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Asian World Film Festival Highlights Continent’s Cinema Amid Pandemic Challenges

Eternals Movie Marvel
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

“Flabbergasted” is Georges Chamchoum’s choice word to use when thinking of Asia’s disappointingly low Oscar representation, especially given all the masterpieces that have come from the region.

Two years after South Korea’s Parasite won best picture, Chamchoum believes events such as the Asian World Film Festival, of which he serves as executive and program director, are essential to raising those statistics moving forward. Thanks to its mission to strengthen ties between the Asian and Hollywood film industries, Chamchoun says, “We are part of the puzzle that puts Asian- American art in the spotlight.”

This year, AWFF (founded by Kyrgyz public figure Sadyk Sher-Niyaz) will showcase films to members of the Motion Picture Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and all the guilds during a critical phase of the awards season leading up to the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Festivities kick off with a screening of Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao’s Eternals on Nov. 1 and conclude with South Korea’s Oscar-submitted film “Escape From Mogadishu” on Nov. 11.

Zhao will be honored at the festival with a Snow Leopard Trophy for cinematic achievement. The Suicide Squad actor Mayling Ng will receive a rising star trophy and France Nuyen’s lifetime work will also be recognized. The festival will pay tribute to Lisa Lu’s 65th anniversary as an actor with the screening of “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” as well as offer a screening of Journey From the Fall for its 15th anniversary.

The newly designed Snow Leopard trophies were created by Vietnamese-American artist and master sculptor Sir Daniel Winn, and will be presented for best film, best actor and best actress, along with special jury, audience and distinction awards.

Celebratory events honoring Vietnamese, Korean and African entertainment are on the agenda as well. Awards will be presented by Cambodian Princess Norodom Arunrasmy, Ryoo Seung-wan, Nancy Kwan and Shannon Lee.

To qualify for competition, films must be submitted for Oscars, or be up for similar honors at the Golden Globes. This year, submissions for several categories are due the same day the festival launches, which has impacted the number of films being featured at AWFF.

Thus far, the lineup includes Qazaq History of the Golden Man, We Are Never Alone and Chí Phèo (Ngoại Truyện). Chamchoun expresses a mix of excitement and concern leading up to AWFF’s seventh opening gala.

“We’re running against time, at the 11th hour. We have secured seven to eight movies. Usually, we show 30 Oscar-submitted films,” Chamchoum says.

He also notes it has been a challenge to ensure those being honored at the festival could attend, especially if they are traveling from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and China that are dealing with difficult pandemic travel restrictions.

“Thankfully, there are a lot of filmmakers from those countries already in this country,” he says.

As for how the pandemic has cratered creative endeavors and anticipated celebrations over the past year and a half — from delayed productions and theatrical releases to events switching from red carpets to virtual presentations — Chamchoum is elated that AWFF will be in person.

“It’s not my cup of tea,” Chamchoum quips, referencing Zoom calls and online events.

Despite the aforementioned hitches, he says securing a highly anticipated project such as Zhao’s Marvel venture, which stars a diverse cast including Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani, is worthy of celebration. Chamchoum adds that it took three months alone to snag “Eternals” and he’s “extremely lucky that one person at Disney was as passionate as I was for some crazy reason” to help the festival secure it.

“It’s a big movie, an amazing cast, a great director. And of course, we champion Asian Americans, so what better than this movie to open our festival?,” Chamchoun says. “For me, the most important thing is I want a movie that the audience enjoys, that the audience knows they aren’t in Hollywood, and that the audience knows that Asian Americans are capable.”

Looking back at the festival’s history of opening and closing films, as well as all of the awareness it has brought to Asian cinema, Chamchoun says he feels “blessed” for what AWFF has been able to present thus far and is thankful for having such an “amazing team” to make it happen.

“We believe in our mission.”

TIPSHEET
WHAT: The seventh annual Asian World Film Festival
WHEN: Nov. 1-11
WHERE: The Landmark, Los Angeles
WEB: asianworldfilmfest.org