19th Annual Asian American Showcase

April 5-17 at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago

Chicago film fans, this one's for you. The 19th annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media, kicks off this week with a solid slate of films showcasing diverse voices from Asian American independent cinema, April 5-17 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The festival features seven great films over the course of two weeks, kicking off this weekend with the Opening Night screening Masahiro Sugano's award-winning feature documentary Cambodian Son.

Here are some more details about the lineup:

The 19th Annual Asian American Showcase

April 5th-17th 2014

Saturday April 5 (Opening night):

CAMBODIAN SON by Masahiro Sugano

Kosal Khiev was forced to flee Cambodia to the US at 1 year old. Later returned to Phnom Penh as an exiled "criminal alien," he is a volatile, charming young poet whose life begins to change when he is invited to represent Cambodia at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

As an infant, Kosal was one of 280,000 Cambodian refugees granted asylum in the United States after fleeing massive US bombing campaigns and the Khmer Rouge genocide. Fully American in all but citizenship, Kosal and thousands of others received prison time for serious youthful mistakes and were punished again with deportation.

Kosal wrestles with the contradictions of being banned from home for life, making his way with his fellow exilees who face depression, substance abuse and suicide while finding new freedom as an international poet.

*Director Masahiro Sugano will be present for a Q&A.

Sunday April 6:

AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS by Patrick Epino & Stephen Dypiangco

What happened to the actors that played that one Asian villain in your favorite childhood action flicks? Well, it turns out that they teamed up with the National Film Society to avenge the wrongful death of Tamlyn Tomita's twin sister, Pamlyn, in AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS. Directors Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco assembled the AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS for the very characters that they portrayed on film and what they do best — kick butt.

A screwball comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously, AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS is directors Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco's homage to the actors who played iconic, yet paradoxically nameless Asian villains on the silver screen. This tribute has Al Leong, Yuji Okumoto and George Cheung playing themselves in an almost life-imitating-art caricaturization of their most recognizable roles.

*Director Patrick Epino and actor Dante Basco will be present for a Q&A

Monday April 7:

The HAUMANA by Keo Woolford

Titled after the Hawaiian word for "students," THE HAUMANA is a stunning, insightful and layered drama about maintaining traditions — in this case, the art of hula. It is a compelling piece about boys transitioning into manhood and how those who teach are constantly learning along with their pupils. Tui Asau is Jonny Kealoha, the host of a struggling luau show on Waikiki. His life changes course after his former master hula teacher passes away, and he is pushed into her role teaching high school boys. With the Royal Hula Festival under way, both students and teacher must overcome opposition and cultural dissent from their peers and families.

THE HAUMANA received the Narrative Audience Award and Narrative Best First Feature Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and also won the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the Hawaii International Film Festival. Keo Woolford's directorial and screenwriting feature-length debut richly weaves narrative and breathtaking island scenery with a mellow Hawaiian soundtrack.

Saturday April 12:


Those familiar with Grace Lee Boggs know her as a celebrated activist, author, philosopher who was an unexpected and ground shattering voice within the African American movement. With over 70 years devoted to civil rights, Grace Lee Boggs continues to push for a social revolution that fosters a future of equality and justice for all. In short, she is an American Revolutionary.

In AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS, Producer and Director Grace Lee documents the vibrant and inspiring life of Mrs. Boggs, now 99 years of age. A documentary 12 years in the making, AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY is a masterful blend of rare archival footage, captivating interviews with Mrs. Boggs in her Detroit home and with her fellow activists including Angela Davis, Bill Moyers, Ruby Dee and Danny Glover.

*Director Grace Lee will be present via SKYPE for a Q&A

Sunday April 13:

DOCUMENTED by Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas' family didn't expect he'd be a success. They didn't expect that he'd find a network of supporters who'd believe in his promise. They didn't expect that talent, courage, and hard work could allow him to transcend his questionable background. In other words, they did not fully anticipate the power of the American dream.

Jose was brought to the U.S. at age 12. He didn't have papers, but his grandparents in California didn't think it'd be a problem because they figured he'd go into the service industry like they did as immigrants from the Philippines. But Jose learned English, made friends, became a star student, edited the school paper, acted in plays, went to college, found a job with the Washington Post, and won a Pulitzer Prize.

DOCUMENTED is not a documentary about Jose Antonio Vargas' achievements. It's about, as he puts it, living in a different kind of reality – that even though he grew up on Anne of Green Gables, Will Smith, and Salt-n-Pepa, even though he pays taxes and pledges allegiance to the stars and stripes, he cannot share in the same liberties as any other American, nor can he hug his mother in the Philippines as any other human being could.

Monday April 14:

TO BE TAKEI by Jennifer M. Kroot

George Takei doesn't shy away from digging into his remarkable career and personal life in Jennifer Kroot's delightful and incisive film To Be Takei. As a child forced into Japanese-American internment camps, the actor-turned-activist reveals the ways that racism affected him well into his early acting career, where he played stereotypical Asian... » stock characters in film and television shows. Even after landing the iconic role of Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, Takei's sharp eye, coupled with his wicked sense of humor, continued to challenge the status quo well into the twenty-first century.

Now at 76, nine years after formally coming out of the closet, Takei and his husband, Brad, have become the poster couple for marriage equality, highlighting homophobia through television interviews and hilarious skits, many of which have gone viral and garnered widespread attention. Whether dishing on William Shatner or parodying the now-infamous comments made by Tim Hardaway, Takei proves time and again why his presence in popular culture remains as fresh and necessary as ever.

Thursday April 17 (closing night):


After a series of critically acclaimed shorts, writer-director J.P. Chan confidently enters the scene with his feature film debut, A PICTURE OF YOU. In this poignant narrative of moving out and moving on, two estranged siblings — Kyle (Andrew Pang) and Jen (Jo Mei) — attempt to reconcile their differences over a weekend packing up their late mom's lakehouse. Eschewing familiar sibling tropes, Chan's film balances personal filial piety with modern guilt.

A PICTURE OF YOU reunites Chan with frequent collaborator Jo Mei (who also shares writing credit) on a film that is sure to delight audiences with its careful blend of drama, humor and nostalgia. This highly personal narrative captures Chan at his most vulnerable. The result is a thoughtful meditation of life, death and the infallible bonds that keep us together.

*Director JP Chan will be present for a Q&A
The Chicago Asian American Showcase was the first Asian American film festival I ever attended, and probably my earliest exposure to the work of independent Asian American storytelling, so this event holds a special place in my heart. For further information about the program, and to purchase tickets, visit the FAAIM website.

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