The invitation came to me one day not long ago as I was conducting some important networking tasks on my Facebook account — a filmmaker friend of mine was soliciting from me a “top ten” list of what I considered to be the most important Chinese language films of the past decade. In the official invitation that accompanied the message, the list, to be culled from the opinions of filmmakers, critics and scholars of Chinese cinema, seeks to promote Chinese cinema as “this remarkable decade draws to a close” [their quote].
Needless to say, I never formulated one. As as of this writing, I quite likely missed my colleague’s deadline for submitting a list. It’s not that I wasn’t interested — indeed, there have been plenty of works over the past ten years that would be worthy of anyone’s “top ten Chinese language films of the decade.” It’s just that the request arrived just as I was in the middle of viewing entries for this coming film festival season. On top of that, I’m in the middle of re-thinking the whole concept of “top this” and “most important that,” in preparation of issuing an altogether different kind of list in the coming months. For me, distilling a decade’s worth of experiences and happenings into an arbitrary list doesn’t seem to take into account the times in which we live, and how events of both the distant and recent past shape our perceptions of how we define them through ephemera such as movies, music or books.
More on that in a future diary posting…
Besides reviewing entries and pondering the collective personality of the body of works that will seek festival exposure and distribution this coming year, I took some much-needed time to watch some commercially-made studio product (read: yeah, yeah, I went to see that AVATAR movie and even paid the extra $3 for a pair of 3-D shades that I may not remember to bring along with me next March when ALICE IN WONDERLAND, starring Johnny Depp lands in theaters). I plan to watch more Oscar-bait in the near future, but I came away from my movie-watching with two salient observations:
1) That guy Roland Emmerich seems to find any kind of way to blow up the White House and downtown L.A. in any and all his movies. I guess he doesn’t like America too much. I also suppose I should relocate to South Africa before the year 2012…
2) I re-watched BEHIND ENEMY LINES, a 2001 film that came out right after the World Trade Center was leveled back in September 2001. It starred Owen Wilson; as for the plot, I’m sure you can look it up on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes.com. That movie, and all the others like it that came out this past decade, re-inforced my observation that Hollywood movies about war are increasingly feeling like bad documentaries; and that when Jack Bauer grows up and stops working on the 24-hour clock, he’s gonna turn into Dick Cheney. The horror…
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.
The first blog entry on this online diary (an auto-generated one, I might add) came with the title, “Hello world!” Much like those announcement one gets these days when new baby pictures show up in one’s in-box, this is a new diary that attempts to document my thoughts and observations on the long journey to the 26th edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, a tentpole project of the organization I work for — Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts center which turns the Big 4-Oh in 2010.
Since this is a birthday-themed posting, I should mention that we’ll be making mention of Visual Communications’ rather weighty achievements over the past four decades, and yes, if you’ve read my other online diaries — all available on the Film Fest site as well as the Facebook Fan Page — you can count on me to continue my rather curmudgeonly observations on Asian diasporic cinema, and the people who produce it, distribute it, and view it.
Does it sound like I have little to say? Don’t worry, that’ll change soon. In the meantime, welcome, and I’ll be posting again shortly…