VAFF Celebrates 23 Years with NO LIMITASIANS
Over the past year, Asian representation has increased immensely in mainstream media. With several films over the past year creating a renewed catalyst for engagement, a new generation of Asian actors are setting the bar high for Hollywood to continue to include diversity and representation in all aspects of the industry.
Against this backdrop, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) launched its 23rd annual film festival under the theme of NO LIMITASIANS, celebrating the achievements of Asian diaspora and empowering aspiring artists of Asian descent. From November 7-10, VAFF celebrated this year’s festival with more than 150 volunteers, 39 films, 13 Canadian premieres, 10 different languages and 9 awards to celebrate the achievements of Asians in film. Missed out on the festival? Check out our recap of the top 10 events that happened at VAFF this year and relive the festival experience.
1. Glitz and Glamour on VAFF Opening Night
The start of VAFF 2019 began with a tremendous turnout and an incredible amount of energy from the film community in Vancouver with a screening of Director Ximan Li’s In a New York Minute. The film which featured Ludi Lin, one of this year’s VAFF brand ambassadors was not only met with a full house, but was also complemented by a Q&A session with Director Li in attendance.
Moviegoers then moved on over to the opening gala after party at D6 Bar & Lounge – Parq Vancouver, which featured live entertainment provided by Melo Lv, Wild Waves and ERR DAY DJs. VAFF also proudly presented the lifetime patron award to Richard Wong, for his generous donation of $10,000 to the festival. With food, drinks, a lively crowd and some of the best in local entertainment, the opening night was nothing short of excitement, entertainment and laughter for all in attendance.
2. A Diversity of Films
VAFF 2019’s lineup of films featured a diversity of films hailing from Asia including China, Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Singapore as well as Asian diaspora from our neighbours down south, the United States, and of course, homegrown Canadian talent. In particular, VAFF this year had a particularly strong representation from the Filipino diaspora community. From the story of Filipino workers travelling around the world in search of a better life in the Canadian-produced Becoming Labrador, the pursuit of identity and belonging in the Manila-based film Empty by Design, and the story of a young Filipino country singer in Yellow Rose, all of these films kept audiences captivated as they reflected the diversity found in global Asian communities.
In addition to showcasing of international talent, VAFF also brought to the spotlight a variety of Canadian talents from across the country. The from mystery documentary The World is Bright to the story of female empowerment in the Indo-Canadian film Because we are Girls, homegrown Canadian films continued to reflect the multicultural nature of our society. The demand for Canadian content also created two short film series: Canadian Shorts and BC Shorts which featured a combined total of 18 films from local talent across our country.
3. VAFF Industry Panel Series Inspires New Filmmakers
Launched in 2013, VAFF brought back its annual industry panel series to discuss issues of diversity and to mobilize advocacy for better representation in television film and media. This year brought to the spotlight two panels that highlighted two particular issues within the industry.
The first panel Asian Leading Men in Hollywood (featuring Curtis Lum, Osric Chau, Tarun Keram, Christopher Lee and moderated by Tim Lam) centred upon the negative stereotypes associated with Asian men in Hollywood and upcoming films that are helping change these perceptions including Marvel’s Shang-Chi, Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and the upcoming Mortal Combat film.
The second panel reflected upon a larger question for many young and aspiring filmmakers. Titled Financing Your Film Project (featuring Lauren Davis, Patrice Ramsay, Kim Guise, Robert Wong and moderated by Phil Planta), our VAFF audience heard from both public and private funders about what it takes to transform those pitch projects into full budgeted productions. Overall, both panels illuminated some of the recent issues raised in representation as well as new strategies upcoming filmmakers to broaden their creative horizons.
4. Parties, Parties, Parties!
Every year VAFF hosts a series of industry and filmmaker events that have become a signature part of the festival. In addition to the opening night party at D6 Bar & Lounge – Parq Vancouver, VAFF held parties at multiple venues across the downtown core. Adjacent to the Orpheum, the Annex Theatre became the perfect spunky and cutting-edge venue for VAFF’s industry party. Meanwhile, moviegoers could also hang back and relax at the more casual Saturday-night Centrepiece celebration hosted by Blackbird Public House. In between all of the late night fun, VAFF also managed to host a special Filmmakers’ Brunch for all the visiting filmmakers at the International Arts Gallery in our host venue, the International Village. Of course, VAFF closed the festival with an unforgettable party at The Butcher & Bullock filled with Asian rap, dance jams, karaoke and lip syncing courtesy of our host Lawrence Le Lam and local rapper Chu Chu.
5. 100 Stories Challenge: Final Showdown
To uncover the extraordinary and unique lives of regular Asians living in Canada, VAFF hosted at this year’s festival the 100 Stories Challenge Final Showdown. We celebrated this inaugural competition by narrowing down all of the entries to the top three finalists who pitched their ideas to win a grand prize of $1,000. Filmmakers and judges alike listen to the stories of the finalists to determine who would come out on top. A well deserved congratulations goes out to this year’s winners:
- 1st Place: Vinh Nguyen (“Boat People”)
- 2nd Place: Shon Wong (“World’s Narrowest Secret”)
- 3rd Place: Ronin Wong (“First Swim”)
The 100 Stories Challenge, continuing in 2020, challenges participants to submit the hidden histories from family and friends as a video pitch, to uncover the untold legacy of Asians in Canada. Get ready next year to call your parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles and ask them to share their stories to get in on all the action!
6. Celebrity Appearances
A film festival wouldn’t be completed without a red carpet and celebrity guests. This year, VAFF was fortunate enough to have some amazing Asian American talent as well as local celebrities present at this year’s festival. Tamlyn Tomita, who became most well known for her role in The Joy Luck Club acted as host and moderator for the film Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story while homegrown Vancouver actor Osric Chau was cheered on by local fans for his Vancouver screening of Empty by Design.
Of course, there were also a few surprise guests appearance including Shannon Kook, currently stars as ‘Jordan Green’ in Season 6 of CW’S “The 100”. He is best known for his role as ‘Zane Park’ in Canadian drama series “Degrassi: The Next Generation”. You can also see him as ‘Duncan’ in Freeform’s “Shadow Hunters”, a young ‘Trey Teepano’ in Dark Places, and as ‘Drew Thomas’ in The Conjuring 1 and 2 and local celebrity guest appearances as twins Jaqueline and Joyce Robbins, who are most well known for their roles in the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events joined some of the local screenings and asked thought-provoking questions to our upcoming and rising filmmakers. Of course, we must also acknowledge the dozens of local directors as well as filmmakers from across Canada, the United States and even as far as Japan and China who came out to support their VAFF premieres.
7. AIM Competition: In Search of Asian Rockstars
In addition to our two industry panels, VAFF this year also hosted the AIM3 (Asians in Movies, Music and Media) initiative. VAFF founder Barbara Lee hosted a special event, AIM3 Series (ASIANS IN MUSIC) – Getting In Sync with your Music – sponsored by Creative BC, with experts from Canada’s music industry, including: Natasha Duprey, the Vice President of the Canada Guild of Music Supervisors, producer David Hayman, Ben Chan from Last Gang/Entertainment One and Lex Junior, a Toronto-native music producer and singer/songwriter.
This year’s AIM included a special song writing competition for Asian musicians. Participants submitted songs and 12 winning artists had their songs featured on a special compilation album which was sent music supervisors who place songs in film and television projects locally, nationally and internationally. Make sure to give their songs a listen and keep up-to-date with the latest in Asian Canadian melodies.
8. Fireside Chat with Tan Dun
From motion picture scores for iconic movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, to orchestral theatre, world renowned composer and conductor Tan Dun joined us for a fireside chat hosted by OMNI News reporter and writer Tina Song. Tan shared with the audience more about his musical journal and inspirations before putting on a performance later that evening at the Orpheum Theatre. Co-sponsored by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO), Crouching Tiger & Beyond Concert captured some of Tan’s most famous works, including three martial Arts films by critically acclaimed directors: Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Zhang Yimou (Hero), and Feng Xiaogang (The Banquet). While in Vancouver, Tan Dun not only provided words of wisdom for our audience, but also noted his love for the city’s food scene, notably carrying a cup of iconic bubble tea as he came up on stage.
9. Closing Night Awards
No film festival is ever complete without some panel adjudication and awards. After the final VAFF screening of the film Yellow Rose, fans had one last chance to vote for their fan-favourites as VAFF presented the People’s Choice Awards and as well as several adjudicated awards. This year marked two new inaugural awards sponsored by both the International Cinematographer’s Guild 669 (ICG 669) and the Directors Guild of Canada in addition to our annual awards sponsored by Telefilm Canada. Congratulations to our VAFF 2019 award winners:
- Best Cinematography for Canadian Short Award – Ali Sattar “Worth”
- Best Cinematography for Canadian Feature Award – Grant Baldwin “Because We Are Girls”
- Best Director for Canadian Short Award – Meelad Moaphi “Worth”
- Best Director for Canadian Feature Award – Baljit Sangra “Because We Are Girls”
- Best Film for Canadian Short Award – “Worth”
- Best Film for Canadian Feature Award – “Because We Are Girls”
2019 People’s Choice Awards:
- Best Overall Performance – “Year Zero”
- Best Overall Short – “Grandma’s 80th Surprise”
- Best Overall Feature – “Yellow Rose”
10. Double Happiness
Each year an outstanding artist is selected by a committee at VAFF to acknowledge an individual’s achievement in contributing to the fight for making underrepresented voices heard and pushing forward the culture of diversity through their actions or work. This year’s 2019 “Outstanding Contribution” Diversity in Film Award recipient, Mina Shum, rose to fame through her first feature length film, Double Happiness (1994) featuring Sandra Oh. Shum joins the ranks of Tzi Ma and Jeff Chib-Stearns as recipients of this award.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Double Happiness and its iconic standing in Asian Canadian cinema, VAFF hosted a special screening of the film on November 24, 2019 at the Rio Theatre. Making a special appearance, the event featured a post-screening Q&A with Shum who entertained audiences with her diversity of experiences in film over her long-lasting career.
Wrapping up VAFF 2019
As this year’s VAFF season comes to an end, the festival would like to thank all of the sponsors, community partners, the endless support of the executive team and board and over 150 volunteers who made this year’s festival and year-round activities a huge success and demonstrating the power of NO LIMITASIANS. As 2019 celebrated all performers of Asian heritage to challenge boundaries and expectations, we look forward to seeing where next year’s theme takes us in 2020!
Justin Kwan is the Content and Communications Manager at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. A Torontonian turned Vancouverite, he frequently writes on contemporary Asian politics, culture and current affairs. In his role at VAFF, Justin explores a variety of digital tools and communication strategies to further promote the festival and its message of diversity in film. In his spare time, he is also a podcaster and an avid “foodie” who enjoys exploring new restaurants. Follow him on social media @thejustinkwan.