Asian American International Film Festival 2014: Documentary Overview

Screen-Shot-2014-06-20-at-3.56.26-PMTomorrow, Thursday, July 24 kicks off the 37th edition of the longest-running event celebrating the work of Asian and Asian American filmmakers, AsianCinevision’s Asian American International Film Festival. Running through Saturday, August 2, AAIFF will present nineteen features, including six documentaries:

bringingtibethome02-770x433The Asian American nonfiction offerings this year are: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay’s BRINGING TIBET HOME (pictured), in which a Tibetan artist smuggles tons of Tibetan soil to the seat of Tibet-in-exile, Dharamsala; Dianne Fukami and Eli Olson’s STORIES FROM TOHOKU, following Japanese Americans on a mission to Japan to help in the aftermath of disaster; Steven de Castro’s FRED HO’S LAST YEAR, a tribute to the jazz composer in his vibrant final year of life; and Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s KUMU HINA, on an inspirational trans Native Hawaiian teacher.

lovehotel31-770x433Asian doc features screening this year are Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda’s THE LOVE HOTEL (pictured), about sex, intimacy, and commerce in conservative Osaka; and Christine Choy’s GHINA, a cross-cultural exploration of the growing presence and developmental influence of China in Ghana.

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Special Screening: AN HONEST LIAR

honest liarComing to Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for its Summer Documentary Series (in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute) tomorrow, Wednesday, July 23: AN HONEST LIAR

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s wide-ranging look at the life and work of a famed skeptic debuted at Tribeca. Its fest circuit has also included Nantucket, Hot Docs, AFI Docs, and Outfest.

I previously wrote about the film for the Nantucket program, saying:
Renowned magician-turned-paranormal-skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi has been debunking claims of pseudo-science and the supernatural for more than four decades. Incensed that his beloved magic tricks were being co-opted by con artists for their own financial gain at the expense of the gullible general public, Randi and his collaborators have exposed faith healers, psychics, fortune tellers, and gurus around the world, often duplicating their tricks publicly to demonstrate how willing we all are to be deceived. But Randi himself is not immune to self-deception, especially in matters of the heart, as revealed in Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s lively and entertaining portrait.

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Next Goal WinsComing to DVD today, Tuesday, July 22: NEXT GOAL WINS

Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s uplifting chronicle of the worst soccer team in the world debuted at Tribeca this Spring. It’s gone on to screen at Sydney, Sedona, Bermuda Docs, San Diego Latino, and various soccer-focused film events.

When the nondescript American Samoa soccer team lost to Australia by a devastating score of 31-0, they received the ignominious distinction of ranking lowest of all teams attempting to qualify for the World Cup in 2001. Over the next decade, the team continues its losing streak, never winning an official match – until non-nonsense Dutch coach Thomas Rongen arrives to prepare the ragtag team for the 2014 qualifier. Brett and Jamison follow the former award-winning coach as he gets his men – and one refreshingly embraced fa’afaine third gender player – into shape with discipline. Far more than a simple sports doc, this is an engaging underdog story, as the team seeks redemption on the world stage, even luring their losingest goalie back from Seattle to exorcise those 31 goals. Beyond this, the film also functions as a portrait of American Samoa in microcosm, from reflections on the lack of economic opportunities, leading many youth to enlist in the US military, to its status as an American territory, and how soccer serves as a way for the amateur players to represent pride in their culture internationally.

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small small thingComing to DVD today, Tuesday, July 22: SMALL SMALL THING

Jessica Vale’s exploration of systemic violence against children in Liberia premiered at Palm Beach last year. Other festival screenings have included Dallas, Bronze Lens, Encounters, Warsaw, Baghdad, Toronto Black, LA Pan African, and Egypt’s Luxor fest.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.

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Special Screening: ART AND CRAFT

art-and-craft-film-tribecaComing to Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for its Summer Documentary Series (in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute) tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22: ART AND CRAFT

Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman and co-director Mark Becker’s profile of a compulsive charlatan had its world premiere at Tribeca this Spring. It’s gone on to screen at Nantucket, Hot Docs, Montclair, Maryland, and San Francisco, among others.

I previously wrote about the film for the Nantucket program, saying:
Over the past 30 years, Mark Landis has placed his art in museums across the country – an impressive feat under normal circumstances, but especially noteworthy in this case, because Landis is an art forger. He doesn’t seek financial gain for his copies, but instead donates his work, adopting various identities – from estate executor to Jesuit priest – to facilitate his gifting. Technically, he may not even have committed a crime, but that hasn’t stopped Matthew Leininger, the museum registrar who first discovered Landis’ con, in his mission to end the deception. Tackling questions of authorship, authenticity, mental illness, and purpose, the filmmakers have crafted a complex portrait of an unforgettable character.

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newburgh stingComing to HBO tonight, Monday, July 21: THE NEWBURGH STING

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s exposé of FBI entrapment had its world premiere at Tribeca this Spring. Its fest circuit also includes AFI Docs and the upcoming Traverse City and Woods Hole fests.

May 2009 saw the very public arrest on charges of a terrorist conspiracy of four Black Muslim men from my hometown of Newburgh NY, an economically-depressed city on the Hudson River, 60 miles north of NYC. Though touted in the media by officials as a “textbook example of how a major investigation should be conducted,” directors Davis and Heilbroner instead present a damning indictment of the methods used by the FBI through their own secretly-recorded footage, and argue, like the Newburgh Four’s unsuccessful defense counsel, that this was a clear case of entrapment. Where the government presented a cautionary (and media-friendly) tale of a homegrown terrorist cell who were set to bomb a synagogue and destroy military planes, and a corresponding celebration of the intrepid work of law enforcement officials to foil their dastardly plot, the hidden camera of the FBI’s shady informant, Pakistani Shahed Hussain, tells a much different story – one of high-pressure tactics involving outrageous sums of money, possible double-dealing, and general ineptitude that would have made carrying out any plan unlikely. While there’s no denying that greed, poor decision-making, and, for one accomplice, cognitive difficulties, conspired to draw four men into what they recognized would be an illegal act, the filmmakers convincingly argue that were it not for the government’s willful seduction of easy, vulnerable targets and the FBI’s orchestration and implementation of every facet of the plot, there would never have been a cell to begin with. The result is a frightening account of the far-reaching consequences of the war on terror and of the questionable means employed by those with incentive to keep America in a state of heightened alert, even if it has to be artificially manufactured.

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Propaganda-POSTER-BLUEComing to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22: PROPAGANDA

Slavko Martinov’s anti-Western, anti-Capitalist satirical screed debuted at IDFA in 2012, under the pretense that it was an underground North Korean production smuggled out of the country. It went on to screen at Traverse City, Biografilm, CPH:DOX, and Raindance, among others.

I previously wrote about the film out of IDFA here.

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