The SFIAAFF Diary of an Awkward Film Editor

March 16, 2010


The San Francisco Intrnational Asian American Film Festival kicked off this past Thursday, and as Hyphen's film editor, I was lucky enough to get on the press list (read: free admission!) to some screenings and events.

The awkward adolescent that lives inside me decided to document SFIAAFF opening weekend in my diary as I navigate clumsily through a refined cinematic event, filled with movers and shakers in the Asian American film community. I neither move nor shake and I believe my SFIAAFF 2010 recap accurately reflects that.

Day 1

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dear SFIAAFF Diary,

My friend K and I arrive at the Castro Theater for Opening Night, which is screening Aasif Mandvi's Today's Special. K has gotten us into the pre-film wine reception. We walk up to the second floor of the theater and within a few steps I see my favorite The Daily Show anchor in a fly black suit. I maintain my usual blank expression while internally declaring, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!" I devise a plan to discreetly take out my cell phone and snap a picture of him without looking like a stalker.

Perhaps, I wasn't very discreet because a woman thought I was taking a picture of her and totally mugged for my shoddy camera phone pic, blocking my full view of an already-blurry Aasif:


See that corner of forehead and a tuft of hair? That was Aasif. Thanks, lady in red.  

The Film

We eventually make our way downstairs to the film. As the crowd shuffles down the aisle to find seats, we spot Angry Asian Man right in front of us. K elbows me. I elbow her back. Neither of us has the cojones to say "hi." We scurry to our seats.

Today's Special is an extremely likeable romantic/family comedy with great one-liners and terrific close-ups of Indian cuisine that could be classified as culinary porn. Predictable but not clichéd; familiar in a good way. Aasif's leading lady looks a Kate Bosworth who eats and I liked the cameos from 30 Rock's Dennis The Beeper King (Dean Winters) and Pineapple Express's Kevin Corrigan. Veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah is almost dangerously charming as a cabbie with serious chef skills.

The After Party

We meet up with P who points us to the free mango juice/champagne cocktails. I chat with some Hyphen peeps and do what real adults refer to as "networking." I notice YouTube regulars KevJumba and the Wong Fu men standing together. KevJumba's youthful face makes me feel old.

P, K, and I are spent and we head out but not before I get the courage to say "hi" to Angry Asian Man and thank him for plugging my professor Valerie Soe's documentary The Oak Park Story, for which I am helping out with publicity.

The night ends with a midnight Thai food run. Opening Night is a success in my book.

Day 2

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dear SFIAAFF Diary,

We head over to Mighty for Directions in Sound. DJ Shortkut kills it. Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest, and even some '90s reggae from Dawn Penn are in rotation with accompanying music videos playing on a projector.

When I get there, C informs me that I've just missed a live performance by Dumbfoundead. I frown but have to cut it short when Dumbfoundead himself breezes by. I can't verbalize any coherent sentences so instead I just tug excitedly on C's sleeve.

I see Aasif Mandvi again. I scatter.

Electro '80s spandex crew Hottub took the stage next, whom I can only describe as a mash-up between Peaches, Le Tigre, and Kid Sister. Hottub's Ambreezy jumped off the stage, made her way to the back of the club, and hugged me and C before running off.

We have never met Ambreezy before.

By the time Hottub left the stage, an Indian-inspired drum n' bass DJ set up and a gang of rhythmless folks started a conga line, we were ready to go.  

Day 3

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dear SFIAAFF Diary,

At the Clay Theater for "An Afternoon with Aasif Mandvi." I pledge to myself that despite my previous cowardice, I will ask Aasif a question during the audience Q&A. He talks about his childhood in England, his teen and young adult years in Tampa, FL, and his theater and film experience as a brown actor.

When Chi-hui Yang asks the audience for their questions, my hand shoots up, though it takes a few times for them to spot me in the dark crowd. Finally... it's my turn.

Me: "Hi Aasif."

Aasif: "Hi, who are you?" [audience laughter]

Me: "I'm Sylvie. I've seen you all weekend but I've been too scared to talk to you."

I eventually get to my question about how he feels being part of this crop of talented Indian American comedic actors on television such as Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari. Personally, I think it was one of the better questions asked all afternoon.

The guy sitting next to me asks if we can meet up later. Personally, I think it was the most awkward question asked all afternoon.

Dear Lemon Lima

After my victorious Aasif moment, I stayed at the Clay for the screening of Suzi Yoonessi's cute, coming-of-age dramedy Dear Lemon Lima. Set in Alaska, the film follows a half-Eskimo, half-white teen who's trying to figure out who she is, whom she loves, and how she's gonna win her bourgie private school's commodified "Native Games" competition and overcome its multiculturalism-gone-awry curriculum for the mostly white student body. Themes of race and difference mixed in with cupcakes and bunnies? Yes, please. It don't always have to be militant, y'all.

Day 4

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dear SFIAAFF Diary,

Daylight Savings Time has screwed us. We're running late to the 6:00 screening of Quentin Lee's The People I've Slept With starring Better Luck Tomorrow's Karin Anna Cheung as sexaholic Angela who gets knocked up and must narrow down her baby daddy's identity from five potential men.

Luckily, everyone's running on Asian time and we haven't missed any of the film. TPISW has many moments, mostly bawdy and sassy, though it's hard to break out of the sex romp comedy formula. Wilson Cruz (Ricky from My So-Called Life!) delivers some great one liners and Archie Kao (CSI) is a smiley dreamboat, but Randall Park is the most memorable as Angela's spastic, Korean American potential sperm donor whose, ahem, measurements are off the map.

Handle that, Randall.

Day 5

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Asian American Studies cohort and I went to the Sundance Kabuki theater to support our professors Valerie Soe and Russell Jeung at the screening of The Oak Park Story, about Cambodian and Mexican apartment-complex residents who successfully sue their negligent landlord. It screened alongside Curtis "The Fall of the I-Hotel" Choy's Manilatown is in the Heart about late Filipino poet Al Robles.

During the Q&A, I realize that Curtis Choy was not actually Curtis Chin, director of Vincent Who?, whom I met briefly in Los Angeles this past fall. I believe the mix-up was because Christine Choy made Who Killed Vincent Chin? and I associated her with Curtis Choy whom I then confused for Curtis Chin.

I am not proud of this fact.

Overall, I had an amazing time at the first five days at SFIAAFF. I also learned that I am not as awkward as a fringe member of this community. Or perhaps, I am that awkward, but it's the community that is welcoming and is just here to have a good time and celebrate Asian American cinema.

Yeah... it's definitely the latter.

Until next year's festival,

-- Sylvie


Read the unabridged diary entries at The Antisocial Ladder.


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.



you've motivated me to try to find these films (sometimes it's hard in Richmond, vA).  Loved your commentary (reminded me of being young!) and you have a great sense of humor.  thanks