NewFilmmakers Los Angeles celebrated Asian and Asian-American filmmakers with stories of a young man meeting his birth mother, a child soldier facing a life-or-death decision, and young student activists attempting to flee Hong Kong during the anti-extradition movement in one of the latest NFMLA festivals.
The festival began with the screening of Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s directorial debut, From Here, which contrasted immigrants’ lives in New York and Berlin. This section was followed by the “Spring Shorts” program, showcasing voices from a wide range of genres and cultures. The festival continued with the first section of InFocus: Asian Cinema Shorts, and concluded with the second section of the program. Both segments featured work from emerging Asian and Asian-American talent in front of and behind the camera.
NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming.
Here is some info on the filmmakers and their films as well as their video interviews with NFMLA board chair Danny De Lillo (Twitter/Instagram: @dannydelillo).
From Here, directed by Christina Antonakos-Wallace
About Christina: Christina is a U.S.-based filmmaker and lifelong activist whose work has been exhibited in over a dozen countries. She has garnered support and recognition including a Euromedia Award for Culture of Diversity, an MTV Fight For Your Rights Scholarship, a Media that Matters Change Maker Award, fellowships from Humanity in Action and Hedgebrook, as well as funding from the New America Foundation, the German Ministry for Political Education among others.
About From Here: This documentary follows the hopeful stories of Tania, Sonny, Miman, and Akim, artists and activists based in Berlin and New York whose lives and futures hang in the balance of immigration and integration debates. As the U.S. and Germany grapple with racism, nationalism, and a fight over their national identities, the protagonists move from their 20s into their 30s and face major turning points in their lives: fighting for citizenship, starting families, and finding room for creative expression. This sensitive and nuanced documentary captures their journeys to redefine what it means to “belong” in societies that are increasingly hostile to their existence.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Christina Antonakos-Wallace, director of From Here:
“The Speech,” directed by Haohao Yan
About Haohao: Haohao is a Chinese director and screenwriter. She received her MFA in directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2019 and graduated with the Schaffner Fellow Award. Her thesis film “The Speech” premiered at Palm Springs International ShortFest, received Special Jury Award at the 68th San Sebastian International Film Festival — Student Film Section, Filmmaker of the Future Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and was selected for the 2020 CAA Moebius Showcase, LA Shorts, AFI Fest, another other recognition.
About “The Speech”: Under pressure of the World Health Organization, the Chinese government announced that the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak is real, leading to the closure of the city of Beijing, China. Most students have been sent home, and during a lockdown inside a private boarding school, three eight-year-old girls have to find a way to make sense of the world.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Haohao Yan, director of “The Speech”:
“Make A Wish,” directed by Dinh Thai
About Dinh: Dinh is an Asian-American writer/director by way of commercial directing based in Los Angeles. The ’80s and ’90s strongly inform Dinh’s filmic approach and aesthetic.
About “Make A Wish”: A lighthearted comedy about the sweetest fiancé giving her boyfriend the best present one could ever ask for.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Dinh Thai, director of “Make A Wish”:
“Margaret,” directed by Nathan Hamer and Zach Hamer, starring and produced by Amanda Ebert
About Nathan: Nathan is a writer, editor, composer, director, and actor devoted to storytelling through writing and filming independent films, promotional content and music videos.
About Zach: Zach made his first feature length film at twelve years old, started a videography company at fifteen and moved to New York City to further pursue feature filmmaking at eighteen. He is honored that “Margaret” was included in the NFMLA program among so many other great works.
About Amanda: Amanda is a filmmaker, writer, and actor who moved to Washington by way of Los Angeles, New York. She is from Milwaukee. Her narrative writing and directing debut is “Mountain Violet” and she is represented by TCM Talent in Seattle.
About “Margaret”: Fleeing her cruel husband and tragic past, Margaret must navigate the treacherous and foreboding wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula.
Watch the NFMLA interview with the directors of “Margaret,” Nathan Hamer and Zach Hamer, along with actress and producer Amanda Ebert:
“Blue Suit,” directed by Kevin J. Nguyen
About Kevin: Kevin is a Vietnamese-American writer, producer, and director based in Los Angeles. Kevin built a career as a producer/director for companies like Jubilee Media, BuzzFeed, and Snap Inc. His work has amassed over a billion views worldwide across YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Hulu, Amazon, and PBS. He is most known for his videos that feature stories from marginalized voices and social justice.
About “Blue Suit”: John is a hopeless romantic with a mission to confess his feelings for his friend, Henry. However, Henry moves away the next day and a surprise going-away party foils John’s plans. Growing more anxious as the night progresses, John desperately tries to find alone time with Henry amidst all the unfamiliar faces competing for his attention.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Kevin J. Nguyen, director of “Blue Suit”:
“A Million Eyes,” directed by Richard Raymond
About Richard: Richard is a British film director. His films, “Souls of Totality,” “A Million Eyes” and “Desert Dancer” have screened at various festivals around the world, including Tribeca, Palm Springs, Raindance, Mill Valley, Santa Barbara, Hollyshorts and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
About “A Million Eyes”: A gifted young photographer grappling with his mother’s alcoholism sets out to capture something he loves.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Richard Raymond, director of “A Million Eyes”:
“First,” directed by Isao Furugori
About Isao: Isao has been part of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation since 1996. He was awarded the ACC Grand Prix and ADC Grand Prix and in 2020 released his short directorial debut “First.”
About “First”: A Japanese conference explodes with compassion and psychological warfare, as Kiryu City becomes flooded with young people who bring important questions to the surface.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Isao Furugori, director of “First”:
“Hello From Taiwan,” directed by Tiffany Frances
About Tiffany: Tiffany is a Taiwanese-American writer and director of narrative film, commercials, and music videos. She loves creating character-driven, dramatic storytelling with lyrical visuals, exploring stories about women, marginalized voices, and finding surreal moments within authentic situations.
About “Hello From Taiwan”: A 1989 earthquake shakes the world of Christy, a Taiwanese American 5-year-old girl. When her family reunites after a year of separation, the cracks between them grow even wider.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Tiffany Frances, director of “Hello From Taiwan”:
“Neuland (The Unknown),” directed by Eddie Shieh
About Eddie: Eddie is a New York-based screenwriter, director and producer. His work has screened at Academy qualifying and international film festivals, garnering numerous accolades in multiple categories.
About “Neuland (The Unknown)”: Amelia Chen is an American-born Chinese waitress conflicted by her Asian identity and drawn into an unimaginable circumstance by a mysterious man who arrives in a black limousine.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Eddie Shieh, director of “Neuland (The Unknown)”:
“Graduation,” directed by Robin Wang
About Robin: Robin is an award-winning director and screenwriter. He graduated from Duke University with a BA Degree in English and is now an MFA candidate in Film Production at the USC. Robin has completed six narrative shorts that have been selected by festivals including Urbanworld, San Jose International Short Film Festival as well as distribution platforms such as Dekkoo.
About “Graduation”: Following a graduation celebration, a Chinese student goes on one last date to say goodbye to his secret American boyfriend. In hopes of hiding their bittersweet romance from their parents, they find out they are hiding secrets of their own.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Robin Wang, director of “Graduation”:
“In This Land We’re Briefly Ghosts,” directed by Chen-Wen Lo
About Chen-Wen: Chen-Wen is a Taiwan-born writer/director based in New York City. She holds an MA in Cinema Studies from New York University and an MFA in Directing from AFI Conservatory. Her short films have screened at festivals worldwide, including Busan, Palm Springs, LAAPF, Vancouver and recently won Best Short Film at the 22nd Taipei Film Awards.
About “In This Land We’re Briefly Ghosts”: Set in 2013 Myanmar, and based on actual events, this human tragedy follows a 12-year-old child soldier, Su Su Myat, and her mute brother, Tin Min, who are imprisoned after deserting their first combat mission. Punished with no food or water, Su Su Myat is forced to choose between killing her seriously ill brother for her own survival, or risk dying with him.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Chen-Wen Lo, director of “In This Land We’re Briefly Ghosts”:
“Elle,” directed by Jenn Santos
About Jenn: Jenn is a filmmaker and actor from Orange County, California. She studied fiction filmmaking in San Francisco and Paris and has produced, written, and acted in multiple shorts and film projects.
About “Elle”: Torn between embracing opportunities and staying true to her values, a Filipinx-American actress starts a difficult dialogue about diverse representation in Hollywood once her cousin books a role of a different ethnicity.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Jenn Santos, director of “Elle”:
“Kite,” directed by Yumeng He
About Yumeng: Yumeng is a visual ethnographer and documentary director, producer, and editor based in Los Angeles. Yumeng grew up in Beijing, China, studied Visual Anthropology at USC. Her background as an anthropologist gives her a unique understanding of how one’s story and its cultural and social ambiance are closely intertwined.
About “Kite”: Kite is the moving portrait of four Chinese women across generations. The film explores the relationship between time and memory, the shifting definition of health, feminine embodiment, and the question of labels. While witnessing how four Chinese women in different generations have responded to pain, the film also spotlights their resilience when facing overwhelming social and bodily constraints.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Yumeng He, director of “Kite”:
“Basurero,” directed by Eileen Cabiling
About Eileen: Eileen is first in her Filipino immigrant family to be born in the US. Her vision is to tell stories about the Filipino Diaspora. She is a graduate of the American Film Institute. She has worked as a writer and story producer in international film and TV with some projects being finalists at Sundance Screenwriting Lab and Film Independent, among others.
About “Basurero”: This film follows Bong, a financially desperate Filipino fisherman who dumps bodies into the ocean for the drug war’s faceless vigilantes. Tension rises when the killings’ hit close to home after he discovers his neighbor has been murdered for selling shabu.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Eileen Cabiling, director of “Basurero”:
- Instagram: @eileencabiling
“Can I Have a Mask,” directed by Sahan Jayawardena
About Sahan: Growing up in rural Iowa, Sahan used film to explore and diversify his perspective of the world. He pursued a BFA in Film with a focus in documentary filmmaking at Syracuse University. From working at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, and the American Film Market, he moved to Los Angeles and started working at CAA before moving to PICTURESTART.
About “Can I Have a Mask”: Inspired by the essay, “Can I Have a Mask?” by Asitha Jayawardena, MD, MPH, this short film explores the human side of medicine by attempting to understand the decision-making our healthcare workers were forced to grapple with due to inadequate PPE.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Sahan Jayawardena, director of “Can I Have a Mask”:
Main image, above: “Make a Wish” director Dinh Thai.