What do estranged siblings, Sriracha sauce and activist provocateurs have in common? Each is being showcased in this year’s Seattle Asian American Film Festival. SAAFF is a four-day event for screenings of feature-length and short films by and about Asian Americans, with an emphasis on filmmakers from the Pacific Northwest.
The festival was first introduced to Seattle in 1985 as the Northwest Asian American Film Festival. Since then, it’s had a slew of different producers and a couple of lengthy hiatuses. Now co-directors Kevin Bang and Vanessa Au, who revived the event in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, are in charge.
“I think just like every other year, the point of our festival is to provide a space for the Asian American perspective and experience, which is something you don’t normally see in mainstream media,” Bang said.
Bang first attended the festival during its 2003-2007 run while he was a student at the University of Washington, and wanted to bring the festival back to Seattle for good.
“We hit it out of the park, pretty much, the first year,” he said. “Now we’re slowly growing it and building a bigger staff so that it can sustain itself and not go away like it did in previous years.”
With Asian Americans accounting for about 15 percent of Seattle’s population, Bang said he believes it’s important for the community to be represented on the big screen.
“It’s a really great way to knit the community together,” Bang said. “It’s nice to have this outlet for Asian folks and for the general film-going community.”
Individual movie tickets are $11—or $8 for students—or a full pass to the festival can be purchased for $75. Here are just a few of the featured films to get excited about this year.
To Be Takei
| Hardcore Trekkies will likely be among the most excited to see George Takei—famous for his role as Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek”—as the subject of this documentary film. “To Be Takei” is the festival’s opener, and it tells Takei’s life story as a World War II internment camp survivor, prominent actor and gay rights activist. “Star Trek” fans aren’t the only ones who should be able to enjoy this; Takei’s perpetual smile and undeniable likeability should make this a worthwhile watch. Plus, the film’s tagline is “A Star’s Trek for Life, Liberty, and Love,” which is enough to sell the movie on its own.
| “Sriracha” is a short documentary film about the origin story of—surprise, surprise—Sriracha sauce, one of the many variants of hot sauce we tend to drizzle on just about everything. Though the earliest versions of the sauce can be traced back to Thailand, a Vietnamese man of Chinese descent named David Tran is responsible for bringing it to the states—and the story of how his company came to be is seriously incredible. This short film reveals Tran’s unique, refreshing business philosophy and comically depicts the unflinching loyalty of Sriracha lovers across America. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s about food, and food is never boring.
A Picture of You
| In this comedy-drama, an estranged brother and sister meet up in rural Pennsylvania to clear out their recently deceased mother’s home. While perusing the mother’s computer, they make a discovery about her secret romantic life and must decide whether or not to investigate further. “A Picture of You” is the debut feature film by director J.P. Chan, whose previous short films have screened at festivals such as Slamdance, SXSW, Tribeca and Comic-Con. It’s a New York Times Critic’s Pick, and this is the first screening of the film in Seattle.
| Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 essay he wrote for the New York Times Magazine. After the essay garnered a huge amount of attention, Vargas decided to chronicle his life’s journey as an immigration reform activist and provocateur in this documentary. Directed by Vargas himself, it includes the stories of his immigration as a child from the Philippines to America and his recent reconnection with his mother, whom he has not seen in 20 years. With immigration reform as a hot-button issue in the U.S. today, “Documented” is a definite must-see.
This is Bianca Sewake's fourth and final year at The Spectator, where she is the Online Content Editor and Managing Editor. She is equal parts excited and terrified that she is graduating with a BA in Journalism this spring. Unlike her hair color, Bianca's love for ice cream will never change.