‘Silkscreen’ Not a Revolution
Asian American Film Festival Effective But Not Stand-OutBy Minyoung Jang
Boston Asian American Independent Film Festival
Sept. 24, 25
Silkscreens, the first Asian-American film festival in Boston, opened to mixed levels of success last Saturday night. Kresge was only half-filled as festival director Jennifer Fang ’05 welcomed the audience to a festival meant to “showcase and celebrate the work of asian filmmakers, actors, and actresses.” Opening ceremonies began with performances by artists from Fifth Street Productions, the Boston-based record label focusing on Asian-American artists. Other performances included a moving spoken word piece by a local 15-year-old high school student and vocal singing performances by Sophia Moon and Robin Lang.
Moon showed off her style as she sang “Heavenly Sky,” an upbeat pop song with R&B influence (think, perhaps, Canto-pop with an American flair). However, with vocal audio levels pumped to often painful levels, canned background music, and two lonely breakdancers calling themselves Kojin dancing on a stage cluttered with equipment, Moon’s performance fell flat. Despite her obvious talent, the karaoke-style performance didn’t work well for a diva-style pop singer with a powerful voice, and couldn’t excite a tough crowd sitting motionless in their seats.
The same pitfalls were waiting for Robin Lang. Although more charismatic than her colleague, her voice sounded forced in “Invisible,” a cover of Christina Aguilera’s song. It wasn’t that these ladies weren’t talented, but it felt like the vocals were trampling the songs rather than simply mastering them, due to poor sound engineering.
Chris Vu ’04 closed out the performances as the house favorite. Singing with his own informal band, Vu was a welcome break from the pre-recorded background music. This time the lead vocal levels felt appropriate, but unfortunately the background vocals were too low and thus failed to accompany him effectively. With a style all his own, somewhere between piano pop/rock and R&B, Vu performed covers like Stevie Wonder’s “Part-time Lover,” as well as original songs such as “Too Late” and “Not Yet.” Out of the three singers, Vu’s performance seemed the most natural -- he sang with ease on every single note and had a smooth quality to his voice.
Next, keynote speaker Greg Pak introduced the audience to the state of Asian-American filmmaking. Well-spoken and intelligent, Pak’s words were shamefully missed by at least a quarter of the audience that decided to walk out as soon as Vu’s performance was over. Pak introduced the motivation behind festivals like Silkscreens by saying that “Asian-American film is thriving in many ways... [and has] always been incredibly well known and respected in terms of documentaries. ...But in terms of AA fiction feature filmmaking, it’s been a really hard road.” He referred to “Better Luck Tomorrow” as the first Asian-American film “that got picked up by a major distributor that got put out on a relatively big level across the country and that got an audience” and was a commercial success in that it earned so much for a relatively low-budget movie.
However, Pak said, “the catch 22 is that for Asian-Americans, in order for us to make stars who can get movies financed they have to be in movies.” Ultimately, “AA film can do all kinds of things in all kinds of different ways,” Pak declared. “It grapples with... sensitive issues that need to be grappled with... [it doesn’t have to be] pigeon-holed into one category or another,” he said after an audience viewing of Pak’s short, “Asian Pride Porn.”
Opening ceremonies were then followed by the Boston premiere of “Close Call.” The movie is described as “a coming of age awakening,” and a “heartfelt story about a teenage girl trapped in a downward spiral of promiscuous sex, drugs, alcohol use, and criminality.” The screening was unfortunately marred by technical difficulties which halted the movie for upwards of 10 minutes. In spite of this mishap, the audience remained respectful and listened to festival staffer Jacki Chou ’07 (Harvard) talk about stereotyping in AA film.
Ultimately, I found that although the themes of Close Call were powerful, the filmmaking wasn’t good enough to really resonate with me and make the movie unique. Indeed, I found myself wondering, if the goal of the festival is to show films that break the Asian stereotypes, don’t the films become “typical” themselves if they’re all in the same genre of breaking those stereotypes?
In the end, I found Silkscreens to be “historically groundbreaking” more in the way that Greg Pak spoke of -- one more “small baby step” on the road to getting Asian-Americans on screen -- rather than being a revolutionary or even a truly unique festival.