11th Slant Film Fest: Bringing Bold Cinematic Visions to Houston

August 9, 2011

The Slant Film Festival returns to H-town this Thursday with another program of exciting, original short films by up-and-coming Asian American filmmakers.

Founded and run by Hyphen’s own founding editor Melissa Hung, a native Houstonian, this one-night only festival is entering its 11th edition. Building on previous success and discoveries, this year’s lineup of 5 short films take a diverse cultural pulse that is uniquely Asian American and one-hundred percent cinema extraordinaire:

"Jaime Lo, Small and Shy," an animation by Toronto-based Lillian Chan, tells the story a quiet little girl who spends her days and nights drawing. Drawn from her perspective, the 8-minute film is also about what happens to a family when one parent must go overseas for work.

"Asian American Jesus," a mockumentary directed by Yasmine Gomez, stars writer-performer Samantha Chanse. Chanse plays six different characters, including a self-important spoken word artist named Truth Is Real, who is really, really bad.

"PIA," directed by Tanuj Chopra, is a sci-fi love story about the convergence of technology and the human soul. It stars Pia Shah as a malfunctioning android in the year 2063.

J.P. Chan’s "Digital Antiquities" is another sci-fi tale, set in the year 2036. It follows a young man named Kai, who desperately seeks out the cranky proprietor of a shop of outdated technology, in order to pry some information off this old round shiny thing called a Compact Disc. 

Finally, in Soham Mehta’s "Fatakra" (“firecracker” in Gujarati), which won a Student Academy Award this year, Naveen (Samrat Chakrabarti) nervously awaits a reunion with his wife and son, whom he left behind in India three years ago when he came to Texas to work. The film will screen with Mehta in attendance.  

Hyphen had a chance to ask Melissa a few questions about this year’s festival and Asian American filmmaking in general:

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Two of the 5 films selected this year are sci-fi stories and there seem to be many other sci-fi productions by Asian American filmmakers recently. What does this suggest about the preoccupations of Asian American cinema and its visions for the future? 

These particular films were part of ITVS's Futurestates series, so they were commissioned and part of the commission was that they had to address issues in America's future. ITVS was interested in diverse filmmakers for their commissions, so there are actually a few artists I've shown over the years at Slant who were asked to pitch ideas for this series. I think many of the issues that Asian American filmmakers might be interested in (society, history, relationships between people and cultures) are themes that are prevalent in sci-fi. Even though these two films may be science fiction, at the core they are stories about love and loss dressed up with technology and androids.

More and more Asian American short films are getting into major festivals around the world.  Do you think it's still important for Asian American cinema to gain mainstream reception in the US? 

The film festival audience is a small subset of the general population. So, there is plenty of need on the mainstream media front. You still find very stereotyped portrayals of Asians in mainstream media; actors of color still find it hard to land roles, and even historical dramas (like AMC's new "Hell on Wheels," which is set during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad) manage to leave us out completely. 

On the plus side, more and more Asian Americans are taking matters into their own hands and creating their own content. Trying to change mainstream media and mainstream reception means slow change against a large machine. In a way, making your own media is the way to go, and something that Slant celebrates.

What issues of Asian America do you think resonate particularly with a global moving-going audience?  

The themes and stories of Asian Americans are the themes and stories of all sorts of people. Good storytelling is good storytelling, and something that resonates with many people, no matter what their background.

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Slant is playing at the River Oaks Theater in Houston and is a one-night event only. For more information, go to www.slantfestival.orgTickets are $10, but Slant is offering a special advance purchase discount for you, dear Hyphen readers! This discount won’t be available at the door, so if you want to catch the best in up and coming Asian American cinema, click on the link and get your tickets now!