Constellating Histories: Encountering Asian American Diasporas Onscreen

  • January 6, 2023 | 12:00 AM - 11:59 PM | Friday
  • Oldham Theatre
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From Chinatown sagas and experimental documentary, to musicals in Technicolor and punk-inspired chamber dramas, this series brings together a constellation of voices from the Asian American cinematic imaginary. The images, sounds, and narratives of these films express both a longing from the dispossessed for an unattainable homeland and a glee at having broken away from it.

Constellating Histories: Encountering Asian American Diasporas Onscreen will run from 6 January – 19 March 2023 at Oldham Theatre. There will be an accompanying exhibition entitled Video Reveries featuring the works of Asian American video artists that will be presented at the Oldham Theatre foyer. Three of the video artworks part of Video Reveries will also be made available online. Two panel discussions will also be presented.

About the programme

The twin bulwarks of authenticity and representation have stymied Asian American filmmaking as much as they have inspired it. The images, sounds, and narratives of these films express both a longing from the dispossessed for an unattainable homeland and a glee at having broken away from it. 

The series starts with the “Chinatown Origin Myths” strand, featuring a double bill of Anna May Wong’s often painful but lucrative Hollywood films and moves into a sequence of themed film programmes and talks that showcase the breadth and limits of the Asian American cinematic imaginary. With “Reclaiming History”, historical and current documentaries are introduced. Asian American filmmakers made inroads in documentary far earlier than in fiction, displaying an impulse to both uplift and resist the difficult, self-effacing work of building political solidarity between social strata and imperial histories of conquest.

The following weeks feature a constellation of works, mostly by diasporic filmmakers, working in opposition to the pervasive trend towards “finding one’s roots”. The selections in “Tradition Re-Framed” and “American Trash” deliberately include works made by Asian filmmakers crossing the Pacific to make work in America, and films by Asian American directors who often seem to be directly opposing their Asian heritage and Amy Tan-esque stories of intergenerational conflict. In the US, as in Singapore, this binary narrative drives the flattening of geopolitical conflict between different Asian countries and is especially marked when it comes to class differences, colourism, and religion. The cult-status of films in “Super Indie” belie their unique distribution paths and genre inspirations, and connect directly to the influence of LGBTQ+ filmmakers and contemporary queer films in “A Bold Gaze.”

In the final weeks, we offer an alternative to the internationalisation of the Asian American cinematic imaginary on global understandings of conflict and belonging. “A Moment of Aloha” centres a new wave of Hawai’ian filmmakers who are peeling apart generations of the island’s contested settlement in formally thrilling ways. In ending with “Dreaming of Home,” the films made by US-based narrative filmmakers, returning to their ancestral homelands, offer a palliative to the commercial worship of Crazy Rich Asians (2018). The sentimental romances and intense thrillers these features offer, however, point to the enduring limitation of authenticity as a measure of worth in a world when filmmaking remains a pervasive tool of soft power.

Complementing the entire programme is an installation of contributions by artists of Asian descent in video art, experimental film, and performance art. Many of these works inspired the featured filmmakers, or worked in opposition to the normalising forces of the capital put into feature-length works. The complete line-up of video works can be viewed at the foyer of the Oldham Theatre. A smaller sample of these works will be available online via AFA’s website and vimeo page. 

– Abby Sun & Keisha Knight, Guest Curators 

About the Curators

Abby Sun

Abby Sun is the Director of Artist Programs at International Documentary Association (IDA). As a graduate researcher in the MIT Open Documentary Lab, she edited Immerse. Most recently, Abby was the Curator of the DocYard and co-curated My Sight is Lined with Visions: 1990s Asian American Film & Video with Keisha Knight. Expanding on the latter’s programmatic urges, Abby and Keisha launched Line of Sight, a suite of artist development activities, in 2021.

Abby has bylines in Film Comment, Filmmaker Magazine, Film Quarterly, Notebook Magazine, Hyperallergic, and other publications. She has served on festival juries for Hot Docs, Dokufest, Cleveland, Palm Springs, New Orleans, and CAAMfest, as well as nominating committees for the Gotham Awards and Cinema Eye Honors. Abby has reviewed applications for grants from BGDM, NEA, SFFILM, LEF Foundation, Sundance Catalyst, and spoken on and facilitated panels at TIFF, NYFF, Locarno, and other film festivals. Her latest short film, Cuba Scalds His Hand (co-directed with Daniel Garber), premiered at Maryland Film Festival in 2019. 

Keisha Knight

Keisha Knight is the Director of Funds at the International Documentary Association (IDA) and Creative Director of Sentient. Art. Film, a creative distribution initiative. Keisha passionately believes that the entire lifecycle of a film, from conception to circulation, is a creative process that can expand or constrict what and how we imagine. Keisha has a BA in Comparative Religion from Barnard College, an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University. Keisha has been part of the programming teams at the New York African Film Festival, and the Maryland Film Festival she has also participated on numerous juries and project review committees.

Programme Lineup

Strand 1: Chinatown Origin Myths
DOUBLE BILL: King of Chinatown (1939, Nick Grinde) + Daughter of the Dragon (1931, Lloyd Corrigan)
Enter the Dragon (1973, Robert Clouse)
Flower Drum Song
(1961, Henry Koster)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

Strand 2: Reclaiming History
Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987, Christine Choy, Renee Tajima-Peña)
Expedition Content
(2020, Veronika Kusumaryati, Ernst Karel)
Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust
(2021, Ann Kaneko)
Free Chol Soo Lee (2022, Julie Ha and Eugene Li)

Strand 3: Tradition Re-Framed
The Wedding Banquet (1993, Ang Lee)
Terminal USA (1993, Jon Moritsugu)
Kelly Loves Tony (1998, Spencer Nakasako)
DOUBLE BILL: Twitch (1999, Amit Desai) + The Namesake (2006, Mira Nair)

Strand 4: American Trash
Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978, Tommy Chong, Lou Adler)
The Golden Child (1986, Michael Ritchie)
Shanghai Noon (2000, Tom Dey)
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg)
The Paper Tigers (2020, Bao Tran)

Strand 5: Super Indie
DOUBLE BILL: my favorite software is being here (2021, Alison Nguyen) + Fresh Kill (1994, Shu Lea Cheang)
Shopping for Fangs (1997, Quentin Lee and Justin Lin)
Fruit Fly (2009, H.P. Mendoza)
In the Family (2012, Patrick Wang)

Strand 6: A Bold Gaze 
DOUBLE BILL: Koré (1991, Tran.T Kim-Trang) + Saving Face (2004, Alice Wu)
Spa Night (2016, Andrew Ahn)
Call Her Ganda (2018, PJ Raval)
Lingua Franca (2019, Isabel Sandoval)

Strand 7: A Moment of Aloha
August at Akiko’s (2018, Christopher Makoto Yogi)
Every Day in Kaimukī (2022, Alika Tengan)
Na Wāhine Kanaka Maoli in Hawaiʻi Cinema (guest curated by Taylour Chang)

Strand 8: Dreaming of Home
Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive (1989, Wayne Wang)
Bontoc Eulogy (1995, Marlon Fuentes)
Valley of the Saints (2012, Musa Syeed)
No Data Plan (2019, Miko Revereza)

Tickets for Strand 1 – 3 of this programme will go on sale Wednesday, 21 December 2022.
Tickets for the rest of the programme will be released soon.  

Oldham Theatre’s opening hours

Friends of AFA members may select the “Friends of AFA” option and enter your membership number if you wish to redeem your remaining complimentary tickets.

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