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VIDEOS: San Diego Asian Film Festival beefs up LGBT screenings

SAN DIEGO -- The 12th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival opens Thursday, and this year the lineup of screenings includes a number of movies with LGBT themes.

The festival is a celebration of cinema from around the world that’s based on Asian and Asian-American culture. It offers an opportunity to see films that are having their world or North American premieres and some films that will be utterly impossible to see anywhere else. The breadth of cinematic genres is impressive and there is something for everyone featured this year.

"In The Family”
Showing at 7:15 pm Monday, Oct. 24

Of the films featured at the festival with LGBT themes, a strong showing is promised for the heartbreakingly inspirational “In The Family,” starring Patrick Wang, who also produced, directed and wrote the film.

Set in Tennessee, “In The Family” is the tale of a man who loses his partner unexpectedly and is forced to fight for custody of their son from his late partner’s extended family. Highlighting the struggles of LGBT couples who are faced with legal tangles in obtaining and maintaining their rights when life takes a sudden turn toward the tragic, Wang is careful to show the heartache that can befall a family while also delicately examining the conservatism still prevalent in many Southern communities.

“The film that I’m most proud to be showing is ‘In The Family.’ It knocked our socks off. We could not believe the ambition of this film,” said Brian Hu, associate artistic director for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation. “The most fascinating thing to me about this movie is that not once are the words ‘Asian’ or ‘gay’ used in the film. It’s about how he can use words to impress the community, and it’s so inspiring and so powerful.”

"The LuLu Sessions”
Showing at 7:40 pm Thursday, Oct. 27

“The LuLu Sessions” is director S. Casper Wong’s directorial debut. Wong crafted a documentary of the final months of her former lover LuLu, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Louise “LuLu” Nutter was a world-renowned cancer researcher who worked tirelessly for 16 hours a day to develop cutting edge cancer treatment drugs. Her work was highly regarded among her peers as potentially being worthy of a Nobel Prize in medicine.

When LuLu wasn’t consumed by her work, she could be found drinking, swearing and chain-smoking. The portrait that Wong paints of her dynamic former love shows the depth and complexity of the human spirit to persevere in the face of one’s own impending demise.
The film will have you laughing through tears at the grace and humility that this charismatic woman musters up for her friends and family, to ease their struggle with her fate. A character of epic proportions, LuLu is the gregariously tragic archetype of the brilliant yet deeply troubled professor.

The LuLu Sessions Teaser from OO on Vimeo.

"Tales Of The Waria”
Showing at 3:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 23

Another LGBT documentary on tap is “Tales Of The Waria,” which was the winner of the Audience Choice Award at the 2011 Asian American International Film Festival in New York. Waria is an Indonesian term to describe transgendered individuals; it is derived from the Indonesian words for woman, wanita and man, pria.

“Tales Of The Waria” examines the hardships of living in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world and openly living transgendered. The filmmaker, Kathy Huang, was so intrigued by the rich history of the waria in a country so unaccepting of them that she took language courses and traveled to Indonesia to document the lives of these fascinating individuals.

The film focuses on the conventional constraints placed on the warias in their highly religious society to extremely unconventional situations that are so unexpected that one might be left astonished at the alternative lifestyles in place for a few of the warias.

One waria explains how her lover supports her still after learning of her HIV diagnosis. Another waria has a very progressive relationship with a man who is married, and his wife accepts their affair openly and embraces the waria as a welcome addition to their family.

The waria has a poignant and important history in the country and Huang helps to shed light on the men who were once tasked with the role of serving the king during the 17th century.

Showing at 9 pm Friday, Oct. 28

“Amphetamine” is filmmaker Scud’s glimpse into the fast-paced, anything goes, party lifestyle in Hong Kong and the lives of two young men who fall in love in the midst of the madness.

“'Amphetamine’ is a film from Hong Kong that is unlike anything that I’ve seen from Hong Kong before,” Hu said. “Usually Hong Kong films are martial art films, action films, romantic comedies, the usual genres that you’d find in Hollywood. But this movie is an independent film with a very distinct voice and it’s a lot of fun.”

Scud, aka Danny Cheng Wan-Cheung, uses stunning panoramic shots to capture the beauty in Hong Kong and his unique style of cinematography will leave you breathless at the splendor of the city. Scud is known in Hong Kong for being very avant-garde when it comes to his craft, and he usually is dubbed as “too controversial” for many of his artistic choices like using gay nudity in his films.

"I Am”
Showing at 5:10 pm Saturday, Oct. 22

The documentary “I Am” won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles as well as the Audience and Best Documentary Awards at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas.

Sonali Gulati directs the film about living in India and being LGBT. Gulati examines her own life and qualms at never coming out to her mother before her passing away. The film highlights the turmoil that many face in their daily lives just for living their own truths.

“I Am” is very multifaceted in that it explores the lives of so many vastly different individuals and the hardships that are inflicted upon them in a society where clinics routinely prescribe liquid medications to treat homosexuality and lovers are physically torn from one another by disapproving families.

“There’s been a trend lately of Asian American filmmakers going to Asia to make films there. So the last few years we’ve seen a lot of these films,” Hu said. “This is one where a lesbian, Indian-American filmmaker decided to try to understand these two identities that she has as lesbian and Indian by going to India and asking gays and lesbians there how they reconcile those two identities as well. So it was her way of understanding her own personal journey through going to India as a pilgrimage of sorts. But it’s a little bit sociological and anthropological, trying to get to know that community to better understand her own identity in the United States.”

“Bang Bang”
Showing at 7:20 pm Friday, Oct. 28

One local film, “Bang Bang,” was shot in San Diego by UCSD alumni Byron Q. “Bang Bang” won the award for Best First Film at the 2011 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It’s a tale of self-discovery and self-destruction in the gangster lifestyle and the seedy underbelly of San Diego gangs.

Festival known for the diversity of film selections

The festival doesn’t pigeonhole itself with only a few styles of film, with the plethora of different genres offered at the event. Organizers recommend that everyone try to experience a film that they might not normally consider.

This is the 12th year that the San Diego Asian Film Festival has taken place, with many fans from the Asian American community making it the most popular film festival in the San Diego region. The organizers received over 200 submissions from around the world, and this year films from Uganda, Asia, Iran, Mongolia and New Zealand are just a few of the regions represented at the festival.

The festival features comedies, a few kid-friendly films, dramas, documentaries, short films and even some free programs. All of the screenings are being shown at the UltraStar in Mission Valley on Hazard Center Drive, with the exception of the screening of “Oxhide II,” which will be showing at The Loft at UCSD on Oct. 26.

There are multiple special events lined up for after-party portion of the festival. Most evenings there are post-screening parties held at different venues throughout the city featuring live music, a video mash-up by DJ Mike Relm, amazing food, and appearances by some of the actors and directors of the films.

A large portion of the directors and actors will be at the screenings and will participate in Q&A sessions in conjunction with their films.

The details

For a complete listing of film descriptions and show times, go HERE. Tickets are available online now and available at the UltraStar Mission Valley Box Office starting today, Oct. 18.