In its sixth year, the Seattle Asian American Film Festival will present 75 features and short films Feb. 22-25, mostly at Northwest Film Forum. It’s the highest number of films the festival has ever featured.
Director Jennifer Reeder was in production on her film “Signature Move,” a romantic comedy about the relationship between a Pakistani-Muslim woman and a Mexican-American woman, during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. She envisioned touring the film around festivals under the administration of the first female president.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Taking the film to Mexico for a test screening the day after the election felt like “fleeing the country,” she said.
“We were devastated and deflated, but at the same time, we knew that we had kind of a secret weapon in our back pocket,” she said. “[We had] a film that would highlight immigrant culture, immigrant families and an American-Muslim experience. It talks about Mexicans and Muslims in the same sentence in an inclusive, loving way.”
Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Feb. 22-25, at Northwest Film Forum, Broadway Performance Hall and Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience; festival pass is $80, individual tickets $10-$18, with several free screenings also available. For the full schedule and more information, go to seattleaaff.org.
Now, after a prolific festival run that’s seen the film nominated for awards at SXSW and winning prizes at L.A. Outfest and FilmOut San Diego, “Signature Move” opens the Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) on Feb. 22 at Broadway Performance Hall.
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In its sixth year, SAAFF will present 75 features and short films Feb. 22-25, mostly at Northwest Film Forum. It’s the highest number of films the festival has ever featured, but the programming strategy has remained steady, said SAAFF co-director Vanessa Au.
“[We] try to highlight the diversity of perspectives and experiences among Asian Americans, including where we have identities intersecting,” she said.
“Signature Move,” with its story about LGBTQ and South Asian communities, certainly qualifies. The film was co-written and produced by its star Fawzia Mirza, who plays Zaynab, a woman navigating a blossoming relationship with Alma (Sari Sanchez) and an entrenched one with her conservative mother (Indian film star Shabana Azmi), who’s moved in after the recent death of Zaynab’s father.
Among its lighthearted comedy, the film strives to realistically portray queerness among American immigrant families, Reeder said.
“The story had to feel authentically like it was coming from third-culture kids,” she said, using a term for people raised in a culture different from their parents. There’s no definitive ‘coming out’ scene in the film, which is more of a Western idea, Reeder said. Instead, Zaynab and her mother must come to more of a nonverbal understanding. And unlike many films of its ilk, the mother-daughter relationship is given as much attention as the romantic one.
Having the film open an Asian-American festival is meaningful, Reeder said.
“It’s really validating,” she said. “It’s actually that community saying this is a special film. This is a film that represents a vital conversation that should be happening among South Asian families right now.”
Other festival highlights include:
“Bring it Home”: This shorts program includes four films telling Seattle stories, including the family history behind the departed Linc’s Tackle and chef Sam Choy’s integral role in the explosive popularity of poke, the Hawaiian raw-fish salad served at his food trucks and restaurants.
Other local connections screening in different programs: “Proof of Loyalty,” a documentary about Japanese-American World War II soldier Kazuo Yamane, directed by Seattle-area filmmakers Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers, and “My I.D.,” a short honoring the history of resistance in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, packaged with other films about West Coast Chinatowns.
“Window Horses”: The first feature-length animated film SAAFF has ever programmed, “Window Horses” focuses on another community not often represented at Asian-American festivals, Au says. A poet with Persian heritage travels to Iran for a poetry festival that causes her to examine her own past.
“The Dragon Painter”: A silent film from 1919, “The Dragon Painter” stars Japanese heartthrob Sessue Hayakawa, one of the earliest actors of Asian descent to become a Hollywood star.
“Island Soldier”: A documentary about Micronesia, where nearly everyone has some connection to the U.S. military, is an “unknown story” about a place many would struggle to find on a map, Au says.
“The Apology”: During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army forced thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery — and euphemistically called them “comfort women.” “The Apology” follows three of those women as they grapple with their experience and seek some kind of recognition from the Japanese government.
“It’s a real heartbreaking [film] that everybody on our program committee fell in love with,” Au said. “This one is such an important story.”