Film Review by Carolyn Hamaker: “Got It Maid”

*spoilers ahead*

Got it Maid is one of the short films that was selected to be in the 2017 Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival. It was created by Shawn Semana, a recent graduate from UCLA. The film is about Mila, an underprivileged Filipina maid, who has a passion for singing. Mila works hard to make a living for herself and her son. Mila’s son encourages her to follow her dreams and enters her into a singing contest. She must decide if she is willing to chase after her dream or continue living the life she is used to.

One prevalent theme in the short film was the importance of maintaining a support group of friends and family. The relationship between Mila and her son as well as Mila and her friends is heartwarming. The film also examines relationships of class and race. The film looked at injustices that many working class Asian Americans face. However, you don’t need to be Asian American to relate to the film. Many working class people face the same challenges Mila as her friends. Furthermore, Mila discovers that life in America is very different than it was for her in the Philippines and many people can relate to this as well.

The production quality of this short film was excellent; the lighting was appropriate for the film. The camera angles and music helped convey the themes. While some of the film’s themes are expected in Asian American film, one scene in the film is very unexpected. This unexpected scene made the film more interesting and it added another dimension of intersectionality to the film. The short was easy to follow and went in chronological order.

This story does not portray stereotypical representations of Asian Americans. This film helps to combat stereotypes. Mila and her son speak perfect English and Mila is not hypersexualized. The film shows that Asian Americans are just like everyone else, with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I would recommend this film to everyone.

This film can be seen at Cinemapolis during the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival on Thursday, April 20. 

How do we plan IPAAFF? by Kris DiNardi

There is less than one month to go until the start of the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival.

Here’s how we put on IPAAFF every year.

IPAAFF is comprised of students and faculty at Ithaca College. It is a course offered through the Center for Culture, Race and Ethnicity called “IC Pan Asian American Film Festival in Action: The Making of a Film Festival.”

IPAAFF is split into three committees: Film Selection and Documentary, Marketing and Finance, and Community Outreach and Academic Panel.

The film selection and documentary committee watches all of the films submitted and works on some of the programming. The community outreach committee works on creating events and reaching out to the community. The marketing and finance committee covers IPAAFF’s social media and promotion along with the finances.

Each committee meets once per week to discuss its responsibilities and to make decisions about how to move forward. Every week, each committee creates a report and presents to the other committees.

The workload of each committee depends on the time of the semester. The film selection committee must review all the films once the submission date is closed, while the marketing and finance committee have the majority of their work in the fourth block.

The very nature of IPAAFF promotes collaboration and we are all dedicated to put on the best festival as possible. But IPAAFF’s success not only relies on us, but on you — yeah you!

Anyone can get involved with IPAAFF by volunteering. Most importantly, you can be involved by coming to our events, April 20th – 22nd.

Get ready for IPAAFF!

We hope to see you real soon!

Our history by Monica Chen

The IC Asian American Alliance, a student organization at Ithaca College, recently shared a video on Facebook about Vincent Chin. The video, which was originally posted on NBC Asian America’s Facebook page on May 18, 2016—what would have been Vincent Chin’s sixty-first birthday—asked a group of Asian Americans what they knew about Vincent Chin.

While a few people knew who he was and his story, there were also a few who did not know and had not heard of him. This speaks volumes about the education system in the United States, and specifically, the erasure of Asian American history. Vincent Chin was a Chinese American living in Highland Park, Michigan who was murdered on the evening of his bachelor party by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. Ebens and Nitz assumed that Chin was Japanese and blamed him and “his people” for the layoffs that were occurring in Detroit’s automotive industry, which was tied to the growing success of the Japanese automotive industry, and they beat him with a baseball bat. Chin died four days later in the hospital.

Ebens and Nitz were originally charged with second-degree murder, but were ultimately convicted of manslaughter, which consisted of no jail time, three years probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs. One of the interviewees in the NBC video mentions that they would have received a more severe punishment if they had killed a dog. After hearing of this verdict, many members of the Asian American community in Detroit spoke out against the injustice. Helen Zia, a journalist, and Liza Chan, a lawyer, came together as leaders for a civil rights charge against Ebens and Nitz on two counts for violating Chin’s civil rights, since the attack was motivated by Chin’s race, ethnicity, and national origin. In 1984, Ebens was convicted of the second count and sentenced to twenty five years in prison, though his conviction was overturned in 1986 and he was acquitted in 1987. A civil suit was then settled out of court in 1987 for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin, in which Nitz had to pay $50,000 and Ebens had to pay $1.5 million.

Chin’s murder and the subsequent court cases highlight the importance of public pressure against instances of injustice. His story and the lack of awareness around his history show that there has been a clear erasure of many acts of injustice against Asian American communities. Not only is Asian American history ignored and silenced within the general public, but also within many Asian American communities themselves. It is important for us to know our history, to know how our communities have been affected by acts of injustice and also to know how people before us have stood against this discrimination and hate.

This is why I find the work that we are doing as a part of the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival so important. The festival brings to light Asian American stories. And while not all of the films detail the specific history of certain Asian and Asian American communities in the United States, the historical context is still there. That history is ever-present in our lives, in the privileges we have and the struggles we face as Asian Americans today.

And even in thinking about Asian American history and specifically Vincent Chin and his place in Asian American history, we need to consider the countless others who have faced injustice, who have been killed, attacked, and mistreated as a result of their racial, gender, religious, and sexual identities. This is especially poignant in our current climate, where we see rampant xenophobia, racism, and sexism in our country and around the world. Especially seeing as March is Women’s History Month, we think of the Asian American women, along with women of all other racial categories, and the ways in which their lives, their stories, and their struggles have been erased from history. It is important that we continue to endeavor to give a voice to the communities who have had theirs taken away, to not forget those who have sacrificed, who have fought, who have lost, and who have died as we continue to fight for our rights and the rights of others.

How do we define an Asian American story? by Anna Gardner

It seems simple enough, but for me it has become a strain between two ideas. You could say anything made for and about Asian Americans constitutes an Asian American story. But what if the content or story does not focus on an Asian American story, but the writer or filmmaker is Asian American? This is where I’ve had my dilemma.

The argument for: when working on the film selection committee, one of my professors said, “Why can’t a beautiful film not about Asian Americans, but created by Asian Americans be programmed? Wouldn’t that be a celebration of Asian American talent?” I definitely agreed. I have friends who are artists and their paintings or designs are not always focused on their identity, but as an artist, their identity as a woman, as black, as someone with a mental disability, etc., is very important to them. By being of a minority identity but creating something just as well as anyone else, isn’t that a reason to take pride in that creation?

The argument against: What is our film festival trying to accomplish and what are the stories we’re trying to tell our audience? What if we ended up programming films by Asian Americans, but the plots had nothing to do with being Asian American, could we still call this the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival? Another professor of mine argued that the story has to incorporate Asian Americans as characters or situate the story in an Asian American experience for it to be a good fit for the festival. I definitely agree with this as well. If we are trying to expose more people to Asian American stories, those stories should include Asian Americans as main characters.

So where does this put me? I’m leaning more towards not thinking of a film that does not focus on an Asian American story, but the writer or filmmaker is Asian American, as NOT an Asian American story. Maybe if a documentary were made about that filmmaker as to why they think it’s important to be an Asian American creating genre films, I would accept the filmmaker’s personal story as an Asian American story. But the actual film they create is not. But we will see; I may have to compromise. Stay tuned for the final program of IPAAFF!

Film Reviews: the process of selecting films by Louis Medel

*spoilers ahead*

For class, we watched some films to decide whether to include them in this year’s film festival, and one of the films we had to watch was called “I Am Jupiter, I Am the Biggest Planet.” Another film we had to watch was called “The Secret Life of Asian Americans.” Only one of these films actually depicted Asian Americans and showed some of the struggles and experiences of Asian Americans…and that film was “The Secret Life of Asian Americans.”

This short film revolves around a Filipino American college student who is striving to become a filmmaker. In his film, he talks about microaggressions he deals with such as being labeled a Pacific Islander and not Asian American by other people. He also tells viewers how he felt when the Academy Awards last year tried to be very diverse, yet made jokes at the expense of Asians.

This film is, of course, not perfect. There are still audio and editing issues, but the message is real. I have never related more to a piece of media before in my life. On the other hand “I Am Jupiter, I Am the Biggest Planet” confused me because it is not an Asian American film. It is a film that so happens to be directed by an Asian American. The film takes place in the Philippines and tells the story of prostitutes. There are actually no Asian Americans in this film. No Asian American issues are brought up and if this film were to be shown at the festival it would be problematic. It would be problematic because it is not an Asian American film. Representation matters so why not show a film that talks about the struggles of being Asian American in media as opposed to a film about prostitutes in a Asian American film festival?

A typical week with the film committee by Jordan Nitsch

Monday hits and at two o’clock, the film selection committee gathers. The meeting starts off as Anna, in charge of the selection, lists off assignments from the previous week. The committee members responsible for each film gives it their rating and provides a short explanation to their reasoning. The approved films are categorized so other members can rate them. Films that are ‘maybe’s are sent out in a list to other festival organizers to review  while the higher ranked films are judged by the selection. Other housekeeping items are discussed and reviewed by the committee. Each member may give a report on his/her assignments for the week. The head of documentation, Danielle, may review her progress, or Abi, the head of filmmaker communications may be briefed on her upcoming duties. By the end of the meeting, new film assignments are assigned by email.

Wednesday hits and the festival organizers all meet. Depending on the week, a professor might visit to discuss film analysis or Asian American cultural history or a committee heads might run the meeting updating the entire group on its overall progress. The later involves cross-committee input and cooperation on issues that affect more than one group. Sometimes a single committee will run a group meeting. The film selection committee, for example, will lead a discussion on films the committee itself has been unsure of, leaving it open for debate and opinions from the entire assembly. This input is recorded and taken into consideration for each film and where it will be placed. Discussion is open about the nature and message of each film and the film committee takes it all into account.

For the remainder of the week, the film committee members watch their assigned films. And look over the films approved by other committee members. An analysis form is submitted for each new film reviewing the technical aspects, story structure, message, and impact. Members prepare their notes and reviews for the next week to start all over again on Monday at two o’clock.

An inside look into my committee by Taylor Walker

My main task for IPAAFF as a member of the community outreach and academic panel committee is to help organize the scheduling of the film screenings, academic panels, gala, and other events occurring during the film festival. The committee is also responsible for arranging all of the special guests and alternative activities apart from film screenings such as academic panels, spoken word, and forum theatre, amongst other creative, yet entertaining events.

Although the community outreach and academic panel committee was not my first choice, I have been enjoying my ability to utilize my event planning skills to enhance IPAAFF. Being a part of the this committee provides me with insight of the construction of film festivals. As an aspiring filmmaker, my experience with the committee has provided me with a broader perspective of film festivals.

Of course, being a part of the committee, a variety of ideas have been suggested, such as having a stop-motion workshop or breakdancing show. The ingenuity of the ideas shared amongst the committee provides flexibility and options. Although all of the ideas shared are great and innovative, one of my favorite ideas being implemented so far is through the closing gala. This year, the closing gala is expected to be extravagant. Apart from the gala being a cocktail attire event, it will also have art, fashion, and music to accompany it. We are dedicating a significant amount of time to the preparation of that event. Of course all of the events will be awesome, but I must say the closing gala will be an event to look forward to!

Film Review by Carolyn Hamaker: “Everything Before Us”

*spoilers ahead* 

“Everything Before Us” (2015) is WongFuProductions’ first feature-length film. WongFuProductions started as a YouTube channel created by a group of Asian Americans who create short films. “Everything Before Us” is a film about a world where the government, specifically the Department of Emotional Intelligence, issues ratings to people based on the quality of their relationships. The ratings act as credit scores and help companies determine whether they want to hire someone. The scores are also used to evaluate other people and determine if each individual person wants to be with someone who has a low or high relationship quality score. The movie falls into the drama, comedy, and romance genre.

I am not a film major, but the technical components seem well executed. The camera angles, lighting, and music all helped enhance the story in the film rather than distract from it. In terms of narrative structure, the film went in chronological order with a few flashbacks in the middle of the film. The flashbacks were easy to follow as it was one couple remembering how they first met. The editing of the film was well done. There were two couples that were followed in the film. The movie would show part of one couple’s story and then switch to a scene with the other couple’s story.  At some points, the two couples’ stories would come together and they’d all be in the same scene.

What I enjoyed about the film was that it was not cliché. The film focused on a young couple who just graduated high school and another older couple who had broken up long ago, but had been brought back together due to circumstances with the Department of Emotional Intelligence. The storyline is creative and brings in elements of old and new. It is the typical story of “government can’t control who people love,” but it is told in a non-cliché way with well-developed characters. The teen couple struggles with long distance as one of them goes to college and in the end they don’t get together. This was a twist I did not expect and it illustrates the theme that sometimes love won’t always work out, but it’s important to take responsibility and recognize your faults in the relationship.

The main reason I love this film is because of the way it represents Asian Americans. This film tells an American drama story with actors that could have been any ethnicity. The filmmakers decided to make most of the main actors in the film Asian. The focus of this film was Asians as Americans without mentioning racism or immigration like many other Asian American films. This film portrays Asians as being Americans and this helps reduce the stereotype that Asian Americans are foreigners. I believe the film did a great job capturing the hardships of being in love and making relationships work. I highly recommend this movie and I think it’s great to support Asian American filmmakers, films, and actors! The movie is available on Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, and iTunes.

A growing love for IPAAFF by Nikkole Mora

IPAAFF has been an amazing experience. At first, I thought I would be upset that I am not on the film committee, but I am enjoying my time as a member of the academic panel and outreach committee. I am already planning to return next year.

I’ve learned so much from working on this committee and have had wonderful experiences. Through the academic panel and outreach committee, I make contacts not only within student organizations on campus, but I also get to meet advisors over at Cornell. I’ve learned about so many different organizations that I never knew existed, and I am so excited to collaborate with them. The Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival has allowed me to express my creativity, and although there is not much time this year for all my ideas, I hope to carry them over to the next IPAAFF. Being on this committee has allowed me to fall in love with IPAAFF, and I look forward to working on it every year and making it better than the last.

I want to create a space where we can talk about topics affecting the Asian/Asian American communities. Specifically, I want to introduce different Asian cultures through various fun activities for everyone. I may be overly ambitious, but I have a lot of dreams for IPAAFF and I hope for them to come true within the following years. I would like to see IPAAFF grow into a huge event because I am passionate about it. I want IPAAFF to be successful and continue to grow for a long time. I would like everyone to fall in love with it in the near future.

Back in action by Monica Chen

This is my second year in the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival class and as I was determining what to write for this blog post, I decided to look back on my first post from class last year. I did so in order to see if there are any changes to my perspective of this course and my experience with the film festival itself.

My first blog focused on Asian American representation in media, which is something I was, and continue, to be very passionate about. At the beginning of the 2016 spring semester, the #OscarsSoWhite was trending in response to the fact that none of the Oscar nominees that year were people of color. Even during the 2016 Oscars, however, when actresses and actors spoke up about the lack of diversity, Asian Americans were still the butt of the joke and Asian American representation was not addressed.

In my first post from last year, I talked about the “Bamboo Ceiling,” as Jane Hyun coined it, that limits Asian Americans in the professional sector and more recently in the media and Hollywood. This bamboo ceiling is still incredibly present, although we do see more and more Asian American actresses, actors, screenwriters, and producers actively defying it and speaking out against this discrimination. We can see some examples, such as Fresh Off the Boat, which was a popular topic last year and continues to make strides. Constance Wu, in particular, as a main actress in the show, is very vocal in interviews and on social media about the importance of not only Asian American representation in media, but also female representation, specifically for women of color. We also see actresses and actors like Karen Fukuhara, Ken Jeong, Steven Yeun, and Priyanka Chopra coming more into the spotlight and the public eye, as well as raising awareness about this lack of diversity and abundance of stereotypes and misrepresentations of cultures in Hollywood.

I continue to feel very strongly about Asian American representation in media, not only as someone who identifies as Asian American, specifically an Asian American woman, but also as a media consumer and someone who is interested in potentially becoming a media creator. As a writer, the importance of diversity of character and trueness to life is not lost on me. I think it is amazing for people to be able to read a book, watch a film, watch a TV show, or even just something as simple as see a commercial on TV or view an advertisement on a billboard and be able to see themselves represented. To see their cultures and heritages represented.

In my personal life, it is especially important as I think of my parents’ immigration history and my background being born and growing up in the United States that I can see myself and others who identify as Asian American to see ourselves in portrayals of what we look like or how we behave. As someone interested in entering the advertising and marketing fields, creating portrayals of individuals and groups that stray from stereotypes, as well as acknowledge and validate the lives and voices of many who have been silenced throughout history is extremely important to me.

This is why I am glad to have the opportunity to return to working with IPAAFF. It was a great success last year and I felt as though I learned a lot, not only about the historical context of Asians in America and how that has affected film and media portrayals, but also what steps can be taken on an individual, local, and even global level to start addressing these issues of representation. Being able to meet with writers, producers, and directors who are so outspoken in their advocacy and activism on this issue, as well as seeing work that speaks to a group often tossed aside by the model minority myth and boxed in by stereotypes and regulations was an incredible experience for me, and I look forward to what this semester holds.