The Seattle Asian American Film Festival is a weekend-spanning showcase of films by, for, and about Asian Americans. Among the offerings: Raskal Love, Byron Q's documentary about the life of Massive Monkees member Vanna Fut, aka Lazy; Innocent Blood, Sun W. Kim and D.J. Holloway's crime thriller set in LA's Koreatown; and Suju Vijayan's mixed-family relationship dramedy The Playback Singer. Full festival info at seattleaaff.org, reviews of two featured titles—both documentaries about Asian American women who go places you won't believe—below.
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Director Grace Lee met the subject of her latest documentary through an earlier work, The Grace Lee Project, which collected stories from women bearing that common name in hopes of refuting the stereotype of Asian American women as passive. In philosopher/activist Grace Lee Boggs, director Lee found a story that required its own film. Now 98 and still engaged in daily political and social activism in Detroit, Boggs has devoted her life to an array of US social movements: feminism, radical labor, civil rights, Black Power. As Angela Davis says in the film, "She's made more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have." American Revolutionary succinctly tracks Boggs's amazing life, from her childhood among poor black citizens of Detroit, to the Barnard class on Hegel that exploded her brain, to the political activism that earned her a fat FBI file. (A serious Black Power proponent who saw violence as "inevitable" and "therapeutic," Boggs dismissed MLK as naive, throwing her support behind Malcolm X, whose name she still speaks with love.) Now nearly a centenarian, Boggs wages daily battles for justice around Detroit, her warm smile preceding her intellectual prickliness. She dreams of a synthesis of MLK and Malcolm, and remains clear-eyed: "Black Power couldn't solve the Detroit jobs crisis."
Seeking Asian Female
The subject of Debbie Lum's documentary could hardly be more salacious: "yellow fever," the euphemistic affliction that drives non-Asian men to fetishize Asian women, not only for their features but often for their perceived servile nature. But out of this salacious seed grows a big, weird, constantly surprising tree of a movie, following Steven, a twice-divorced 60-year-old California man who essentially imports himself a young bride from China. We are there as the twentysomething Sandy arrives at the airport, ready to build a life with a man who lusts over her hair and lower eyelids, among people who think crossing the language barrier means speaking English slower and louder. Soon, Sandy is sharing secrets with her one and only American friend—filmmaker Lum, who gets dragged into the relationship as translator, marriage counselor, and intermediary. Seeking Asian Female winds up going places you cannot imagine, creating what must at last be called a love story.
The 2014 Seattle Asian American Film Festival runs Feb 6–9 at Ark Lodge Cinemas. Find full info at seattleaaff.org.