Arts and Culture

Vancouver's Asian Film Fest Is Nothing to Sneeze at

It showcases Canadian and US filmmakers of Asian descent, and the audience is growing.

By Steve Burgess 6 Nov 2009 |

Steve Burgess writes about film for The Tyee every other Friday.

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VAFF celebrates year 13.

The Vancouver Asian Film Festival probably has enough initials already -- VAFF makes for a tidy little title. But to be exact, the event celebrating its 13th year at Tinseltown Cinemas this weekend is more properly described as VNAAFF -- the Vancouver North American Asian Film Festival. And if that acronym sounds like a messy sneeze, well, it would only be seasonally appropriate.

The VAFF's mandate differs from that of the Vancouver International Film Festival's Dragons & Tigers series. Whereas the VIFF offers films from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the rest of the continent, VAFF offerings are drawn almost exclusively from North America. These are English-language movies made by Canadian and American filmmakers of Asian descent.

Given that fact, one would expect a program leaning heavily on the themes of generational and culture clash. According to festival program director Kathy Leung, that's not so much the case in year 13. "A few years ago it's true we got a lot of stories about identity and generational clashes," Leung says. "Now that seems to have taken a back seat."

Leung cites Thursday night's festival opener Children of Invention, writer/director Tze Chun's story of kids helping mom with her career as a scam artist. "The culture clash may be there as a backdrop," Leung says. "But it's more of a family story."

Growing audience across North America

VAFF is part of a growing North American Asian festival circuit that kicks off every March with the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (try that acronym for mouth-feel). Festivals in San Diego, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and Portland follow, as well as Toronto's Reel Asian festival.

Founded in 1997 by president Barb Lee, VAFF has enjoyed growing attendance over the years and is largely self-sustaining (possibly due to the lack of an athletes' village). This year the festival is expecting attendance of 3,000 for a program mixing shorts, dramatic features, and documentaries. It's been a challenging year for filmmakers and festival organizers alike -- the former affected by the economic downturn, the latter by a more recent concern. "We are expecting a good turnout," Leung says, "in spite of all the swine flu worries."

So if you hear a big sneeze in the lobby, don't panic. It could just be someone trying out the acronym for Vancouver North American Asian Film Festival. Please say it into your elbow. Some festival highlights: the "Seriously Shorts" collection, Saturday at 11AM; the locally-shot Dim Sum Funeral, co-starring Vancouver's Steph Song, screens Saturday night; a documentary filmmaker's panel discussion called Adventures in New Lands, Saturday afternoon at 1:30; and the international spotlight film, Li Tong, from Chinese director Nian Lu, screening late Saturday evening.

Programs are available at Tinseltown, free of charge.  [Tyee]

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