A Filmmaker’s Guide to Understanding IPAAFF by Sam Paulson

A year ago, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about if you asked me, “What does IPAAFF mean to you?”

My response to that question would probably have been, “IPAAFF, is that an acronym for something?”

I had never even heard of the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival until I went to an IC Asian American Alliance meeting with my friends. As a film student I was initially attracted to the idea of planning a film festival since I had already been part of a film festival and it was one of the highlights of my year. While I initially looked at it from a film point I view, I soon realized I was forgetting about a major part of IPAAFF, which is the Asian American identity aspect of it.

I am not Asian American; however, looking back, I have always been influenced by Asian culture in some way or another. As a child, some of my favorite movies were the animated features of Studio Ghibli by Hayao Miyazaki. These films have stuck with me and are still some of my favorites today. As I grew older I became fond of Asian food, as well as Asian cinema. Asian cinema has such unique styles very rarely seen in the west. Whether it is the over the top action of a Jackie Chan film or the slow burn and powerful emotions of a Kenji Mizoguchi film. Asia has always been recognized as one of the premiere film industries, however, this respect and historical significance has not transferred to Asian Americans.

Asian Americans have often been forgotten or swept under the rug in the history of Hollywood. This was often because of the presence of “Yellow Face,” which is when white actors would play Asian characters. Whenever they were in films they were often relegated to archetypal characters like Charlie Chan or the Dragon Lady. These racist characters dominated much of how the public viewed Asian Americans. Even in contemporary films, the idea of “Yellow Face” is still present. In 2015, Emma Stone was cast as a half-Chinese character even though she is not Asian American. As a film maker we need to take a stand against the subversion of minorities. While I have only just begun to learn about the treatment of Asian Americans in film, I am excited to learn more and apply it to my own process of film making.

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