Austin Asian American Film Festival brings new perspective to Austin film scene

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Plan II senior Valerie Chang looks forward to the Austin Asian American Film Festival. The festival will feature films from diverse perspectives that reflects contemporary Asian experiences.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Growing up Taiwanese-Chinese-American in Sugar Land, Plan II senior Valerie Chang struggled to come to terms with her racial identity and would frequently make self-deprecating jokes. But when she watched the “The Joy Luck Club” for the first time, she began crying, finally feeling she’d found a story she could relate to. 

Every year since 2008, the Austin Asian American Film Festival attracts film buffs with their exclusively Asian and Asian-American-directed or performed screening bill. This year, the event will run at the Blanton Museum of Art Nov. 3-6. Though the program doesn’t have a specific criteria for what will be shown, UT alumnus and AAAFF programming director Anand Modi said he tries to seek out films that break away from traditional Hollywood aesthetic and plotline progressions.

“With all the same kind of middle class family dramas, we’re past the point of even being able to keep track of what they are, were they any good,” Modi said. “I like the idea of films [where] it’s clear only certain person could have made. If nothing else, a diversity of voices would hopefully lead to people not just constantly making the same movie over and over again.

Modi said he also tries to find films that authentically portray their subjects. 

“I like movies that reflect contemporary Asian experiences,” Modi said. “That is to say, experiences that are not built around a Western stereotype of Asian culture and films that manage to draw lines between Asian and Asian-American cultures.”

For Chang, the diverse perspectives the movies on the bill portray are what attract her to the festival. She said she is especially looking forward to “Grass,” a comedy about two South Asian and East Asian gal pals who unexpectedly become drug mules. 

“It looks like a very interesting dynamic,” Chang said. “One that I think represents my friendships with my East Asian friends that I don’t see represented [in films].”

She also said seeing the documentary “Tyrus,” on the bill gave her a sense of pride. Directed by Pamela Tom, “Tyrus” follows the life of Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-American immigrant who painted several animated films for Disney, including “Bambi.” 

“This Asian-American man played such a vital role in some of the films,” Chang said. “It just goes to show that Asian-American people are and have been important makers and leaders in some of the things that I think are considered very American.”

Undeclared freshman Kiana Fernandez sees the festival as an opportunity to combine her love for film with her desire to connect with the broader UT Asian-American community.

“I really like film and I really love learning about different cultures and seeing people produce things,” Fernandez said. “I mainly wanted to volunteer just to see different films produced by people who have an outlet to kind of do that and it’s cool to interact and connect with people.”

Modi hopes since the festival is being held on UT’s campus for the first time, it will attract a considerable student turn out. Even though Modi has watched hundreds of films during the selection process, the allure of movies still enchants him. He hopes other will feel the same way this weekend. 

“The purpose of art is to articulate emotion in ways that we can’t really articulate in our regular lives,” Modi said. “For some people it’s music, for some people it’s visual art, for some people it’s poetry, for some it’s prose, for some it’s improv, but for me, movies. They’re the product of many small decisions that all come together [and] that remains incredibly magical for me.”  

What: Austin Asian American Film Festival
 When: Nov. 3-6
Where: The Blanton Museum of Art
Cost: $10 General Admission; $8 Student Admission