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Monthly Archives: October 2009

While traipsing around the film festival circuit the past few weeks, I caught the public unveiling of a new website,, while attending the Hawaii International Film Festival. The brainchild of Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, formerly the founding executive director of HIFF and a founder of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (or NETPAC for short), is basically an online cineplex, loaded with a library of nearly 200 feature-length works from throughout continental Asia. For a nominal monthly fee, feature-length films can be viewed via streaming technology on a laptop computer or broadband device such as a flat-screen television connected to some sort of online service plan. The splashy presentation of yet another streaming/VOD delivery stream, when juxtaposed against a traditional, communal delivery mode of movie watching such as a film festival was once again a glimpse into the possible future of film distribution and presentation.

At first glance, the website itself was attractive-looking. The films I looked at during the site’s free trial period ( becomes pay-to-play on November 1, affording unlimited access for a flat monthly fee of less than $10US) reflected a virtual Asian Pacific-centric version of a Criterion Collection, with many titles either inaccessible or unavailable to most audiences. With a plan to ultimately provide in excess of 500 or so titles to the collection, the concept of is an ambitious one. It also represents a next logical step of sorts in realizing the founding goals of NETPAC, specifically, to expose audiences in the Western Hemisphere to the diverse cinemas of East Asia, South Asian, continental Asia, and to a lesser degree, aboriginal and ethnic Pacific Island nations. The streaming technology of the site certainly mollifies various licensors concerned with online piracy issues, though you never know about the ingenuity of online hackers these days. And, the diversity of content would seem to insure a broad range of viewing experiences for cineastes and novice film buffs alike.

Given the presentation of a new, online mode of movie watching experience and the issues raised by the “I’m a Good Downloader” campaign I encountered the week before in Busan, I was left to ponder once again the question of the whole film festival interface’s continued (threatened?) pertinence to both artists and audiences, and to the comparative delay in conceiving a one-stop destination for uniquely Asian diasporic cinema. As I expressed after the presentation to Anne, a fellow filmmaker and cinematographer based in Honolulu, I’ve long lamented NETPAC’s lack of a two-way “dialogue” when it comes to promoting works by makers of Asian descent regardless of whether they were born, raised or work in North America, Europe, or Latin America — as well as makers from various Asian Pacific countries. I have to believe that this is an institutional mind-set, and that various enlightened individuals do indeed see the importance to keeping a trained eye on what yellow and brown people are creating in the First World. In speaking about my own direct experiences: Philip Cheah, a longtime NETPAC cog and past program director of the Singapore International Film Festival programmed major elements of the APA “Class of ’97” at the 1998 edition of SIFF, and has since kept an eye out to include new and unique APA voices in subsequent festivals. And VC alum Tikoy Aguiluz has done likewise with his Cinemanila International Film Festival, inviting me to curate a couple of programs for short works as well as a showcase of Armed With a Camera productions for the 2002 festival.

But does this sense of discovery and inclusion extend to other NETPAC members and associates who organize their own festivals? The late producer and film distribution magnate Wouter Berendrecht once proclaimed in a panel discussion some years back that a market for works by Asian American makers does not exist anywhere throughout east Asia, and while that revelation may be quite discouraging to APA producers, in reality that statement makes perfect sense. What cinephile back in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Manila or wherever would give a rat’s ass about filmmakers like Christine Choy, Loni Ding, Justin Lin, Chris Chan Lee, Helen Lee, Renee Tajima-Pena, Ham Tran, Wayne Wang, Richard Wong, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, or a whole legion of filmmakers like them — filmmakers whose lives, experiences, and stories find no identification whatsoever with teenagers and schoolgirls from Tokyo to Seoul, tekkies who labor in Manila, Singapore and Mumbai who just want to escape into their favorite movie character, or farmers and laborers from Istanbul to Taipei utterly disinterested in how people live in an imperialist country like the United States?

Who, indeed?

On numerous occasions I’ve told myself at some point, I’ll sit down with Jeannette and come to some deeper understanding as to how cultural workers and producers of APA cinema can find a participatory voice within something like NETPAC. Do we even need to be included? And does that inclusion obscure the coming reality of the online library/festival that a destination like foreshadows? No doubt, many in our creative community are indeed exploiting the web as a presentation destination as seen through the numerous self-produced webisodes popping up nowadays. But hey…weren’t we all just pre-occupied with making features?!?!?


Hey folks, remember me talking about APA webisodes just now? Here are a couple that are rolling out now from folks whose work I admire. Grace, who stars in and edits MANIVORE is a member of our program committee and the “queen” of the social networking universe here in Hell-A. And Chris, who conceived and produced MEGABOT, seems to star in just about every significant APA film produced these days. Check out their work, and let them and their collaborators know what you think.

MANIVORE from Arowana Films
MEGABOT from Cherry Sky Films

It’s a couple of weeks away from the American Film Market, and I’m busy crossing the Pacific Ocean (both literally and figuratively) in my ongoing search for works to program into next year’s Film Festival. Some of the works I’ve encountered are quite exceptional, others a bit disappointing, and a couple of them, appallingly bad. As for me, an entire fortnight of random observations and impressions upon leaving Busan, South Korea where I attended the Pusan International Film Festival and Asian Film Market have provided food for thought:

• PIFF has seemingly executed a company move inland, nominally, to a pair of multiplexes situated in Centum City, adjacent to the Busan Exposition and Convention Center. The new theaters, owned and operated by competing studio conglomerates CGV and Lotte Entertainment, added no less than twenty screens to the festival’s seating capacity, while the seaside MegaBox cinemas markedly showed the effects of the move: many of the downstairs shops have either lost their leases or relocated. More than a few colleagues who attended screenings at MegaBox observed that the whole joint felt deserted – just the way I felt when I finally made it there for a couple of market screenings.

• The Centum City venues, meanwhile, exuded a sense of newness appropriate for its new locale. The CGV multiplex, for instance, was housed on the seventh and eighth floors of the obscenely massive Shinsegae Department store, an edifice proclaiming itself the world’s largest department store. On the inside, I couldn’t disagree. Boasting floors of designer shops and vendors, an ice-skating rink, art gallery, cinema lounge, a grocery store, and who-knows-what else, Shinsegae felt like Tiffany, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Gelson’s all rolled into one, in a concentric design that reminded one of the Guggenheim Museum from hell.

• CGV and the neighboring Lotte theaters have seemingly siphoned the legion of youthful cineastes who flocked to MegaBox when I first came to Busan in 2005. Screenings were well-attended enough, but not as sold out as when I first attended. My first thought was, nearly fifty screens spread throughout the city was too many for a film festival. My other, contrary impression was, the festival needed to grow once again, so of course they would need the extra screens.

In a sense, Busan and its wildly popular film festival reflects the popularity of cinema and its pride in showcasing homegrown product — this in spite of the fact that the worldwide craze in Korean cinema has cooled off for the time being. Yet there were signs that the local industry, and film festival organizers themselves, have taken steps to address the shifting demographics of today’s movie watchers. To wit:

• At many of the theater venues, interactive kiosks promoting anti-piracy efforts were installed in the lobby. While moviegoers were waiting to enter the theaters or perusing festival souvenirs, lines of teenagers and couples viewed a virtual parade of Korean movie stars proclaiming “I’m a Good Downloader,” a mantra repeated over and over on the pre-show trailer before every program. Promoting safe and legal online entertainment practices with a cute campaign slogan was genius, so much so that I spent a good amount of time looking for one of the “I’m a Good Downloader” t-shirts complete with happy-faces, in spite of the fact that my own downloading practices — while legitimate and work-related — may be a little, ahem, questionable.

• PIFF’s parallel Asian Film Market made an opening-day announcement that, starting in 2010, marketgoers with have the opportunity to view market offering via video-on-demand, in addition to the traditional scheme of attending market and press screenings. VOD is a viewing option that has not yet been installed in the firmament of festival screening options, but in the larger framework of serving audiences, there have been examples of VOD being used to full effect for the benefit of audiences and organizers alike. The Hawaii International Film Festival, for instance, organizes one of its short film competitions for emerging short film artists as an online VOD affair, with viewers able to vote for their favorite entry on-screen, in real-time.

Given my previous thoughts on the festival/audience interface and whether we need to fear an erosion of moviegoing audiences, I think we’d have to take a close look at how the realities of interactivity and access will enhance the availability of cinema. And perhaps, alter the landscape of traditional moviegoing.


It’s a Tuesday evening here at Visual Communications, and in a couple of days I’ll be boarding a plane bound for British Columbia to begin the annual trek across both sides of the Pacific to scour the international film festival circuit for intriguing and audacious (not to mention, excellent and crowd-pleasing) selections for the 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It’s a good thing that I’m practically already packed: I’m in the middle of a major clean-up of the festival archive in an effort to recycle papers that either have no practical use any longer, or are already in an electronic form. “Greening” Film Festival Central while pumping Beyoncé on the iTunes is going along at a brisk pace, yet the more I dump, the more files I discover. And that doesn’t include the boxes of files accumulated by development and marketing personnel, boxes of duplicate records that I neither expected nor have time for. I need a magic wand, but so does just about every other film fest director. I think I’m gonna shut up, recycle, and count my blessings.

Throughout the just-concluded summer, I’ve had a chance to play back taped transcripts of some of the panel discussions from last spring’s Film Fest; and additionally, peruse some follow-up blog perspectives from other individuals sounding off on the current state of Asian Pacific American cinema. What’s been on my mind? The current state of APA cinema itself. One of our panels, featuring documentary filmmakers Spencer Nakasako and Tadashi Nakamura, was entitled “What’s the Matter with Asian American Cinema?”, and had not only Nakasako and Nakamura but the entire audience fumbling around the question of whether over four decades of growth and development of the field has resulted in a cinema movement that is dysfunctional and static. It was hard not to laugh to myself as Nakasako hijacked the conversation (why not…he is clearly a more verbose speaker than Nakamura, and true to form, not at all adverse to stepping on other people’s toes), and hearing the divergent pespectives of filmmakers and audiences both young and old weighing in on the topic. Among the choice nuggets of wisdom was this exchange, gleaned by Nakasako as a result of an e-mail questionnaire he conducted in preparation for the talk:

1) The concensus from the respondents of Spencer’s questionnaire: there is really nothing the matter (or wrong, I must assume) with Asian Pacific American cinema; and

2) One of the current issues that could be seen as “wrong” with the field has to do with the very film festivals (the one I run among them) that purportedly champions APA cinema, and why the programming process is perceived by disgruntled filmmakers as bypassing their efforts for the “Hollywood”-styled preoccupation for features and commercial-leaning works.

Visual Communications has itself undergone several transformations in its own four-decade long existence; questions exists as to its own pertinence in a contemporary mediamaking environment where anybody with the ability to purchase a cheap digital camera and desktop editing equpment can make their own “masterpieces.” So, I’ve skulked around around all summer long pondering what in fact IS the matter with Asian Pacific American cinema. As I view works in the coming weeks and months, and at the same time ponder the questions raised by mediamakers and tastemakers in the field, I’m hoping to arrive at some conclusions of my own.