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[whitespace] 'Betelnut Beauty'
Betelnut Burps: Chang Chen and Sinje let it rip in 'Betelnut Beauty.'

Eat a Bowl of Celluloid

For the second year, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival reaches out to the South Bay

By Todd Inoue

THE SAN Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the oldest and most respected Asian American film festival in the country, reached out to San Jose last year. Those diehard cultureholics who would normally spin the odometer driving to and from San Francisco got to watch 11 films over six programs, all in the confines of the 408 area code.

With help from the local arts organization Contemporary Asian Theatre Scene, the film festival was a success, with near-capacity screenings and lively post-film discussions.

"The Asian American community in San Jose is incredibly large and diverse, and one which is changing and developing," says festival director Chi-hui Yang. "It's also one which doesn't have great access to Asian American images on the big screen. We thought that it was the right time to bring the Asian American Film Festival to the South Bay."

For 2002, the festival multiplies its San Jose screenings to 32 films in 10 programs this weekend (March 16-17). The selections range from music videos to documentaries, from short dramatic works to full-length features--all focusing on the Asian and Asian American diaspora.

Screenings take place at the Camera Three Cinemas except the music-video event, Directions in Sound, which takes place at the Agenda Lounge Cellar. A closing-night party goes down March 17 at d.p. Fong Galleries, where festival-goers, sponsors, volunteers and filmmakers can mingle and continue the dialogue.

Daughter From Danang
(Saturday, 2:45pm)

This documentary by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco should come with the subtitle "Be careful what you wish for." The subject of this intensely personal film, Heidi Nelville, was one of thousands of Vietnamese children taken from their homes and airlifted to America during the final stages of the Vietnam war. Nelville landed in Tennessee and was brought up a Southerner. Now, 22 years older and estranged from her adoptive mother, Nelville has a reunion with her biological mother that is brought to a cultural and emotionally explosive conclusion. Idealistic visions are altered by the expectations both share; some dreams are meant to stay that way. Like Deann Borshay Liem's First Person Plural or Nathan Adolfson's Passing Through, Daughter From Danang captures the often heartbreaking search for identity and the meaning of family. A Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2002, the ending and epilogue will surprise and astound you.

Directions in Sound
(Saturday, Agenda Cellar, 9pm)

Considered the "cool" event of the San Francisco festival, Directions in Sound pairs live performances with a separate music-video program. The reel features rarely seen videos from acts like the Chinkees, Money Mark, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Karmacy, Tina Pamintuan, Deltron 3030 and more. The live performance promises to be a DJ lover's dream, headlined by Triple Threat DJs Shortkut, Vin Roc and Apollo. Mike Nice and Derrick D warm up the decks.

Obachan's Garden
(Sunday, 1:15pm)

The story of centenarian Ayaso Murakami is touchingly retold through documentary narrative and dramatic re-creations by her granddaughter, filmmaker Linda Ohama. The film begins at a Murakami's nursing home and follows the matriarch's lively eyes as she reflects on the milestones she's witnessed: the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, arriving in British Columbia as a picture bride, the relocation of the Japanese during World War II and the bombing of her hometown, Hiroshima. Murakami also reveals a deep secret she kept from her family for 76 years: she was married once before and left two daughters behind in Japan. I can't describe what happens next, but it is moving and uplifting. Where some documentaries would focus on one turning point, Obachan's Garden is a celebration of one woman's life and a celluloid thank-you card to the Issei, or first-generation of Japanese immigrants. Bring tissues.

In Time Sounds
(Sunday, 4pm)

This shorts program serves as an excellent primer to the youthful Directions in Sound program. The work of Asian American musicians Hiroshima is chronicled in Duane Kubo's 1977 classic Cruisin' J-Town. Excellent for its coverage of the spirit and beginnings of Hiroshima, but just plain cool for the vintage threads, middle-part comb jobs and '70s jive talk (there are at least three dialogue parts I'm sampling for my next mixtape). Outside In Sight is a documentary on United Front, a pioneering force in the Asian American jazz scene. Genny Lim--The Voice is a look at the Bay Area- based vocalist who bridges blues, gospel, jazz, traditional Chinese and spoken words.

Green Dragon
(Sunday, 6:30pm)

What's Patrick Swayze's ass doing up in an Asian American film festival? Directed by Timothy Linh Bui (brother and Sunnyvale product Tony Bui co-wrote and co-produced), Green Dragon covers a forgotten chapter of the Vietnam War experience: the refugee camp. Trung Nguyen plays Minh, a mop top who has to deal with a new life and surroundings without his mother. He is befriended by the camp cook, Addie (Forest Whitaker). Swayze has a supporting role as Staff Sgt. Jim Lance, who teaches everyone to dance ... just kidding--he oversees the Camp Pendleton relocation operation. The film is on the dry side--a prisoner of its own environment and pacing--but admirable for presenting a humanizing look inside the Vietnamese-American immigration experience.

All Amateur Ecstasy
(Saturday, 9:45pm)

This shorts is program dedicated to getting your freak on. Asian folks get nekkid (Wash Dark Colours Separately), have "orgasms" (All Amateur Ecstasy), act out (Cat Fight Tonight, Same in Blues, Banana Nut Bread), date outside their race (Welcome to the Family) and don't brush their teeth before going to bed--the shock! Don't miss Barrier Device, a creative 27-minute film about sexual frustration and female condoms starring Arli$$ and Double Happiness diva Sandra Oh.

Betelnut Beauty
(Saturday, 7:15pm)

Here is one of those youthful, sexy and stylish imports that the festival loves so much. Taiwanese singing star Sinje plays Fei-fei, a "betelnut beauty" in modern Taipei who hawks herbal stimulants roadside by using her sex appeal. Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Happy Together) plays Feng, her whipped boyfriend. Together and apart, they search for meaning while getting caught up in gangland drama and the paper chase. Betelnut Beauty is from the same team that brought us Beijing Bicycle.

Too late for review: A little boy travels from India to Ottawa to find help for his mother and gets caught up in a love triangle in A Passage to Ottawa (Saturday, 12:15pm). Filmmaker Mira Nair is celebrated in a shorts program Salaam Mira! (Saturday, 5pm). Demons (Pangarap Ng Puso) (Sunday, 9:30pm) is a dramatic portrait of two young lovers split by political turmoil. The film is directed by Mario O'Hara, whose tribute at a recent Singapore International Film Festival earned him a new, appreciative audience.

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Screenings take place at Camera Three (Second and San Carlos streets, San Jose) unless otherwise noted. March 16: 'A Passage to Ottawa,' 12:15pm; 'Daughter From Danang,' 2:45pm; 'Salaam Mira!,' 5pm; 'Betelnut Beauty,' 7:15pm; 'All Amateur Ecstasy,' 9:45pm; 'Directions in Sound,' 9pm at Agenda Lounge Cellar, 399 S First St., San Jose. March 17: 'Obachan's Garden,' 1:15pm; 'In Time Sounds,' 4pm; 'Green Dragon,' 6:30pm; 'Demons (Pangarap Ng Puso),' 9:30pm; open reception, 9pm at d.p. Fong Galleries, 383 S First St, San Jose. Tickets available through CATS: 408.298.2287. (www.naatanet.org/festival/2002)

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From the March 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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