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Asian American International Film Fest Kicks off in New York

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The 34th annual Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) kicks off on Wednesday night with a screening of "Amigo," a film by the critically acclaimed independent filmmaker John Sayles about the history of the Philippine-American War. This year's festival also features a Lesbian, Gay, Bisxeual, Transgender and Queer (L.G.B.T.Q.) cinema night for the first time in the festival's history, that will feature a screening of "Tales of the Waria," a documentary about a unique Indonesian community of men who live openly as women and "When Hainan Meets Teochwu," an atypical romance between a "manly" woman and a "womanly" man.

There are 76 films in this year's festival, including 17 feature length films and 59 shorts. The movies and videos are made by established and young, emerging filmmakers and film students from the City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.).

Vivian Chiu acted in "Closed," a short film made by the New York University students Alex Shin and Christopher Zou. Chiu, who plays the girlfriend of an ex-gangster at a Chinese take-out restaurant, also does marketing for the Museum of Chinese in America.

“Although there are more Asian roles written for Asian actors nowadays, the percentage of Asian characters for Asian performers is still low," Chiu said. "The characters written for us do not necessarily authentically represent who we are. There are still a lot of stereotypes that we have to play with. We believe the AAIFF tackles elusiveness and stereotypical representation of Asian Americans and certainly Chinese Americans by constructing new images for the viewer, which is really important."

Asian American film festivals throughout the countries developed after the civil rights movement as a way to mark the presence of Asian-Americans in America's history, said Joyce Moy, the Executive Director of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at CUNY.

"The Asian American film festivals are extremely important to our community because there aren't many outlets in the mainstream, particularly for shorts and other independently made films from the Asian American community," Moy continued. "This is an opportunity for us to showcase the works of our community, also to provide venues for intersection from the mainstream community."

Besides screenings of films and shorts, the fest will also host workshops and interactive events, such as a conversation with the award-winning director Kimi Takesue about how to make it in the business of independent filmmaking and a panel discussion on the legal process of marketing indy films with Chi-hui Yang (a New York film programmer, lecturer, and writer), Mynette Louie (a New York indy film producer), and Steve Masur (a senior partner at MasurLaw who has over 15 years of experience of legal work related to digital media).

"What's great about this festival is that it screens not only proper theatrical screenings...but it also does a lot of interesting musicals and interactive events," said Chi-hui Yang. "There's one program called 'Suite Suite China Town.' This piece, which was commissioned by the Toronto Asian Film Festival, is an exploration of Toronto Chinatown. It's more an experimental piece with light music...a hybrid film in terms of form, integrating light music along with screenings, too. It's something the festival is exploring."

The Asian American International Film Festival runs through Sunday at several locations, including at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema and the Museum of Chinese in America. To see a schedule, click here. Or check out the trailers below to see some of highlights of this year's Asian American International Film Festival.

"Amigo" is a film by the legendary independent filmmaker John Sayles about a village caught in the crossfire of the Philippine-American War. Rafael Dacanay is a village mayor in the Philippines in the 1990s when U.S. troops come to his village and press him to collaborate with them. This puts Rafael in a enormous dilemma as he tries not to betray his people, also because his brother Simon is the head of local Filipino guerrillas. The film will be screened at the festival's opening night at Chelsea Clearview cinemas at 7 P.M. on Wednesday.

In "Saigon Electric," Mai, who is a traditional ribbon dancer, comes to the bustling city of Saigon in hopes of getting into the national dance academy. After a disappointing rejection, she starts training with the city's best hip-hop group, Saigon Fresh, in a national competition. In order to save the living and training space for the crew, Mai and her friends are determined to win the competition. "Saigon Electric" is directed by Stephane Gauger and is the centerpiece of AAIFF. It will be screened at the Clearview Chelsea cinemas, at 9 P.M on Saturday.

"Enforcing the Silence" is a documentary film directed by Tony Nguyen on the problematic issues Vietnamese Americans face exercising their First Amendment rights. After the murder of the charismatic community leader Lam Duong in 1981, numerous Vietnamese American journalists were also killed. The number of deaths remains the highest among immigrant reporters killed in the U.S. In this documentary, Lam Duong's friends, federal investigators, and journalists speak about the dangers Vietnamese Americans face when speaking out. "My film 'Enforcing the Silence' examines the unsolved murder of Lam Duong and explores deep-rooted issues in the Vietnamese American community that rarely gets discussed in a honest way," the film's director Tony Nguyen told WNYC. "As a first-time filmmaker, I know I still have a long way to go to producing great films. So it's a huge honor that AAIFF sees merit in my debut doc to include it among its roster of amazing indie films."