In it’s 9th year, the San Diego Asian Film Festival continues to grow, and while I wish it all the success in the world, I hope it doesn’t become too big. Part of its charm is the family type atmosphere it creates.

Attending a Film Festival in general can be an overwhelming experience all together. It’s really easy to go to a festival and always feel like you are a couple of steps behind. With that being said, the SDAFF is perhaps one of the most accessible and easy to negotiate. One of the greatest aspects of the festival is that all of the films are screened in the same theater location. When trying to schedule out your day there isn’t any extra traveling involved. The parking is free, and there are plenty of eateries near by so you don’t have to subsist entirely on popcorn and hot dogs.

One of the best things about my experience this year was that I was able to attend all of the events. Last year I was deathly ill, so this year, I made sure to load up on vitamin C before making the trek out to San Diego. Upon arriving, checking in and getting settled was relatively painless. There is always a measure of anxiety going into one of these things. Fears of not existing in anyones databases are probably the most prominent. All of these fears were assuaged and I was off to the premiere film of “Ping Pong Playa.” The film was enjoyable, and the crowd seemed into it.

After the premiere the festival hosted a little after-party at the Airport Lounge near the San Diego Airport coincidentally. Being that I was at this festival alone, attending these kinds of events can be somewhat intimidating. As soon as I got there, all of that went away, as I was able to meet some very friendly people. Filmmakers, as well as festival staff, all seemed like they were there to have a good time. I didn’t get the hard sell from anyone, which was a total surprise to me, and thus didn’t have any of my film experiences influenced by what I thought of the filmmakers as individuals.

The festival itself establishes a pretty strong sense of community. The theater lobby is always showcasing some sort of Asian food, as well as various wares. Some of the food setups reminded me of dinner parties at my relatives houses growing up. It was this type of atmosphere that made me feel right at home. The SDAFF tries really hard to be inclusive, while celebrating Asian and Asian American culture, and they do a really great job at achieving that. On some of the days, there are live performances by Asian musicians. So even if by Saturday, you haven’t seen a movie yet, you’ve already done quite a bit at the festival.

The festival staff does an excellent job of keeping things moving. While there were some projector problems, mostly because of the constant format switching, the festival ran fairly smoothly. One skill set that this staff has is in their moderating of the Q and A sessions. It’s so easy to let Director/Actor Q and A sessions spiral out of control, and I didn’t see it happen once. They were on a pretty tight schedule and the festival staff was able, for the most part, to keep to it.

With all of these events going on, the main way a film festival is measured is by their programming. With the amount of Asian Film Festivals that are in California alone, it is hard to distinguish your program and not be showing the same films as everyone else. This is really difficult to achieve purely on the availability of Asian and Asian American Films. While there is a lot of overlap involved, the SDAFF works to try to create a program that is unique. It makes for a broad range of films from a broad range of countries. What is great about the variety is that if you are just a casual film fan, and you want to see just an Asian Action movie chances are, you will be able to do just that. What’s also great about this is the range in the quality of the films. There were some really bad films at the festival, as there were some really great films as well. This makes for a more complete experience.

With any film festival, one will never be able to see everything that they want to see. Thankfully, I was able to organize my schedule so that I could see almost everything I wanted, as well as attend most of the events I wanted to attend as well. What I noticed during the first weekend was how much casual, walk-in traffic they had. There were folks who just showed up because they wanted to see a movie, and they ended up opting for a festival entry just because it fit their time table. Most people who attend a film festival are there to see a specific film. There were a lot of folks at this event that just wanted to see any film.

Some of the standout features for the festival were
“Ping Pong Playa”
“My Father”
“Accuracy of Death”

In addition to these features, there was a great, if not grim, shorts program entitled “Around the World.” The five shorts were from different countries and consisted of some of the most depressing content I have seen. Some of the standouts from the program included:
“A Drop of Life”
“The Women’s Kingdom”

The SDAFF is a small festival that’s growing, but it’s a festival that doesn’t seek to do anything more than celebrate the vision of Asian and Asian American film. It occurs during a month where there are a lot of Film Festivals, so it’s a difficult one to make it to. If you live in the San Diego area, then there is no reason for you not to check it out. Though, even if you aren’t in the SD area, it may be worth making a trip out to next year. If you have never been to a film festival before, Asian or otherwise, there are few that are as comfortable as the SDAFF. This year, I didn’t get deathly sick until after the festival. Yes in a bizarre coincidence, I got the same horrible head cold the day after I got home from the festival. Stay tuned for the film reviews as this is the first day I have been able to write coherently, though that might not make all that much difference.

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