There are annual season-markers like Christmas and then there are annual season-markers like the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival.
I don't know much about film festival culture. In fact I know next to nothing about film festival culture. I know that there are festivals like CAAMFest up north and the San Diego Asian Film Festival down south and that they pop up in other cities like the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and the New York Asian American International Film Festival. I also know that there are non Asian American-specific festivals like Sundance etc. and that those come with their own cultures and practices and historical weight.
However, though I may not know much about film festival culture, I deeply appreciate the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) even though I can never get the acronym correct on the first try.
Founded in 1983 by organization Visual Communications, an amazing Asian American media archive and filmmaking center, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival was created to "promote Asian and Asian Pacific Cinema." Sundance had been founded five years prior in 1978 while Filmex, a Los Angeles-based film festival, was founded in 1971 and would run until the inception of the LAAPFF. The Wikipedia entry for the LA Film Festival, founded in 1995, states that "there was no film festival in Los Angeles until 1995, when the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (LAIFF) was started," but not only was LAAPFF running but the Pan-African Film Festival would start in 1992 so don't always believe everything on the internet.
22 years later, the film festival is still going strong and has managed to do a pretty good job adapting to the times. This year the festival opened with Wong Fu's first feature, followed the next night by an amazing sci-fi philosophical piece called Advantageous which I managed to make. Over the course of the week they presented over 150 films and panels at four theaters across LA.
I don't take my attendance at the festival for granted. Nestled in that crucial period between the start of finals and the end of the semester, as a college student I would only be able to make it to closing night and I could only afford to volunteer (that is, I could only afford the bus fare). For more than one year I stood outside ready to pass out flyers and direct people to the reception. One year I was dressed in a Toyota t-shirt handing out chotskies and trying to convince them to buy a Camry.
Now as a grown-up human, not only can I afford to buy my own tickets but I have the powers of time management that allow me to essentially block out the week for movie-watching.
The films can be relatively uneven in quality, but this year almost everything I saw was pretty well made. I went to three shorts programs, one centered around films from the LGBTQ community, one comprised of films made through Visual Communication's Armed With a Camera Program/UCLA's Community Media Laboratory, and one featuring films made by and about youth.
I caught a beautifully shot documentary called Everything Will Be that captured the gentrification of Vancouver's Chinatown, followed by one of the most entertaining and 21-century documentaries I've seen called Twinsters which follows adoptee Sam Futerman as she learns of a twin sister who lives across the globe. These in addition to the aforementioned Advantageous which, at its core, asked the audience to consideration the value of survival in the face of a changing world, rounded out the features I caught.
Like many good things however, it wasn't necessarily the actual flash and bang that has made the LAAPFF such a cornerstone season-marker as the city heads into summer. Between films you find yourself wandering to get coffee or a bento or a Diet Coke. You run into friends who join you, meet strangers who become co-conspirators, and seed projects that become programs. Business cards and phone numbers become tickets into late night warehouse parties and noraebang rooms you didn't know were happening.
Though there are always one off events and concerts that you can find you people at, in many ways the LAAPFF is one of the only true festivals that brings all corners of Asian American Los Angeles together. LAAPFF allows you to see a friend Friday then cruise to the LGBTQ screening art-space afterparty on Sunday, then make plans for dinner and closing night Thursday. You don't know who you'll see or meet. It's a beautiful week of serendipity and grace.
I didn't make it to closing night this year. It's ok, there will be many more closing nights to come.
And summer's basically here so there's a whole season of crowds to get lost in.