It is not often that Asian-Americans are seen on film. According to a study from the University of Southern California, Asians made up just 4.4 percent of speaking characters in films in 2013. There is a whole realm of cinema based around Asian culture that goes unseen by the vast majority of Americans, and a new film festival coming to Ithaca College is aiming to bring the art of Asian-American cinema into the spotlight.
From April 21–24, the Asian American Alliance will host the first-ever Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival. The festival’s variety of events will take place at Cinemapolis, Cornell Cinema and on-campus in the Roy H. Park School of Communications.
The festival will primarily be made up of film screenings, but there will be other events such as an opening gala, filmmaker Q&As, a writing workshop and live performances, all of which will highlight Asian-American culture. All the events are free and open to the public.
Senior Kathlyn Quan, the founder of the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival, said she wanted to bring an Asian-American festival to Ithaca after interning at the Center for Asian American Media this past summer and helping to prepare for their film festival, CAAMFest. She said her experience inspired her to further explore her Asian-American heritage.
“I think that, for me personally, all through high school and then through college, I’ve been trying to figure out what being Asian-American means, trying to find out more about the culture, about the history,” Quan said. “I feel like, in college, sometimes everything comes full circle, and for me the film festival is that ‘full circleness.’”
When she got back to campus in the fall after her time with the Center for Asian American Media, Quan recruited Phuong Nguyen, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity; Sue-Je Gage, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology; and Changhee Chun, associate professor of Media Arts, Sciences, and Studies to help get the festival started. They took on roles as the festival’s co-directors.
A three-credit course, called Asian American Film and Film Festival, was created through the Park School for the festival and meets once a week with 16 students enrolled. The students in the class are divided up into committees to help put together different aspects of the festival, such as finance, outreach, marketing and film submissions.
Nguyen said this class allows the festival to be almost entirely student-run.
“I think that’s the beauty of it,” Nguyen said. “Although we do have three faculty teaching the class, the impetus for not only the legwork but the ideas are student driven, and I think that’s the way it should be.”
The festival has drawn on students and faculty at the college, Cornell University and from the greater Ithaca community.
“It’s been a truly collaborative process among faculty, students and the Ithaca community,” Chun said. “We wanted to make this a community event, so we reached out to many organizations in town … They provided input and they will host some … festival events and also will participate in the panels and performances. We also contacted many local business who became major sponsors and donors.”
The films that will be shown at the festival were submitted through filmfreeway.com, and one of the student committees chose which films would be screened based on themes, technical aspects and how they portray Asian-Americans. There will be both short and feature films. The student committee is still going through the selection process, but some of the featured films chosen so far include “Honoring Home,” “American Hikikomori” and “Self-Deportation: The Untold Tale of a Marginal Woman.”
Quan said the idea behind the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival is to help break down Asian-American stereotypes by showing films that accurately portray Asian-American people. She wants the festival to become an annual event and hopes people who attend will walk away with a different perspective of Asian-Americans.
“We’re trying to send, just essentially, that Asian-America is a very big and diverse sort of culture,” Quan said. “There are a lot of different people, a lot of different hobbies and interests, and we’re really trying to break away from that stereotype. Sometimes, Asian-Americans are underestimated or overestimated. It’s just showing sort of different aspects, whether they’re strengths, weaknesses or just different highlights of Asian-American culture and history. I’m really hoping to show that.”