- 2012 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (May 10-20 2012)
In May of 2012, Visual Communications hosted its 28th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), offering ten days filled with feature-length films, short programs, panels, and social events that formed a cross-section of the current state of Asian American media. Visual Communications (VC), a Los Angeles-based media collective founded in 1970 by four UCLA EthnoCommunications students, launched the festival in 1983 to promote Asian and Asian American cinema in the U.S. Initially offering a program of twenty films, LAAPFF now features more than 150 and has grown into a cultural and intellectual forum where filmmakers, producers, audiences, and critics discuss what they see dramatized on-screen: the challenges and potential futures for a minority media struggling to survive at the margins of a risk-adverse Hollywood. Strikingly, even though the modern studio system is based in Los Angeles, a city that houses one of the country's largest and most diverse populations of diasporic Asians we have yet to see a significant increase in Asian and Asian American industry workers. LAAPFF thus aims to showcase the work of filmmakers emerging from the local L.A. communities as well within the international arena.
LAAPFF 2012 seemed to portend progress as the West Hollywood-based Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Koreatown's CGV cinema complex spilled over with excited moviegoers. At the same time, it animated, for this attendee at least, a number of uncertainties and contradictions that inevitably accompany a media environment in the midst of a major transformation around how content is produced and distributed. Abraham Ferrer, who has served as VC's curatorial director since 1987, notes in an interview that across its name changes-"Asian American International Film Festival" (1983), "The Los Angeles Asian Pacific American International Film Festival" (1987), "VC FilmFest" (2000)—the festival has always aimed to facilitate a variety of production models and cater to multiple audiences.1 He identified three major, sometimes intersecting, trajectories in the festival's history: one driven by independent artists, a second steered by a steadily-increasing number of filmmakers aspiring to break into the mainstream industries, and a third which emerged in the 1990s when practitioners began to experiment with online digital technologies (Ferrer). Throughout its history, LAAPFF has carefully navigated Southern California and the Asian-Pacific region's cultural geographies while facing a shrinking pool of state resources, an increasingly cutthroat media marketplace, the differing tastes of the international art cinema circuit and global Hollywood, and the ascendance of affordable digital productions. While these pressures have been present since the festival's inception, this year's event highlighted some of the anxieties the neoliberal marketplace has activated within the Asian American media landscape. I offer here a critical review of LAAPFF 2012 that teases out some of these tensions and shares insights offered by VC's veritable living archive, Abraham Ferrer, about the historical trajectories of VC and its festival.
LAAPFF's unwavering support of independent filmmakers grows out of the political groundwork paved by its founding organization. VC began in 1970 with the explicit aim of empowering members of the Asian American community to re-represent their own history and experiences. This media collective aligned with the decolonization and Third Cinema movements taking place in Africa, Asia, and especially Latin American throughout the 1960s. The term "Third Cinema," coined by Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino, encompassed a growing international commitment to creating films that would lead to the radical liberation from a U.S.-led first world capitalism, epitomized by Hollywood's corporatized, hierarchical studio system (Mimura 30). Thus, VC built educational programs aimed at transforming filmmaking into an accessible, self-sustainable, and collaborative process (Mimura 37). These foundational commitments continue to inform curatorial choices made by LAAPFF's programmers today, such as the decision to spotlight Musa Sayeed's feature film debut, Valley of Saints (2012, India), at an opening night screening. Shot on location on a shoestring budget, using only DSLR cameras, no script, and non-professional actors, Valley belongs to a filmmaking tradition once embraced by VC and Third Cinema...