Film Review: “Everything Before Us” (WongFuProductions) by Carolyn Hamaker

*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.

New perspectives and diverse experiences by Anna Gardner

I’m definitely not an expert, but film festivals are kind of my thing. In the past, I have worked with the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, and most recently Ithaca Fantastik. This progression has gone from the broad to the specific, and IPAAFF is no exception.

To me, Asian American cinema refers to films created by Asian Americans with narratives focused on Asian Americans. I know what you’re thinking, “But you said this film festival is specific?” The beauty of Asian American cinema is the fact that it can encompass so much. While IPAAFF has a theme, the variety of films is vast. That is what makes IPAAFF unique. There are festivals in the United States that focus on a particular Asian country and independent film festivals sometimes have films that show the perspectives of Asian Americans, but IPAAFF does it all.

For the duration of this festival I am acting as the student coordinator of film programming. I have past experience in programming, but IPAAFF will be a challenge. When dealing with the diversity within Asian American cinema itself, my challenge to myself is to program as many perspectives as I can. I would like to focus our third year on the intersectionality of Asian American identity. What does it mean to be Asian American and gay? Asian American and a woman? Asian American with a mental health disorder? Asian American and a comedian? Asian American and undocumented? I think it is greatly important that we not only push audiences to think about the diversity of Asian Americans in regard to country of origin, but also in their additional identities and situations. Just as much as we allow the complexity in white narratives, we must for all races and ethnicities as well.

IPAAFF is happening during a time of turbulence with the current political climate in the United States, specifically, the future is becoming less certain for those who are not white, wealthy, able-bodied, or heterosexual men. I hope that this festival will be a space for dialogues and conversations about identifying shortcomings and how to make the United States more understanding and sympathetic to diverse experiences. Progress is happening and IPAAFF is here to see it through.

Third time’s the charm by Kris DiNardi

This is my first year helping to organize the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival, but I have been a participant since the very first IPAAFF, almost three years ago.

Back then, I remember some of my friends and classmates talking about a new film festival on campus called the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival. They were so passionate and enthusiastic that I wanted to be on the team that organized the festival for the following year.

Before I knew it, the following year came and I found myself drawn into two other film festivals: the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) and the Cannes International Film Festival. For FLEFF, I was a blogging intern. For Cannes, I was a ticket distribution intern for the American Pavilion. Sadly, I couldn’t help with IPAAFF because I had to take my finals early to be at Cannes.

So…third time’s a charm, right?

After interning at two vastly different film festivals — FLEFF, which focuses on a certain environmental topic, and Cannes, a commercial festival — IPAAFF aims to make the invisible minority visible by providing a space and creating a dialogue. IPAAFF sheds light on the achievements, issues and representation of the Asian American community.

From IPAAFF, I hope to gain a greater perspective and knowledge facing the Asian American community through the media that they create and produce. In my opinion, the best way to learn more about a particular group, a topic, or even an individual, is to observe, engage and support.

Film festivals are meant to exhibit and facilitate new perspectives — even if these perspectives make you uncomfortable. The greatest thing one can do, in order to grow as a person, is to try new things.

After seeing the immense amount of enthusiasm and hard work over the years by my fellow peers for IPPAAF, it has inspired me to try something new and become an organizer for the third annual IPPAAF.

Hope to see you soon.

Raising awareness through marketing by Carolyn Hamaker

I was adopted from Vietnam when I was 15 months old. My parents love watching movies and television, so I grew up watching a lot of TV and films. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that I realized the American film and television industry didn’t love me as much I loved it.

When I took Dr. Christopher House’s Introduction to Culture and Communications class during my sophomore year of college, I learned that Asian Americans were rarely portrayed in the media. If we did have representation, it was stereotypical and limited.

In high school, I watched a lot of documentaries about how women were portrayed in the media, but I never knew how badly Asian Americans were misrepresented. I never thought stereotypical representations on the media had a strong effect on me, but then I remembered thinking, “I don’t see myself with an Asian guy.” That is what I said to myself in middle school.

I realize now that the reason I said that is because Asian males are portrayed as unattractive in the media. Now, I have a Filipino boyfriend and I’m horrified that I ever even said that. Looking back at my life, I realized that my siblings were also affected by these stereotypical representations. My Indian brother told me he wanted lighter skin and my Vietnamese brother wondered why he never saw Asians as main characters. Both my brothers wish they were taller, and this is because white people are seen as the standard for beauty.

IPAAFF is important to me because there are millions of other people out there being affected by the media and its portrayals of Asian Americans. Participating in IPAAFF means I can help pick films that represent Asian Americans in a more humanized way. In media planning, I learned that “No matter how good the advertisement, it will mean nothing if no one watches it.”

I wanted to work on the marketing team because the film festival, along with the important stories and messages embedded in the films, will not create change if no one knows about it. I am an integrated marketing and communications major, and I want to use my marketing and communications skills to raise awareness of social justice issues. The IPAAFF is a perfect way for me to use my skills to promote a cause I care about. I hope IPAAFF will show people that Asian Americans can be amazing writers, directors, and actors, and I want people to see that Asian Americans do have stories to tell in a way that everyone can relate. I look forward to viewing the films the film committee chooses. I hope Asian Americans will one day be seen as Americans and I hope to see a film about an adoptee or about a family with kids from different parts of the world.

Preserving art through film by Taylor Walker

I decided to help organize the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival (IPAAFF) because I have always had a knack for event planning and a keen interest in the behind the scenes work of film festivals. From selecting films to organizing the event, film festivals have always intrigued me. As someone who is majoring in cinema and photography and plans to pursue a career in filmmaking, understanding the structure of film festivals and the selection process is important to me.

Although I will be helping with all aspects of IPAAFF, my specific role in coordinating IPAAFF is community outreach and academic panels which will still provide me with backstage knowledge of the operation and execution of a film festival. At some point in my career, I plan on working in a film festival and my experience with IPAAFF will be a great segway into pursuing this dream.

Additionally, as a female filmmaker of color who wants to properly portray other marginalized individuals in film, I feel helping with IPAAFF is crucial to me in truly understanding and recognizing the importance of not only multi-faceted representation of marginalized individuals, but also awarding films that represent the complexity of marginalized people. Historically, films created by people of color and starring people of color have consistently been disregarded by prominent film festivals and awards. Film festivals such as IPAAFF are important to preserve because film festivals specifically dedicated to art created by marginalized individuals are relatively new in relation to the history of film. IPAAFF provides an opportunity for not only Asian American filmmakers, but also other Asian American artists to showcase their work. Knowing the history of Asian Americans in film being portrayed as the enemy and reduced to stereotypes makes IPAAFF and other film festivals that award and celebrate Asian American art necessary.

Fighting yellowface by Louis Medel

To me, the IPAAFF means representation. It means Asian Americans breaking stereotypes and showing America and the world that Asian Americans are not all nerds or villains. We are not Fu Manchu or Long Duck Dong. We can be heroes and macho too. Watching TV or movies can be tough for Asian Americans because we are not often seen, and if we are seen, we are played by white actors and actresses. Being told your people can only be on the big screen if they are played by white people is not only whitewashing but also incredibly heartbreaking.

Yellowface sends the message that Asian Americans cannot be the lead role in films, so a film festival with Asian American films means people get to see Asian Americans on the big screen. It means we can see actual Asian Americans in lead roles and not white people in yellow face. Emma Stone, for example, is not Asian American nor does she look remotely Asian American, but she plays an Asian character in the film “Aloha”. For the film “Ghost In the Shell,” Scarlett Johansson plays a Japanese character, where she got her face CGIed to look more Asian American. For the amount of time that took, that is ridiculous. Why not just hire someone who is actually Asian?

For me, the worst case of yellowface has to be in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” where Mickey Rooney plays a Japanese man in which his portrayal is more of a caricature and incredibly racist. That portrayal of a Japanese person shows America that Asians are buck tooth fools, but that is not who we are.

IPAAFF allows us to fight against yellowface and to fight against the stereotypes, and IPAAFF, if anything, is a fighting mechanism to show the world Asian Americans are not the stereotypes that films represent. IPAAFF is a fighting mechanism to show the world how we want to be represented.

A space to tell their own stories by Jordan Nitsch

Film has been described as a medium of truth, so I believe it should reflect what and who we see in real life. Representation for all cultures and communities is important to me because that is my truth; it is what I see on a daily basis – they are my peers, my friends, my family. I believe all voices should be heard and that it is incredibly important for people to see themselves in major media. This festival allows for voices to be heard, it allows Asian Americans to tell their own stories and celebrates that expression.

I am glad to take part in a festival that allows me to show my solidarity and help those voices be heard. This festival will expose me to many aspects of the Asian American identity that I had previously been unaware of or had not properly considered. This festival may help young Asian American filmmakers get their start in filmmaking which will help to enrichen the medium with new ideas and perspectives. I’m excited to begin work with this community and to help move the industry away from its past failings of misrepresentation as we recognize an important community that helps make up our country.

I am also excited to work with and get to know the other festival organizers as we work collaboratively to put together a great festival. We will get the chance to learn and grow together as we work through this process and gain new experiences through this festival. I hope to form new connections and learn new skills. Ithaca’s Pan Asian American Film Festival offers an opportunity for me to further my own understanding and knowledge of filmmaking and representation and allows me to give back to my community and enables more voices to be heard and recognized in film.

From the bottom up by Garrett Chin

As an Asian American, the IPAAFF, to me, is a place for Asian American films to be viewed in the light that they deserve. Asian American filmmakers and actors don’t receive the respect and representation that they should and this is where IPAAFF comes in. Through the IPAAFF, I can support my fellow Asian Americans in their film endeavors. The IPAAFF, to me, is a place for Asian Americans to share and view movies and films from documentaries to short films to full length movies, but the IPAAFF is much much more than just a movie screening to support Asian Americans. It’s also a forum for discussion and a platform to share and promote ideas to discuss not only what it means to be Asian American, but also what being Asian American means in the film industry.

The IPAAFF is a great place to meet new people and reach out to other Asian Americans. As a community event, the IPAAFF brings the Asian American community a little closer together and is as much about community as it is about movies; hence, the pan in Pan Asian American, this event helps bridge the many Asian American communities because the film festival features all Asians and is open to all people.

I had the pleasure of attending the event for the first time and it was one of the first times I saw a movie starring an Asian man that spoke English with words that matched their mouth. I also had the pleasure of attending and performing at the closing Gala one year, so I can confidently say with firsthand experience that the event is more than movies; it’s social change and a good bit of fun too. I’m a firm believer that significant change has to come from the bottom up and this is exactly what the IPAAFF is for – creating meaningful change in the way Asian Americans are seen in film from the bottom up.