for everyone facing challenges in finding their voice, their dreams and, more importantly, their home.”

“The festival is excited to showcase Diane Paragas as our first-ever Filipina American Opening Night presentation,” says Francis Cullado, executive director of Visual Communications. “We feel that ‘Yellow Rose’s’ themes stemming from our collective experiences of what defines American can create cultural cross-connections throughout our diverse communities.”

Members of the cast and crew will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening, which will be held on Thursday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.

Closing Night

The festival’s Closing Night film features the world premiere of “Empty by Design,” written and directed by Andrea A. Walter. For the first time, LAAPFF will open and close with feature films written and directed by Asian Pacific American female filmmakers and as world premieres. In addition, this year’s selections marks a milestone with 24 female directors – both documentary and narrative feature films.

“For our 35th edition, we are thrilled to bookend our festival with two world premieres, ‘Yellow Rose’ and ‘Empty by Design,’” shared Lindy Leong, LAAPFF senior programmer. “…This truly is an extraordinary moment of historical significance for Asian American Pacific Islander film and indie film festivals, and it is a win for broader representation of and support of both women and Southeast Asian American stories from the heartland to the homeland. Most importantly, both films tell compelling humanist stories and demonstrate strong indie storytelling voices in the making.”

“Empty by Design” tells the story of Samantha (Rhian Ramos), who moves back home to Manila from the U.S. after a loss in her family, and Eric (Osric Chau), who also travels back for a job. Both expatriates find themselves struggling with their new identities. Despite the disconnection to their culture, they find a sense of place by confiding in each other and eventually discover what they have long been looking for.

The film also stars Chris Pang (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Dante Basco (“Hook”), Desmond Chiam (“Now Apocalypse”), Yoshi Sudarso (“Power Rangers: Ninja Steel”), and Madeleine Humphries (“The Stepdaughters”). The film is produced by Chau, Pang, and Basco.

The screening takes place Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live: A Barco Innovation Center, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

Centerpiece Presentations

The Festival Centerpiece Presentations feature two rising Asian Pacific American filmmaking voices. “Go Back to China,” directed and written by Emily Ting, is her second feature film, which recently had its world premiere at SXSW. Justin Chon returns to LAAPFF after his award-winning film “Gook” screened in 2017, with his latest directorial and co-written feature, “Ms. Purple,” which gathered critical and audience accolades at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it world premiered.

“Go Back to China” is a semi-autobiographical film following spoiled rich girl Sasha Li (Anna Akana), who after blowing through most of her trust fund, is forced by her father (Richard Ng) to go back to China and work for the family toy business. What begins simply as a way to regain financial support soon develops into a life-altering journey of self-discovery, as Sasha discovers her passion for toy designing and learns to reconnect with her estranged family. A bittersweet portrait of a fractured family, the film also offers an honest look at the human cost of things that are made in China.

In “Ms. Purple,” partially taking place in the dark karaoke rooms of L.A. Koreatown’s stripmalls, Kasie (Tiffany Chu) works as a doumi girl – a young hostess paid to cater to rich businessmen’s capricious whims. As she struggles to hide her sorrow through soju and MDMA-fueled nights, her mind is focused on one thing: earning enough tips to continue providing for her bedridden father. When her father’s caretaker unexpectedly quits, Kasie seeks help from her estranged brother, and the siblings are forced to reconnect and reconcile the suppressed trauma that led to their separation.

Both Centerpiece Films will be presented on Saturday, May 4, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, at the Aratani Theatre with filmmakers and cast in attendance.

“An American Story”

Perhaps no single person embodies the core values we celebrate during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month more than Norman Mineta’s life and career accomplishments. The former U.S. secretary of commerce and transportation, mayor of San Jose, and 11-term congressman is the subject of “An American Story,” director Dianne Fukami’s thoughtful cine-memoir.

An American-born son of Japanese immigrant parents who arrived in the U.S. at the turn of the century, Mineta’s humble beginnings in pre-Silicon Valley to his meteoric rise to the highest echelons of American government take us on a vaunted tour of both professional and personal achievement punctuated by key historical events as an eyewitness, oral historian, and survivor.

After Pearl Harbor as Japanese Americans on the West Coast were hauled off as enemy aliens to internment camps, Mineta passed seminal years of his youth at Heart Mountain, Wyo., where he forged a lifelong friendship with future U.S. senator Alan Simpson, meeting as 11-year-old Boy Scouts.

This personal insight informs Mineta’s natural penchant for consensus building, finding common ground and reaching across the aisle, whether party or race, and trailblazing important collaborations between seemingly disparate individuals, groups, and communities that have affected governmental policy and the law of the land.

Whether as an ad hoc architect behind pro-tech initiatives as mayor to his congressional leadership of the redress movement that led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a formal apology of wrongdoing to the Japanese American community for race-based discrimination, he, in the words of President George W. Bush, was an invaluable counsel during the difficult days following the aftermath of 9/11. By his example, Bush said he mustered up the fortitude to have those conversations necessary to bring polarized communities together in a time of unimaginable tragedy for the nation.

More than a journeyman political figure, Mineta’s tenure as public servant also tremendously impacted U.S. car culture, that sacred object of American ideal of mobility, helping us to transition toward a mindset of public mass transit and environmental conservation we now continue to cultivate. His story offers us an aspirational example of how to be an American and a true patriot. Friday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Tateuchi Democracy Forum, Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo.

Special Presentations

“Our Special Presentations will highlight important moments in the Asian Pacific and Asian American film diaspora,” said Cullado, “These are important films, filmmakers, and stories that the festival is excited to share with all fest-goers. These programs represent the past, present, and future for all of our stories, storytellers, and artists.”

Here is a partial list:

• “Omeng Satanasia” (ABS-CBN Film Restoration). The restored 1977 cult classic of Philippine cinema starring the late “King of Comedy,” Dolphy, in his award-winning, multi-role performance. A Faustian tale told with equal parts campy surreal fantasy, touching melodrama, and Dolphy’s trademark comic mastery.Directed with exuberant experimentation by then first-time director Frank Gray Jr. Wednesday, May 8, at 8:30 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live.

• A Tribute to Elizabeth Sung. A collection of short films directed by and starring award-winning actress/filmmaker/community supporter Elizabeth Sung (1954-2018). Even as she was hard at work carving out a career on both the big and small screen, she actively sought opportunities to transcend her one-dimensional persona as an actress, the better to become an all-encompassing artist and auteur. From her early work with future acting colleagues and an extended career on daytime network soap operas, a pivotal invitation to the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women set the stage for her development into a multi-hyphenate artist: as actor, director; writer, producer, and even mentor.

In this special tribute program, VC recognizes her wide-ranging career and, in particular, her impact on generations of Asian Pacific American cinematic and performing talents who would follow her. This program includes Sung’s “Requiem” and “The Water Ghost,” “Half-Ass” by Victor Wong Huey, and “L.A. Coffin School” by Erin Li. Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live.

• Armed with a Camera, Vol. 2019. The Armed With a Camera (AWC) Fellowship for Emerging Media Artists nurtures the next generation of Asian Pacific American artists to capture their world, surroundings and outlook on life. Films from this year’s fellows will be presented on Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live. The 2019 AWC fellows are Leatrice Ching, Eleanor Cho, Sarah Cho, Varun Chounal, Xin Li, David Liu, Gary Mei, Chris Nguyen, and Isue Shin.

• Digital Histories. Since its creation in 2003, the Digital Histories video production and digital storytelling program for older adults is designed for older generations to create and preserve visual stories to be passed down to younger generations. Their works consist of personal and place-based documentaries and other compelling narratives that contribute to the artistic expression and healthy lifestyles of older adults. Films from this year’s Digital Histories program will screen Sunday, May 5, at 2 p.m. at the Aratani Theater.

• “Leitis in Waiting.” A raw yet tender portrait of Joey Mataele and the Tonga leitis, an intrepid group of native transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in their South Pacific kingdom. Presented in partnership with Pacific Islanders in Communications, the film screens on Wednesday, May 8, at 6 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live.

“All-American Girl” Anniversary

In 1993, there was “The Joy Luck Club,” the rare Asian Pacific American film to be distributed by a major studio – Disney. Then the following year, the APA community was once again all a buzz about the new sitcom about to hit the television airwaves of America. “All-American Girl” was that ABC sitcom featuring standup comic Margaret Cho as the rebellious teenage daughter of a traditional Korean American family. Her family was played by Jodi Long, Clyde Kusatsu, B.D. Wong, J.B. Quon, and Amy Hill. Based on the comedy material of Cho, the show premiered on Sept. 14, 1994.

Now, 25 years later, LAAPFF will celebrate and engage in conversation with Cho and her other cast members, looking back at that monumental time, the show and its impact on Asian Pacific America and all of America. Tuesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live.

“The Ugly Model”

From the outside, Philly-based Korean American adoptee and fitness model Kevin Tae-jin Kreider seems to have it all — looks, muscles, chutzpah, confidence and charisma. He has a popular Instagram and vlog and has modeled around the world for the likes of Men’s Health, Gillette and Abercrombie & Fitch. Yet since childhood, he has always felt ugly and second-best as an Asian male in America.

Doris Yeung’s “The Ugly Model” examines the paradox of a handsome male model who feels ashamed, ugly and emasculated because of his Asian ethnicity in America. Why does Kevin still choose to be a male model where validation is based on physical appearance and his ethnicity defines his marketability? Is he a masochist for beating his head against the glass ceiling or is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

Co-presented with Asian Professional Exchange (APEX) and Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). Saturday, May 4, at 9:15 p.m. at Tateuchi Democracy Forum.

‘Moana in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi’

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi” was funded and coordinated by the University of Hawaiʻi Academy for Creative Media System using students, faculty and staff from five UH campuses in the re-recording of “Moana” in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. Original stars Auli‘i Cravalho and Nicole Scherzinger joined over 30 local ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i-speaking actors and singers to produce this unique educational endeavor. Over 10,000 words were translated and 4,000 audio files recorded by student engineers.

“Moana in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi” was not made available for sale; however, hundreds of DVD copies were sent to local schools to encourage students to learn Hawaiʻi’s native language.

With English subtitles. Presented by Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, Gold House, the Academy for Creative Media, University of Hawai’i and The Walt Disney Company.

Panelists (subject to change): Chris Lee, executive Producer, Hawaiian language version; Auli‘i Cravalho, star of both versions; Aaron Sala, musical director, Hawaiian language version; Osnat Shurer, producer, “Moana.” With a special performance by a hula halau.

Thursday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. at Regal L.A. Live

Short Films

The festival will feature over 130 short films featuring brilliant talent both in front of and behind the camera.

“LAAPFF has a rich legacy of storytelling in our shorts programs,” states Senior Shorts Programmer Eseel Borlasa. “Over the years the festival has shown fantastic works, including ‘Sour Death Balls’ by Jessica Yu and ‘Grin’ by Tanuj Chopra. From the world premiere works in Armed with a Camera to the re-imagined presentations in the Re-Scored program, this year’s batch of shorts and episodics continue that legacy, with varied perspectives, forms, and visual style.”

One of the special highlights of the shorts programs is the world premiere of “The Patients,” the directorial debut from actress/filmmaker Tess Paras (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), who wrote, directed and stars in this drama. It raises the question: “How do you explain #MeToo to your immigrant parents?” Paras co-stars with Jon Jon Briones (“American Horror Story,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”), Eugene Cordero (“Kong: Skull Island”), Melody Butiu, Lilan Bowden (Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack”) and Jake Choi (“Single Parents”). “The Patients” premieres Sunday, May 5, at 7 p.m. at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., as part of the “I Gotchu Fam, Always” shorts program.

HBO continues its celebration of Asian Pacific American storytellers this year with their HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries showcase. In a unique filmmaker support initiative between VC and HBO, LAAPFF will present the winning entries from the HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition, in which APA artists bring to light their worlds, their visions, and their voices. This year’s winners are “Halwa,” directed by Nirav Bhakta, “Moonwalk with Me,” directed by So Young Shelly Yo, and “Zoetic,” directed by Julie Zhan. These films will have their world premiere on Friday, May 3, at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, and will be available exclusively on HBO platforms in May.

Three award-winning films join this year’s shorts as examples of excellence in filmmaking.

“Weekends,” an animated narrative short directed by Trevor Jimenez, was nominated for an Annie Award and was an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short.

“Wayward Emulsions,” an experimental short from director Tina Takemoto, recently won the Experimental Shorts Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.

Director Danech San brings his award-winning film “A Million Years” to Los Angeles after winning the Best Southeast Asian Short Award at the 2018 Singapore International Film Festival.

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