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The Japantown Film Festival

The Japantown Film Festival will feature documentaries, short films, animation
NO MAS UVAS: A documentary about Larry Itliong's (far right) role in the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 will screen at the first-ever Japantown Film Festival.

The first-ever Japantown Film Festival will explode this weekend, proving that if institutions collaborate, sponsors climb on board and people of ethnic persuasions harmonize their collective rallying cries, then a rip-roaring creative nexus of awesomeness will unfold. Most of the festival transpires at the Northside Community Center on Friday night and Saturday, with the Japanese American Museum participating on Sunday.

A refreshing wave of creative and social activity seems to be percolating in J-town these days, none of which limits itself to only those of Japanese descent. The festival's opening night gala hoedown spectacular, for example, features a screening of Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farmworkers, directed by Marissa Aroy, who will be present.

Just 30 minutes long, Delano Manongs tells the story of farm labor organizer Larry Itliong and a group of Filipino farm workers who helped instigate the legendary Delano Grape Strike of 1965, an event that essentially led to the creation of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

The strike has gone down in history as primarily a Chicano movement under the leadership of Cesar Chavez; what gets forgotten is the role Filiipinos played in the effort. The cigar-toting Itliong, who had only seven fingers, assembled a group of 1,500 Filipinos to strike against the Delano grape growers, unleashing a collaboration between Filipinos, Chicanos and other ethnic workers that survived for decades to come.

After the film, Aroy will take part in a conversation and discussion including the legendary playwright and filmmaker Luis Valdez, who has already documented the 1965 strike and UFW formation in his own works. Following the conversation, the local DJ collective Sonido Clash will curate a wild ethnic crossover of performances and sounds. Sonido Clash specializes in progressive DJ dance nights, which fuse traditional and emerging Latin diasporas with all sorts of nouveau electronic prescriptions. It ain't your usual Latin bar gig, believe me. What's more, tacos and lumpia are included with your ticket.

The remainder of the festival will unload a variety of films over the course of the weekend. East Side Sushi, a runaway smash at last year's Cinequest Film Festival, tells the story of a Latina single mother who runs a food cart in Oakland, while striving to become a sushi chef—gradually realizing the racial and gender battles she needs to wage. The film's director, Anthony Lucero, will appear in person for a Q&A after the screening.

For animation fans, Hibakusha, a 2012 American short film directed by Steve Nguyen and Choz Belen, is centered around Kaz Suyeishi—a woman in her late 50s who begins to reminisce about her earlier years living in Hiroshima during the hideous aftermath of the atomic bomb. Specific 3D animation and graphic design techniques bring the story to life.

There's even a Pacific Islander tattoo flick, Skin Stories, showcasing a melange of tales and images. Several hot spots of Pacific tattooing come to life—from Rotorua in New Zealand to the first international tattoo convention in Apia, Samoa, and also the Hawaiian Islands. Skin Stories co-producer Emiko Omori will appear for a Q&A following the film.

Still another special event unfolds on Sunday at the Japanese-American Museum. Toshi Washizu's film Issei: The First Generation, was originally filmed in 1983, in and around Walnut Grove, Calif., and was shown only twice in in 1984 on local television before it was buried for 30 years. The film presents original interviews with Walnut Grove's first-generation Japanese—all of them between the ages of 80 and 100—recounting their lives and experiences in their own words--before, during and after the war. A newly restored, widescreen, digital version of the film, with English narration and subtitles, brings the story into the modern era.

"We want the J-Town Film Festival to be part of the great tradition of independent film festivals in the valley," says Duane Kubo, one of the festival's de facto organizers. "[Institutions like] the Camera Theaters and Cinequest have nurtured a very sophisticated independent film-viewing audience. The valley's appetite for film is really insatiable."

Japantown Film Festival

May 29-May 31, $8-$75

Japantown, San Jose