By Neha Aziz (AAAFF Programmer) and Elizabeth Spieckerman (AAAFF Co-Director of Marketing)
The annual Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF), which was scheduled to occur last month at the AFS Cinema, had to quickly reevaluate its plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result was AAAFF’s Online Shorts Festival, a virtual showcase of 36 short films from Asian and Asian American talent that took place from June 11-17, 2020. This unique selection of narrative and documentary short films reflected a diverse spectrum of experiences and family dynamics rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
Following a tough deliberation by the jury (Anand Modi, Angie Han, and Tanuj Chopra), Kim Tran’s subversive, hilarious Pussy Talk was awarded the Best Narrative Short jury prize, with honorable mentions given to Nima Aghakhani’s I Killed A Person and YuHui Yang’s Taiwanese Cha Cha Cha.
Other standout narrative shorts were Leena Pendharkar’s Awaken--about a daughter (portrayed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Parminder Nagra) caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease--drawn from the director’s personal experiences.
In an interview with AAAFF, Pendarkar stated that Awaken aims to portray the “complexity of emotion” that accompanies caring for a sick parent.
Pendharkar perfectly summarized the motivation behind AAAFF’s mission by highlighting the importance of works from fresh filmmaking voices, stating that first generation Indian Americans and Asian Americans are “creating our own narrative…in a way that hasn’t been told before.”
Although Awaken is a film about a difficult topic that “no one wants to talk about,” Pendharker imparts that “it is very important for our community.”
Other narrative selections from the festival take viewers on equally complex personal journeys.
Meelad Moaphi’s Worth, shot in Pakistan, explores the lengths that a single father is willing to go to protect his family.
Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta’s Halwa chronicles a snippet of empty-nester Sujata’s life and struggling marriage as she reconnects with a childhood companion via Facebook.
Asavari Kumar’s stunning animated short Passage literally takes viewers inside of an Indian woman’s head to witness her tumult of memories and anxieties--inspired by the “perfect storm of fear, disillusionment, and helplessness” Kumar felt in the wake of current events.
Patrick G. Lee’s Unspoken, which interviews six queer and trans Asian Americans about what they wish to share with their families about their LGBTQ+ identities, took home the Best
Documentary Short prize.
As jury members Casey Baron, Erica Deiparine-Sugars, and Minji Chang stated, Unspoken “acts as a powerful and timely film that captures an important emerging experience in the Asian American community in raw and moving honesty”--capturing both the pain and happiness of its subjects, which results in a “messaging of courage and hope.”
The jury gave an honorable mention to Emiko Omori’s Vanishing Chinatown: The World of The May’s Photo Studio.
This expansive showcase of San Francisco’s mid-century Chinatown unveils the titular studio’s nearly-forgotten history, bringing long-overdue recognition to owner and photographer Leo Chan.
Learn more about AAAFF’s mission and upcoming events at aaafilmfest.org.