Starting this month, XFINITY On Demand launched Cinema Asian America, a new collection of award-winning and cutting-edge feature movies, documentaries, and short films. It reflects Comcast's commitment to the diverse interests of our customers and, in general, underscores the company's commitment to independent films. According to Cinema Asian America's curator, Chi-hui Yang, each month's selections will explore a range of topics and experiences that exemplify the diversity of the Asian American community. "But I wouldn't define these films as simply Asian American films," he says. "They're American indie films, reflecting a range of experience and broad appeal." The collection has already sent a wave of excitement through the film community. "It's a great opportunity," blogged filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura, whose documentary about activist singer Chris Iijima, "A Song For Ourselves," is included in the collection. I spoke with Yang, the former Director and Programmer of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, about his vision for Cinema Asian America and suggestions for film fans simply looking to discover great new movies.
What's an Asian American film?
How are you defining it? The definition of an Asian American film is dynamic and flexible. We have filmmakers who many people recognize: Ang Lee, Mira Nair and M. Night Shyamalan who make works which reach quite broad audiences, but also filmmakers who produce works that are more independent in nature. At its core, Asian American cinema is one which reflects the stories and impulses of a very diverse community, whether this is seen through the perspective of a Bangladeshi American youth in the Bronx, a Vietnamese American refugee in New Orleans, a Filipino American DJ in Los Angeles, or a fifth-generation Chinese American cop in San Francisco. There are many classics, like Wayne Wang's "Chan Is Missing," Nair's "The Namesake" or Justin Lin's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift." But many more to be discovered. At its core though, Asian American cinema is an independent one, a cinema that is built from the ground up and not afraid to push buttons..
How did this new collection come to be?
There is a real need and hunger for Asian American stories, and to this point, many films have been difficult to find and see. There is likewise a real dynamism in independent and documentary filmmaking. Video On Demand is such an exciting way for folks to see films, and has really opened up a lot of opportunities for filmmakers to get their works seen. Comcast has its finger on the pulse of where thing are doing, and the bigger bigger picture is that Asian-American cinema is at a really exciting place.
Why is that?
Because there is a critical mass of creativity and daring emerging among these filmmakers. The combination of many more folks being trained in film schools, communities increasing with social media, diversifying funding sources, and amazing stories are all allowing filmmakers to produce engaging and really innovative work. Asian American cinema is in a lot of ways changing how we look at American cinema, by infusing a multitude of new languages, perspectives and forms into the cinema.
How is the audience in terms of size?
In the past ten years, there's been an enormous growth of Asian American film festivals across the U.S. Ten years ago there were probably five. Today, there are probably twenty-five. I think it reflects both the increase in the number of filmmakers coming out of film school and also the increased interest of an audience. I'm not talking only about an Asian-American audience. There's a real liberty from a critical mass that wants to see these films. The problem is that they weren't very accessible. But we're changing that.
This seems part of a larger trend with indie films in general, don't you think?
Just as independent filmmakers have found audiences, the reverse is also true -- audiences are finding independent films. Not that there's anything wrong with big studio movies. But people want more diversity, more varied and provocative voices. It's a case of where the audience is creating change in how large companies like Comcast offer films.
Explain this first collection you put together.
The idea is to bring together a diverse and dynamic group of films to reflect the complicated and fascinating term that is "Asian America." I want to push people to re-imagine what this terms means, or could mean. Cinema is an incredible way to help reframe the world around you, it can satisfy, surprise, contradict and inspire.
Let's look at this month's debut collection. Will you provide some recommendations, maybe a couple films where you think people should jump in?
Again, I think there are certain expectations people have of what an Asian American film is supposed to be, and my hope is that this collection will open that up. So...there is a new release called "Fruit Fly," which is a low-budget, Filipino-American musical set in San Francisco about a performance artist going through an identity crisis. It's loud, fun and daring and terrifically re-imagines the musical. There's a great short documentary called "A Song For Ourselves," which is a soulful portrait of a Japanese-American folk singer and activist, whose life also tells the story of the civil rights movement. Outside of this, we have the Bollywood film "My Name is Khan," a documentary about the history of the fortune cookie, and a great film called "Planet B-Boy," a thrilling documentary about break dancing.
And there's so much more. I can't wait to dive in.
That's the point. To help create a way for people to see interesting new films. Not every town is going to have a film festival -- or an Asian American film festival. It's exciting for me to extend the reach of these films, which I really think will appeal to many.