The Asian Film Festival of Dallas gets going tonight at LaGrange with a kickoff party before the first full day of films screens Friday. Over the next few days, we’ll be filling you in on the movies you need to be sure to see. And to get things started, we spoke with AAFD Executive Director Julie Hwang over e-mail for a preview of the fest:
Art&Seek: This is your second year running the festival. Did you learn anything from year one that you’re applying to year two?
Julie Hwang: We’re always learning! A lot of the focus this year was to not reinvent the wheel. We’ve done things this year, like completely restructure our website, document all our good practices, so we can reuse and get better each year. Especially as a volunteer organization with turnaround, we need to do everything we can to ensure easy transitions, even if it’s as simple as setting up a separate e-mail account or mailbox. This is actually my last year as head of the festival. I’m moving to California, but I feel confident that we’ve built an amazing organization full of talented and dedicated people who will keep AFFD going for years to come.
A&S: This year you’re expanding to two venues – the Magnolia Theatre and the Angelika Film Center. Are there plusses and minuses to being in two places?
J.H.: There was concern about spreading out to two venues and spreading our resources, but we really felt it necessary for our program. Since we really only have one screen, that really limits how many films we can show, especially how many primetime slots we have. With the extra days at the Angelika, we can do a lot more to fulfill our mission of getting Asian and Asian American films seen in Dallas. The extra foot traffic at the Angelika and at Mockingbird Station has also been incredibly helpful in increasing our exposure and hopefully getting more people aware of the festival.
A&S: Is there a film that you really feel like people should not miss? Maybe something that could fly below the radar if people aren’t looking for it?
J.H.: I always encourage people to check out the short programs. Shorts are always my favorite part of any festival. Shorts aren’t always easy to see outside of festivals, and they really represent some great work from up-and-coming filmmakers. We have a few shorts this year that were made by local filmmakers in Dallas and also the new one from Greg Pak, who grew up in Dallas.
Another film that is a little unusual for us this year is the documentary 9500 Liberty. Eric Byler, the director, is a well-known Asian American director, and he and his co-director, Annabel Park, were drawn into the immigration debate in their community and made this film about it. There are few Asians in it, no action or geishas or anything like that, but it is just an incredibly compelling and highly relevant film. I think anyone living in Dallas should see it, especially as the immigration issue is not going away and will be such a big factor in our community going forward. We intend to have a panel discussion after the film as well, where people can voice their thoughts and opinions.
A&S: Could there possibly be a film more awesomely titled than Robogeisha?
J.H.: Ha ha. That is a brilliant title, isn’t it? I still like getting raised eyebrows from folks when I tell them they should go see The People I’ve Slept With.
A&S: Speaking of geishas, it seems like the festival serves two masters. On the one hand, you want to give people the traditional elements of Asian culture that they might expect from an Asian film festival. On the other hand, you want to expand people’s understanding of Asian culture. How do you balance those missions?
I think it always goes back to the films. We are about championing Asian and Asian American film and filmmakers, and also bringing in fantastic films that everyone can enjoy together. We have struggled a little in the last year about who we are and what our audience is.
What we realized is that we are about inclusion and diversity. It is a great strength of the organization. As long as we’re bringing audiences together and giving them something to remember, we’re doing well.