Asian American International Film Festival :: Luhsun Tan

July 2005, New York, USAThe 28th Asian American international film festival was held at the Asia Society in New York in July 2005. The Asia Society, on Park Avenue, representing many important Asian artists from around the world is a significant landmark. I had the honour of receiving an ANAT travel fund to present my recent masters graduation work as part of an Australian showcase of screen works.

My presented work was a digitally created animation that uses a mixture of styles, an abstract narrative, a poetic look at the issue of borders and an opening into the discussion of how we perceive others.

Asia is a huge varied entity on this planet. The idea of exploring its vastness, scope and sensualities and Australia being so much part of that is one of my own artistic interests and explorations. Also specific to this festival was how Asians in America were being represented through screen culture and their organised institutions.

The program was promoted through various organizations including the Australian Consulate General in New York, the American Australian Association, Advance – Australian Professionals in America, OzArts and This Week in New York. The program was announced on their various websites, as well as their newsletters. In addition, festival brochures were put out at many locations throughout the city.

As the festival is primarily an exhibition festival, it does not have a specific sales or market component. However, industry guests did attend the festival, including distributors, programmers and press. There was insight into the newly launched Asian cable TV network (AZN), the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, as well as filmmaking in Hong Kong.

The Australian showcase was screened once only at 3.15pm on Sunday 17 July at Rose Hall theatre in the Asia Society, New York. A brief question and answer session followed the screening. Three filmmakers from our session attended the Q&A, myself (Reverie Sans Frontiers) Eu-Hua Chua (director of DINKUM, as well as co-curator of the program); and Qing Huang (THE WAY). Audience reaction was very positive. The Q&A discussion was very lively, as the audience clearly appreciated the filmmakers’ presence.

In the Q& A, I encountered a barrage of questions, mainly into the symbology and inspiration of my film ranging from detention centres in Australia to the plight of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, all of which tested my knowledge on the subjects and ability as a public speaker. Generally there were plenty of other opportunities to talk about screen culture as well as ANAT Getting to attend the many screenings was an effort but a worthwhile experience given the range of things to see. Definitely the scope of short films accessed from the various parts of Asia and America was very enlightening; for example a short narrative from Trinidad about Calypso music and life.

Other worthwhile activities included visiting museums and galleries, American art at the Whitney, but also the Japanese artist Murakami was curating at the Japan society.

Arriving in New York could be daunting, but things seemed too familiar like I’d been there before, maybe in all my TV dreams. I had to make a quasi-religious pilgrimage to Ground Zero, where the hole in the ground, a building site void surrounded by towers, might signal new (order) beginnings. Surprised by the ordinariness of people, the unromantisized urban human in their most frail form on the subways zigzagging through the city.

Thinking about Asians in America and Australia I came away with the thought of how cultural differences might be represented in our different western cultures, at what stage is something being so represented and identified that it becomes so separate? Or also how integrated something might become that evolves other forms of polarisation.

It seemed strange having an Asian festival in America, its need to be represented in a new world. America is far from Asia, but things need to be represented where such a significant polarity exists. I was surprised how in such a cosmopolitan place it was impossible to find a Curry Laksa. For me this could be the analogy of how Australia differs in its representation of Asia and its geographical proximity. In New York, Tacos are the order of the day and anything Asian is a mix of old diaspora and discovering the new.

Overall the visit was a success, thanks to ANAT, there was much to see and do, new contacts added, leads to chase up, ideas and collaborations. Since then my own film continues on its distance, in our political climate the subject matter seems to be an eternal zeitgeist. More screenings have since screened; the Montreal world film festival, Seattle International film Festival, Monterrey in Mexico, Detroit Docs, Interfilm Berlin, Ireland as well as screening at more than a dozen well established short film festivals and exhibitions.

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