Sonjia Hyon is the Festival Director of the Asian American International Film Festival, the longest-running festival devoted to the works of Asian and Asian American filmmakers. This year the Festival celebrates its 31st year in New York from July 10th to July 19th.
I started working in Asian American film as an intern at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in 1999. At the time, my interest in Asian American film was an extension of my interest in subculture and independent media — I was an avid reader of zines, listener of college radio, and a patron of small art house theaters. What I mostly appreciated was that I belonged to a society that advocated difference instead of conformity, and believed in unity, not uniformity. For me, this was the transformative quality of Asian American cinema: it wasn’t about affirming my identity as an Asian American woman; instead, it continually unraveled what Asian American identity meant — making it more complicated, more indefinable, more ambiguous. Films by Christine Choy, Jon Moritsugu and Rea Tajiri provided a lens to challenge assumptions and question the obvious.
Almost ten years later, I’ve become the director of the Asian American International Film Festival in New York, and like the Festival, I’ve also just entered my 30s. Turning 30, you start to reprioritize, evaluate what’s important and let go. Here at the Festival, it’s the same. We see our 30s as a moment to break from the film festival model that embraces glamour and celebrities, and instead honor films and their filmmakers. At AAIFF, we are inspired by our founders Daryl Chin, Tom Tam and Fern Lee, all of whom believed in the importance of independent filmmakers in mobilizing different ways to imagine how to live.
In honor of officially entering our 30s, we’re bringing back veteran filmmakers such Wayne Wang, director of the festival’s opening night film, The Princess of Nebraska, and introducing many new vanguards such as Malaysian filmmaker Sang Tat Liew, documentary filmmakers Risa Morimoto and Derek Shimoda, and our exciting line-up of shorts directors.
I am also thrilled to announce our new series of conversations on culture and ideas — New Landscapes: Media and Its Adaptations. This series has become a pet project of the staff and our collaborators at Asia Society and the Asian/Pacific/Institute at NYU. Collectively, we wanted to put together a conference that encouraged interdisciplinary thinking and talking. The panels range in topic from an intimate conversation between female documentary filmmakers moderated by POV’s own Anne del Castillo, to a discussion on Asian aesthetics between some of the world’s top artists such as architect Billie Tsien and playwright David Henry Hwang.