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New York Asian Film Festival Goes Hybrid to Accommodate a Global Audience

ESCAPE-FROM-MOGADISHU
Courtesy of Samuel Jamier/Lotte Entertainment

After going fully virtual in 2020, the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) returns with a hybrid lineup of screenings Aug. 6-22.

The festival will open Aug. 6 with Ryoo Seung-wan’s South Korean action-drama “Escape From Mogadishu,” which depicts the perilous escape attempt by Korean embassy workers stranded during the onset of the civil war in Somalia.

Samuel Jamier, executive director of NYAFF, calls it one of the biggest Korean releases of the year and says the film will open in theaters simultaneously with its in-person international premiere at Film at Lincoln Center.

“‘Escape From Mogadishu’ shows the expansion of Korea and where it’s aiming to be,” Jamier says. “It would have been hard to conceive 10 years ago another war film set in Somalia, a territory that has only been explored in ‘Black Hawk Down’ in some fashion.”

One of the few American film festivals devoted to pics from the Asian continent, the New York Asian Film Festival has been around for 20 years.

Presented by the New York Asian Film Foundation in association with Film at Lincoln Center, the 20th annual festival will showcase its largest lineup to date, with two world premieres, six international premieres, 29 North American premieres, eight U.S. premieres and nine New York premieres. In addition to FLC’s virtual cinema, screenings will take place at the FLC’s Walter Reade Theater and SVA Theatre.

The film’s feature film competition lineup includes “Anima” from Cao Jingling (China), “City of Lost Things” by Yee Chih-yen (Taiwan), “Hand Rolled Cigarette” from Chan Kin Long (Hong Kong), “Joint” from Oudai Kojima (Japan), “Ten Months” by Namkoong Sun (South Korea) and “Tiong Bahru Social Club by Tan Bee Thiam” (Singapore). These are first and second features from the directors and are vying for the Uncaged Award.

NYAFF will screen films from Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Kazakhstan and Singapore. New this year will be the Asian American Focus selection, which features a number of films shot in the U.S. Some of the features headlining this section include Aimee Long’s “A Shot Through the Wall,” Iman K. Zawahry’s “Americanish” and Evan Jackson Leong’s “Snakehead.”

For the first time, Variety will honor a couple of Asian filmmakers at this fest. Ann Hui is to receive the Variety Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award, while the Variety Star Asia Award will be bestowed on Gordon Lam.

The festival will showcase Hui’s early film “The Story of Woo Viet” to celebrate its 40th anniversary as well as the recent documentary “Keep Rolling,” which explores her filmmaking career.

“While director Ann Hui has been celebrated in Europe, we feel her work is still a bit under the radar in the U.S. and deserves to be celebrated,” Jamier says. “We are proud to present some of her best and early work, from the Vietnam trilogy, ‘Boat People’ and ‘The Story of Woo Viet,’ as well as a very thorough documentary exploring her exceptional and long career in ‘Keep Rolling.’”

Lam’s films “Limbo,” directed by Soi Cheang and “Hand Rolled Cigarette” by Chan Kin Long will screen.

Other honorees are Rising Stars Bang Min-A, Janine Gutierrez and Sosuke Ikematsu, plus Yoon Jae-Keun for the Excellence in Action Cinema Award.

Jamier would like to continue expanding to other territories in Asia, especially with the recent rise of violence against Asian Americans. He hopes the festival can help unite members of his community as well as have other communities speak up for them.

“We live in the same country, I think people need to say something at some level,” he says. “This situation is becoming unsustainable, it’s almost unbearable. I think the debate has been a little bit stagnant. I think in terms of commercial cinema in the past few years, we’ve made one step forward and two steps backward at times.”

Jamier points to Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Mulan” and Netflix’s sudden cancellation of “Kim’s Convenience” as some recent setbacks.

“I think things like ‘Mulan’ are atrocious and really set back in terms of advancing,” Jamier says. “It’s good to have more Asian faces on screen but you need cultural competence.”

With the Delta variant taking over as the dominant COVID virus in the U.S., Jamier has been apprehensive of what could happen a few weeks, but is staying hopeful.

“We’re right in that moment when there could be another surge and it would be really bad planning to have this festival in-person,” he says.