by Walter Chaw Brian Hu and his ace staff, including programmer Christina Ree, walk the walk. Their work with the Pacific Arts Movement in San Diego is consistently rewarding, revealing the deficiencies in not just the distribution of Asian films in North American theatres but also the paucity of such fare in our mainstream festivals as well. Without the kind of careful curation provided by the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), these titles have a tendency to fall through the cracks. What Brian and his team do year upon year is vital for the visibility of Asian film in the United States and, not incidentally, for the cause of Asian-American filmmakers of the diaspora. It's at this festival that Kogonada, then E. Joong-Eun Park, premiered his underseen debut, Late Summer. (He returned five years later with his breakout, Columbus.) It was one of the first fests to feature Better Luck Tomorrow, I Was a Simple Man, and Minari. It engaged in the discourse while I was still avoiding the discourse. Even as I joined the movement late, I was welcomed as if I'd hopped the train at the first station.
Though I was unable to do another in-person appearance this year, the SDAFF is back in business and I am blessed to be able to cover it virtually. At this point, so late in the year, we wouldn't even entertain the idea of covering another film festival if we didn't think it was important. The SDAFF is that rare festival with a focus beyond screening the same six films everybody does, their line-up curated with an eye towards representation rather than glory. Better yet, the films they showcase aren't likely to have large openings later that same week. It's what festivals like Telluride and Sundance used to feel like: communities as opposed to bazaars where the quality of the film supersedes the availability of talent to parade down a red carpet. I don't know that there's another fest I trust more than this one--nor a curatorial group more diverse or, not inconsequently, aligned specifically to my tastes. Their goal is inclusion and education instead of shame and gatekeeping. It's a model to which I aspire, independent of the movies that embody it. Let's get to it.