Friday, March 19, 2010

Lee Ann's Adventure in SF (through the lens of her cell phone)

The Asian American Film Festival season really kicks off with the opening of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (or SFIAAFF). And this year was going to be special, considering the host organization Center for Asian American Media is marking its 30th Anniversary. Without them, San Diego would probably never have started a film festival... so we bow down to them.

The heart of the SFIAAFF is situated in historic Japantown, where there are tons of restaurants, cool little shops, handmade mochi, and toy stores. I couldn't resist, and bought my boys Thomas the Train starter chopsticks. (don't get me started on the $11 price tag, but I'm a sucker for these things). Whether or not you see a film, just being in this area makes you feel more cultured.

A crew of five of us from San Diego make the journey to SF, and stay at the hip Hotel Tomo (a glorified Best Western) where most filmmakers and other festival programmers are staying. You know you're in SF when you can smell the familiar aroma of a certain herb throughout the night and day on various floors of the hotel. We check into the Guest Services lounge, where we collect our swag bag. Not a bad score for the ladies...

Just what I needed... moisturizing cream and cleansing oil by Shu Uemera, herbal teas, Luna Bars, lip balm, bread sticks, and EAR PLUGS! What the heck were ear plugs doing in this bag? I don't care, but someone must have known that I was sharing a room with the loudest snore monster - my friend and colleague, Gene Huh- who actually gave me permission to suffocate him with a pillow. Thanks to the earplugs, I didn't have to kill him. For fun, here's a photo of Gene from last year that I took angrily after a sleepless night.

Opening night... and off to the Castro Theater for the premiere of TODAY’S SPECIAL. Oh, the Castro. Why doesn't San Diego have a venue like this? A gorgeous, vintage theater with 1400 seats, a balcony, beautiful ceilings, a second floor reception hall, and an organ! I didn't know much about the film, other than the fact that it's a South Asian romantic comedy directed by David Kaplan (we screened his film YEAR OF THE FISH) starring Aasif Madvi, known best as a political correspondent for THE DAILY SHOW.

The Festival was nice enough to get me VIP tickets for the pre-film reception, where I bumped into lots of old friends.. and low and behold - there they were, the star and director of the opening night film. So close I could grab them. I tried to talk to Aasif but he looked at me like I was a stalker. I'm sure everyone was trying to talk to him. I had the chance to talk to David, the director, a little more, who said he really gained an appreciation of the cultural richness of New York's Jackson Heights, where the film took place.

TODAY’S SPECIAL turned out to be a total crowd pleaser, about Samir, an Indian American sous chef at a fancy French restaurant, who has become the disappointment of his family

because he's 30-something, not married, and not a doctor. Unfortunate circumstances lead Samir to grudgingly take over his family's greasy Indian food pit, Tandoori Palace, where he could not have felt more foreign. With a cast of colorful characters, and a charming love interest... TODAY’S SPECIAL lived up to its name. All I can say is that I was DYING for Indian food by the end of this film... but instead munched on popcorn with my dear friend, Anthoz, who just moved to SF from SD.

Going to SFIAAFF, is like a family reunion. Lots of old friends, former filmmakers and actors from our festival, and it's a chance for us to check-in with other festival programmers to feel out what's happening in our industry. One people who I will miss terribly is SFIAAFF's director, Chi-Hui Yang, who after 10 years will be moving on. Chi-Hui is the youngest festival director SF has ever had, and in 10 years, he's grown this festival to become the biggest Asian American exhibition in North America.He's been a positive influence and force in SD. I will miss him dearly.

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