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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    Wang Celebrates Asian-Americans with a Film Festival

    This summer, the Charles B. Wang Center, hosted its third Asian-American Film Festival at Stony Brook University. The festival took place from August 3 to 6, and featured a range of independent films and shorts from anime to personal documentaries. The festival also provided an opportunity for the Stony Brook community to meet and discuss the films with some of the directors and actors in a post-screening reception.

    The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) is currently celebrating its 29th year. The festival was sponsored by Asian CineVision, an organization founded in 1976 that ‘[brings] awareness of our wonderfully diverse communities to different parts of the country,’ according to Risa Morimoto, the Executive Director of CineVision. Morimoto spoke before the scheduled film screening on August 5 along with Sunita Mukhi, the Director of the Wang Center. The films were chosen from those presented by CineVision to Mukhi, who ‘looked for a good story, an engaging issue, a well-made film, and cultural diversity’ when she made her choice.

    The nineteen minute anime short, Bunny and Clydo, and the independent film, Eve and the Fire Horse, which were originally scheduled to open the festival, were screened on the last day of the festival. The opening night and reception took place with an unusual and unconventionally funny short, Mansyon (Mansion). A twenty three minute glimpse into the life of a distant couple hired to take care of a regal house, Mansyon weaves a gradual tale about what happens when the poor discover how to live like the rich.

    Mansyon was followed by Rigodon, a surrealistic narration of the interwoven lives of three Filipino immigrants that was a response to the post 911 culture. Directors by Keith Sicat and Sari Lluch Dalena, husband and wife, attended the screening with Arthur Acuna, who plays Amado in the film. The film brings together Amado (the fighter), Salome (the devotee) and Dante (the poet) through poetic cinematography to question the worth and value of the American dream. Sicat, who said that ‘the film began as a vision’ was right in his view of its ability to leave the audiences self-questioning. Dalena supported this by saying that Rigodon ‘challenges the viewer to think, and to meditate.’ Audience members had the opportunity to interact with the cast and crew at a reception that followed the film.

    Another impressionable short was Nalini By Day, Nancy By Night, a hilarious documentary by Sonali Gulati that delivers with ‘a combination of animation and real life footage,’ according to Mukhi. The short enthralls us with statistics. For example, the average call center employee earns $210 a month or the equivalent of the starting salary of an MBA graduate in India. It also brings to light the question of globalization and its implications on Western countries. In a whimsical, quick-witted style it educates even those who claim to be experts on outsourcing by going straight to the source-call centers in India.

    The short was followed by I for India, a film culminating from personal home videos of Yashpal Suri, an immigrant from India conflicted between two worlds and identities. The film uses old Bollywood songs, anti-immigrant rallies and speeches, and self-shot videos that served as the means of communication for the Suris in Britain and their extended family in India. The film is poignant, honest and above all, multilayered and universal in presenting its themes of racism, immigration, national identity and alienation, among others. On the opening night of the festival, Mukhi said to the audience that she hoped the festival ‘will succeed in informing them about Asian Americans and the issues surrounding them.’ The film festival ended with Journeys from the Fall, a saga about a family’s cry for freedom during the Vietnam War.

    In response to her purpose of hosting this festival, Mukhi said ‘The intention is to present to our community here a nuanced humanity of Asian America, a three dimensional glimpse into the aspirations, yearnings, triumphs of people of Asian origin.’ The films at the festival contained perspectives from both extremes of a generation, a country and a nationality. The themes were surprisingly universal, considering the fact that the festival was primarily about Asian-American culture, and the conflicts were not simply brought to our attention, but were reconciled, sometimes with great success. Regrettably, the audience that filled less than half the seats was mostly comprised members of the community, and not the University. Hopefully, a festival that is capable bringing together a vast array of an often untapped media talent and culture will not go unnoticed in the future.

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