Sundance Time Again, Pt. 1: On the Ground

It’s winter and if you’re familiar with my ongoing programming activities on behalf of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, you know what that means…it’s time for the annual cold-weather film festival program research trek. Having skipped last year’s Sundance Film Festival, I never thought I’d experience the absolute discomfort of putting up with wet snow and white-out conditions again for awhile. Then again, the relative ease of getting around a big city like Berlin made me forget why I’ve always looked on Park City with a sense of love/hate: Sundance, and its rival Slamdance Film Festival are seen as possibly the most important cinematic celebration of independent film on the film festival calendar. It is set in a former mining town where folks can do very few things in January: ski, or watch movies. And it is a place to rub elbows with celebrities who star in movies, and either can — or can’t — ski or snowboard.

I cannot ski or snowboard. I hate snow. I also hate wet, freezing cold weather, especially knowing that ten days hence, I’ll be travelling across the pond to equally bitter cold Germany. And if the truth be told, I loath putting up with celebrities who put on airs. In fact, while updating my Twitter feed last night, I learned that a friend of mine who is staying in Park City almost got into  fight with a celeb over a taxi cab. I imagine things ended up well for both parties. Am I saying that I hate being here? Uhh, no, really…I’m not saying that. But it is kinda hard when the pickings here are a bit slim, as it were.

Let’s be honest: these two film festivals haven’t really been “cutting-edge” for some time when it comes to new and recent Asian Pacific American feature-length works. In my mind, the jury is still out as to whether this absence is due to the perspectives of the programmers here, or if this reflects a larger malaise within the Asian Pacific American cinematic community. The fact that only three feature-length works by North American makers of Asian descent are here can seem a bit demoralizing. But then again, the presence here of So Yong Kim’s FOR ELLEN, Yung Chang’s CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT, and Musa Syeed’s VALLEY OF SAINTS cannot be easily dismissed. Granted, this trio of works doesn’t sound as sexy as, say, JOURNEY FROM THE FALL, EVE AND THE FIREHORSE, and PUNCHING AT THE SUN — past Sundance titles by directors whose ongoing growth have been observed and championed by “our” communities for years. Yet, I can see this year’s crop of works, bolstered by the inclusion of a smattering of short films playing here, as nominal evidence that we do indeed have a place at the table, as it were.

As for that “malaise” I was referring to earlier? I’m finding that cropping up again this year within the works we’ve seen so far this season. That is a discussion that deserves its own blog posting. But you can bet that I will get around to discussing that. Count on it.

With that, I am here in Park City…well Salt Lake City, to be precise, to view films for inclusion into our own film festival this spring, and to also observe just how the whole “APA Indie cinema scene” is shaking out here. Or not, as the case may be. More reports to come, as well as live Twitter feeds and maybe some pictures. Stay tuned, it might get interesting…

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