Culture on the screen

Scene from Empty by Design. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Over thirty filmmakers and panelists from Canada and other countries will participate in the 23rd annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF), which promotes and celebrates the diversity and depth of Asian culture and identity in film and media. VAFF takes place Nov. 7–10, 2019 at the Cineplex Odeon International Village.

The longest-running Asian film festival in Canada, VAFF was founded in 1995 by Barbara K. Lee. The festival focuses on current issues faced by immigrants, women, and marginalized individuals. This year’s theme is ‘No Limitasians’, a call to celebrate performers of Asian heritage, to challenge boundaries and expectations, and to create opportunities without waiting for Hollywood to come calling.

The lineup

The 2019 lineup includes 13 films, three industry panels, three special presentations, and 38 feature-length and short films of all genres in the English language or with English subtitles.

The international premiere of In a New York Minute, directed by Mandy Ximan Li, opens the festival. Starring Amy Chang, Yi Liu, Wu’s Assassin’s Celia Au, VAFF brand ambassador Ludi Lin, and Cheng Pei Pei, the movie follows three female strangers who discover that the solution to their problems lies in a single pregnancy test.

Other film offerings include VAFF Canadian Spotlight film Becoming Labrador, directed by Rohan Fernando, Tamara Segura, and Justin Simms, and VAFF Centrepiece Spotlight Empty by Design, starring The Atom on Crisis on Infinite Earths’ OsricChau, Rhian Ramos, Madeliene Humphries, Chris Pang, and Dante Basco. Becoming Labrador focuses on a group of Filipino workers who move to Labrador in hopes of a better life, while Empty by Design centers around two isolated individuals who return to the Philippines after years of being away and how they help each other find peace and connection to their lost culture.

Scene from Yellow Rose. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Asian Film Festival

VAFF will also include a documentary features series, a narrative features series, an international shorts program, and two Canadian shorts programs. The closing night presentation will feature the international premiere of Yellow Rose, directed by Diane Paragas, about a Filipino girl named Rose who wants to pursue her country music dreams but has her world shattered when her mom gets picked up by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Asian filmmakers come together

Having lived away for 20 years, when I returned, I could see and feel a difference in Vancouver where Asians now have an equal say and the confidence to call this home as much as everyone else,” says Lee. “This change came only thanks to organizations like VAFF that have been pushing for the right representation and narrative of what the Canadian social fabric should look like all these years. This new sense of belonging made me want to join the organization to help it grow to enable more people to feel the same way.”

Lee finds that the hard work done by a team of dedicated volunteers to bring the community together is a rewarding experience. “[It’s] helping Asian filmmakers to more powerfully and authentically express themselves through film and showcase their work to the larger community,” she says. “It is so much fun seeing filmmakers proudly share their work and interact with audiences, putting on events that bring the industry out networking and sharing ideas that help strengthen and enrich the local filmmaking community.”

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