Until late January, Julie Hwang was the Community Relations director for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas. It was the kind of volunteer job you could do around your paying gig – in Julie’s case, as an electrical engineer at Texas Instruments. But then AFFD Executive Director Chiho Mori left the festival to develop the Film Asia program for the Crow Collection of Asian Art, and suddenly the festival was down one director. So in stepped Julie. In the six months since she’s been the Interim Executive Director, she’s guided the festival through uncertain economic times while gathering a slate of films that represents the largest continent in the world. Ahead of the festival’s debut on Friday, she spoke about the challenges of staging this year’s event, the state of the Asian film scene in Dallas and when she’ll start planning AFFD No. 9 as part of the Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: So this is your first year as the Interim Executive Director. How’s that going?
Julie Hwang: It’s been … pretty stressful. But also really good I think, because the entire board I thought worked really well together this year, and we’ve all taken on a lot of different tasks and worked really hard to pull it all together. I really think we’re having one of the best festivals that we’ve had in our eight years.
A&S: And not only were you thrust into a new role, but you took over leadership of the festival amid pretty bad economic times. How has that affected the festival?
J.H.: It definitely has had a lot of effect. You have to get more creative with how you try and raise money and find sponsors this year. Even how you try to market. We had been supported previously by Sapporo, but they told us they couldn’t sponsor us this year, so that was kind of a blow. But I guess it just requires a lot more footwork to find new sponsors. In some sense, we were kind of thinking of the Obama campaign as an inspiration – just find lots of sources of small contributions to add up.
A&S: If all that weren’t enough, you also have a festival run totally by volunteers. How does that even work?
J.H.: I’m mystified how it manages to work, but it does. It’s kind of good that we’re dealing with Asian films, because they’re 12 hours ahead. Usually, we’ll be trying to contact distributors when we get home from work and we’ll have an answer in the morning.
A&S: While an Asian film festival can be seen as a genre festival, it also encompasses an array of cultures. What kind of effort do you put into making sure you have all parts of Asia represented?
J.H.: That is one of the main things we strive for. We definitely try to get at least one film if possible from each major country or region. That depends, too, on what’s available – sometimes we can’t always do that. But it’s definitely one of our main focuses – Asia’s so big, and there’s just so many types of films and so many countries. We really want to at least try to get one film from each country.
A&S: I think people might also be surprised to know that a number of the films are also made here.
J.H.: We try to find Asian-American films as well. So we have our Jack Soo documentary about the actor Jack Soo. And All About Dad was also made in the U.S. It’s about a Vietnamese-American family living in California. That’s something we’ve always tried to do.
A&S: If this year’s Oscars were any indication, there seems to be a wave of interest in Asian films. Slumdog Millionaire was the night’s big winner, while Departures from Japan was the surprise winner in the foreign film category.
J.H.: Definitely in the last few years there’s been a heightened interest in Asian film. But even with that heightened interest, a lot of the films will kind of pass Dallas by, which is a shame. There are definitely people here who love the films – they come to the festival. As long as that’s happening, we’re going to bring the films to them.
A&S: So the festival runs through July 23. I’m always curious – when do you start working on next year’s event?
J.H.: [Laughs] … This year I’ve told everybody we’re going to give you two weeks and then we’re gonna get started. … I don’t know if it will really happen – we’ll be like all exhausted after it. But as soon as everyone can catch up on their sleep, we’re going to hit the ground running.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.