This year’s set of cinematic shorts programs playing at the Los Angeles Asian Film Festival continues to enlighten and educate. My tip is that anyone curious about SouthEast Asia should check these curated selections out! Each nation has a uniquemess that not everyone is aware of, and I’m constantly amazed at what the filmmakers from here can produce. Even if you can’t make it to this event, most of them can be found streaming online.
From the program guide on one of these programs:
Through various frames and points of view, we are brought closer to encountering an ancient Pacific past. Once again Pacific Cinewaves pushes the importance of āina, ancestry and belonging, challenging how Pacific people have been imagined throughout history. In these films, seven filmmakers become modern-day navigators using their hands and creative vision to steer each story.
One piece which caught my interest is The Future Behind Us. It’s a fascinating introduction from various talents who have used sight, sound, and art to remember their Polynesian past. Whether that’s with nature or even totems, it’s a fascinating world to behold. Watching one short film is not enough to understand it all. The folks introduced here have an installation in Pasifika Transmissions. More information can be found by visiting their official website.
Last year featured one short, How To Catch A Taotaomona (review here), which I loved. This coming of age story was imbued with child-like wonder and mythology. Just who these mysterious figures represented, connecting back with history. Hawaiian Soul was another which does more than be a biography about George Jarratt Helm Jr.
This year’s selection, playing this weekend, examines other aspects. There’s a few themes worth repeating, like Pili Ka Moʻo and Ka Hoʻi – The Return, but what makes these pieces remarkable is that they will always fascinate. Perhaps the most important work is Tapa: The Cloth That Binds Us.
Saturday Shorts Program Programming
Other themed collections include From Visions to Reel, which welcomes new festival award-winning filmmakers to the fold. The tagline is “the future is now,” and of the works featured, there’s a few which caught my interest, namely A Thousand Cars At Night Looks Like A Moving Train. The idea of this work began during the pandemic, with Colin Wang pitching the idea on Kickstarter. He wrote, “The idea came about a couple of weeks into the pandemic when the full effect of the lockdown accentuated isolation. We found a parallel between our current situation and a very marginalised population: the homeless.”
The blend of animation and live-action makes up for what the modestly budgeted short film cannot do–show the road travelled from one part of the world to another.
We see this nameless individual finding a new life when he discovers a talking radio to guide him to remaking his life. It’s a pleasant piece which should speak to every man. In this film’s case, it’s finding an A.I. which motivates him to succeed.
Sometimes that’s all we need, and this piece isn’t the stand out of the seven pieces chosen. I was interested because the description noted this work is a blend of live-action and animation. What I watched is a treatise on the human condition, and additional works worth investigating are Busan, 1999, Crosswinds and Beauty Queen.
Another program is Still Life, which played on Saturday morning. Some of these shorts are on YouTube or other streaming sites. The Life I know is a wonderful and charming stop-motion animated music video from The Itchyworms. It’s best watched without a need for a review.
THE LIFE I KNOW MUSIC VIDEO
Another tantalising piece is Annah la Javanaise, which really left me wanting for more narrative. This piece is about a young girl sold off to slavery and how she came into the ‘ownership of French painter Paul Gauguin. This girl was his maid and model. In what makes this work semi-biographical is that it refers to aspects of life which is terrible under today’s standards. It also shows this artist’s dark side that isn’t talked about. I’m really hoping this brief short gets expanded to be a feature length film. The visual style expressed by Fatimah Tobing Rony highlights the confusion, pain and passion of a lady living in a prison without walls. This piece won Best Short Film at Anifilm at Liberec, Czech Republic.
Sunday Shorts Program Programming
Other programs include You Are Here (playing later tonight at the Director’s Guild of America at 7pm). From what I could find online, there’s many unique works to admire, including The Chemical Factory, which deftly examines how the pandemic affected us all from a Chinese perspective. Here, we see how the protagonist seems to succumb to the anxiety due to regular phone calls from his Chinese mother. It’s a very melodramatic animated piece which I assume nails what life may still be like, especially in the southernmost cities in China rather than the innermost.
Rainbow is perfect for today, Mother’s Day. Sometimes love is all a child needs to give, and this work by Hui Tan is a delight to watch. She said, “I grew up in China in the 80s. In my childhood, talking about ‘poverty’ was on the same level as talking about ‘death’ and was a cultural taboo. Parents prohibited their young children from talking about these topics. It was considered ‘unlucky.’ Chinese parents fear that if the children in the family mention the words, the unfortunate things the terms refer to will befall the family. In my case, my mother always took away the red envelopes I received during Chinese New Year holidays which contained money. She said she didn’t want me to have too many ideas and concepts about money when I was young.”
What’s conveyed is impactful. Parents hope for the best for their young. They want to encourage and help their young develop the right positive traits so they can succeed too.
I plan on catching a few more shorts as they’re made available. The Los Angeles Asia Pacific Film Festival never disappoints, and I find taking part in this event even remotely an annual tradition. Not only can I sometimes discover something new about my heritage, but also there’s something exotic to learn about too.