A scene from Children of Invention
Most film festivals don't make it five years, let alone 10, and if they do, it's often tougher later than it is in the early years because the novelty has worn off. But not only will the San Diego Asian Film Festival celebrate its 10th anniversary in October, it'll do so in style—by giving its attendees a little gift, in the form of more screenings and more movies. Yes, after 10 years, SDAFF (www.sdaff.org) is expanding, running for two weeks instead of one.
There were a lot of reasons for the expansion, says Leeann Kim, executive director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation, not the least of which is her confidence that she can fill the house.
“Even though the economy is the way it is,” she says, “we have more members than ever before. Every single screening we've done throughout the year has been sold out or at capacity. We've built that audience. We know they'll come out.”
There's also the size of the theaters at UltraStar at Hazard Center, the festival's home. The theater that holds the opening-night film seats more than 400. “We're constantly turning people away,” Kim says. “So we created more screenings.”
And that's a good thing, considering that the festival will show more than 200 movies during its 15-day run. Sure, a lot of them will come from outside the U.S., but one of Kim's specialties over the years has been to come up with as much Asian-American programming as possible.
“We're still defining what being Asian and Asian-American means,” she says. “By presenting these films, we're helping people to figure that out. A lot of our films have to do with discrimination within our own community.”
Of course, there will be plenty of entries from overseas, including John Woo's epic new movie, Red Cliff, and Ip Man, a biopic about the man who taught Bruce Lee kung fu—both from Hong Kong. And there will be several panels, including one on North Korean films, and appearances by celebrities like John Cho of Star Trek and the Harold and Kumar films and Lost's Daniel Dae Kim, not to mention dozens of documentaries, shorts and animated films.
That makes for a lot of movies and a lot more to schedule and coordinate than even just a year ago. But there's one more big difference between this year and last year. Kim, probably best known for her years as a reporter for KGTV, the local ABC affiliate, left her job there last September to focus exclusively on SDAFF.
“All the skills I used being a journalist transfer so well into running a media-arts organization. I'm telling stories that people need to hear. The film festival is my newscast. I get to choose the stories, bring people together, and our ratings are the number of people who come out.”
And, she says, she's seen a transformation in the last year. “I've seen a change in our staff, as to what they're able to do and their outreach. We have a social marketing team, and it just feels like we're doing it the right way. I think we're going to blow it out of the water this year.”
Still growing: We think the San Diego Film Festival is really starting to come into its own. The selection of documentaries at this year's fest—which runs Wednesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 27—is terrific, and there are a pair of solid high-profile world premieres, as well as an evening with Richard Dreyfuss and appearances from the likes of William Shatner, Jason Mewes, Barry Pepper, Cole Hauser and Adrienne Barbeau. And, yes, even though it's a festival that seems to be growing up, the parties are still on. www.sdff.com. See our special section on the film festival.
Diving for pearls: There's just something so swanky and decadent about sitting poolside at The Pearl Hotel, washing down a good dinner with a cocktail or three and catching a good movie with your BFFs. The fall lineup for The Pearl Hotel's Dive-In Movies, held every Wednesday evening, includes The Shining (just in time for Halloween, natch), Almost Famous (since it's just down the street from the Sports Arena) and one of John Hughes' best films, Planes, Trains & Automobiles. The flicks are free, so, please, tip your server well. www.thepearlsd.com.
The power of movies: Rebecca Webb, curator of UCSD's ArtPower! Film program, is a fan of Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival. Several of the movies set to go this year premiered there, including Kobe Doin' Work (Sept. 30) and My Dear Enemy (Oct. 13). But it's not all live from New York. Coming up this fall, there's Tampopo (Oct. 22), the best movie about noodles, ever, and the little-seen Sleep Dealer (Nov. 19). Oh, and 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (Oct. 9) is not to be missed, as Dean and Britta, formerly of the band Luna, play live music to Warhol's cinematic examinations of the likes of Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper. It all goes down at The Loft on the UCSD campus. www.artpwr.com.
Bravissimo!: Moving into its third year, San Diego Italian Film Festival continues to grow and become more impressive. This year's collection of Italian films, which runs Thursday, Oct. 15, through Nov. 7, will be screened at both the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park and the Birch North Park Theatre and includes a Paolo Virzi retrospective and, of course, a gala (hey, they're Italian!). www.sandiegoitalianfilmfestival.com.
You'll see dead people: Yes, Night of the Living Dead, the first of George Romero's zombie movies, is all about the living dead. But it's also about racism, both in terms of its story and its gorgeous black-and-white appearance. It screens at dusk on Friday, Oct. 30, at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills, courtesy of the San Diego Film Critics Society. www.sdfcs.org.
Sweet: One hundred years ago, Mary Pickford made her silver-screen debut. Of course, this was before the talkies, but she would go on to become one of the most successful film actresses of all time, dubbed “America's Sweetheart” even though she was (gasp!) Canadian. From Friday, Nov. 6, through Sunday, Nov. 8, Encinitas' La Paloma Theatre will host the Mary Pickford Silent Film Festival—four features and four shorts, including Poor Little Rich Girl. www.lapalomatheatre.com.