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Filmmakers show off their work at the 16th annual Asian American Showcase

By Igor Studenkov
On April 20, 2011


Over the past 16 years the Gene Siskel Film Center, one of Chicago's most prominent venues for foreign, independent and otherwise artistically significant films, has played host to Asian-American Showcase. This year, the Asian American Showcase ran between April 1-14, showcasing comedies, dramas, coming-of-age stories, documentaries and a variety of short films. The festival brought together works from a variety of genres and mediums by new and experienced Asian-American filmmakers, actors, directors, and producers, many of which came from the Chicago area.

The Showcase opened with Surrogate Valentine, a naturalistic comedy that stars Goh Nakamura, a cult musician who plays a fictionalized version of himself. April 2 saw the premiere of In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, an autobiographical documentary by Deann Borshay Liem. Liem was adopted by Californian parents when she was 8 years old, but discovered that her identity was switched with another girl's shortly before her arrival in United States, and that she was not an orphan at all. The documentary chronicles her journey to Korea as she tried to trace her past and discover the fate of the real Cha Jung Hee.

April 2 also saw the premiere of the Mikado Project, a drama that follows the members of Angry Buddha Theater Co. as they stage their own take on the controversial Victorian opera in hopes of averting bankruptcy. The film is notable for starring Tamlyn Tomita, an award-winning Japanese-American actress, whose resume stretches back three decades worth of film and television roles.

April 3 saw the debut of One Big Hapa Family, a documentary by a half-Japanese Canadian filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns. In it, Stearns examines the history of Japanese Canadians and the history of the Japanese side of his family. The film was followed by the premiere of Beijing Taxi, a documentary that followed the daily routes of three cab drivers from the eponymous city.

April 4 saw a double feature made up of a feature film and a documentary. Redress Remix tackled the controversial history of Canada's anti-Chinese legislation using original music, animation and interviews, while Red Dust showed how the conditions at Chinese battery factories endangered the lives of their female workers.

April 7 saw the premiere of Living in Seduced Circumstances, a feature film by Filipino-American director Ian Gamazon. The film follows a pregnant woman (Quynn Ton) as she takes a gory, torture-filled revenge on her former lover. The film's moral complexity may remind the viewers of David Slade's Hard Candy, but Gamazon's film is anything but an imitation.

April 8 featured the premiere of Macho Like Me, which follows director Helie Lee as she spent six months living as a man in a way to grapple with male privilege. April 9 featured the premiere of House of Suh, a documentary about a notorious 1993 Chicago murder; this was followed by Saigon Electric, a feature film that dealt with Vietnam's burgeoning hip-hop culture.

The Asian American Showcase has a long tradition of featuring short film compilations, and this year was no exception. Uprise! Part 2, a collection of short films by young Asian-American filmmakers, screened on Saturday, April 9, while the selection of best shorts that from Chicago Filipino American Film Festival archives screened during on Sunday, April 10.

The festival closed with One Kine Day, a coming-of-age story by director Chuck Mitsui. The movie presents an image of Hawaii that defies conventional conception of the island state by focusing on its poor, aimless youth. Although this is Mitsui's first full-length feature film, it has already attracted some critical acclaim and positive world-of-mouth; only time will tell if the acclaim will translate into long-term success.

The annual Showcase was the brainchild of journalist Ben Kim and musicians Soo- Young Park and William Shin, who wanted to create a film festival that would give younger, more avant-garde Asian-American filmmakers an opportunity to show their work. In 1995, the trio pitched their idea to Barbara Scharres, the Gene Siskel Film Center's Director of Programming, and worked together to develop the programming.

The first Asian American Showcase took place in the spring of 1996, ending with a reception that was positive enough to ensure that the festival would return next year. Since then, the Showcase has been a Siskel Center programming staple, and remains one of the largest Asian-related film events in the Midwest, and the only film festival dedicated exclusively to the work of Asian Americans.

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