Since being revived in 2013, the Seattle Asian American Film Festival (February 21–24) continues to grow into one of the major highlights on the city’s cinematic calendar. Over four days (mostly at Broadway Performance Hall and Northwest Film Forum), this year’s slate includes documentaries about finding your true family (Made in Vietnam) and diversity among comic-book creators (Drawn Together), animated family entertainment (On Happiness Road), and a host of shorts programming (some of which is free). The opening night after-party also features dreamy indie rock from the fabulous Japanese Breakfast.
For the uninitiated or those who have trouble making decisions what to see, here are four SAAFF picks that provide a good cross-section of what the festival has to offer.
Comedy nerds know Kulap Vilaysack as a co-host of the Earwolf podcast Who Charted? and wife of Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman. But due to a traumatic childhood incident, Vilaysack feels like she doesn’t truly know herself. When her combative mother told her as a child that the man who helped raise her wasn’t her biological father, it sent her world spinning. In an attempt to find out the full story, Vilaysack made her story into a documentary, confronting her family to garner the truth and eventually connecting with her real dad in Laos. The rollercoaster of comedic and tearful emotions throughout the film touch on the complexity of family, identity, and reconciling with the past.
Thursday, February 21 at 7 p.m. | Broadway Performance Hall | Sold Out
Have you ever wondered why Vietnamese nail salons are such an omnipresent force? Did you realize it’s a multibillion-dollar industry? Documentary filmmaker Adele Pham lays out how Vietnamese refugees grew to dominate the beauty sector (with a surprising assist from a Hitchcockian film star) and how the cultural family dynamics help them maintain their foothold.
Friday, February 22 at 8:30 p.m. | Broadway Performance Hall
As one of the few fictional features at this year’s SAAFF, For Izzy lays out a pretty high degree of difficulty for itself. It’s a story of Dede, a queer female drug addict with a stern mother (with a hidden past) coming out of her downward spiral due to an unlikely friendship with autistic adult neighbor Laura and Laura’s overprotective father. Oh, and there’s a love story between the father and mother. Oh, and there’s also a faux documentary backdrop and many segments of animation to convey the inner workings of Laura’s mind. It’s a lot to take in. That said, For Izzy mostly pulls it off thanks to strong performances from its four key actors and its tender heart.
Saturday, February 23 at 4 p.m. | Northwest Film Forum
Call Her Ganda
The murder of trans women is a major issue worldwide, and Call Her Ganda highlights one incident that drew international attention. In October 2014, Filipina trans woman Jennifer Laude was found murdered in a motel room in the Philippines. The suspect? A 19-year-old United States Marine. In this award-winning documentary, director PJ Raval deep-dives into the case, the tricky colonialist relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, and the outrage Laude’s death sparked in both the trans community and the Philippines at large.
Sunday, February 24 at 11 a.m. | Broadway Performance Hall
Seattle Asian American Film Festival
February 21-24 | Various venues | Free–$13; Festival pass $90 | seattleaaff.org