As in previous years, the 2022 Boston Asian American Film Festival will have its Shorts Program available on-demand. With a total accumulation of 374 minutes, the BAAFF Shorts Program is a fun way to spend the weekend viewing this year’s selection of pieces created by AA/NHPI featuring AA/NHPI. Of course, in re-reading that sentence again, that is over six hours of programming. The festival categorizes the thirty-two featured shorts into five themes: AFTER DARK (the “horror” of reality), QUEER & HERE (for the community!), HERE I AM (how we arrive to our identities despite the hurdles), FAMILY TIES (while our roots may be found in our family, we grow with our communities), LOOKING BACK (will learning about the past make us better people for the future?). Here, I wanted to give a shout-out to some of my personal favorites (in alphabetical order) this year.
Danse Macabre (dir. Randal Lee Kamradt and Maria Luna Kamradt | 10 mins | QUEER & HERE)
The piece, which features a dance between the grieving and the dead (James Lontayao and Jeffrey Chai), is an exquisite demonstration of lamenting strings and endless fabrics in the wind. The actors display a convincing sadness (and especially Lontayao, who is not a professional dancer). It’s a view worthwhile.
de closin night (dir. Shicong Zhu | 20 mins | HERE I AM)
If I really had to choose the one that resonated with me the most, look no further than de closin night. A collaboration between director Shicong Zhu and Ella Rouwen Chen, the story is about Chinese immigrant Siyi (Chen), who is part of her college’s acting program. Despite being cast, her professor reprimands her pronunciations because of her accent and tells her that she can perform on the closing night of the play if she loses her accent. It’s an uncomfortable, shaded critique (in front of her peers, who remain silent). Nonetheless, Siyi is determined to cinch that spot. To this day, assimilation is still a stealthy, insidious trick to deny a part of identity for no good reason. Rest assured: when the curtains close, Siyi still is the shining hero.
Meantal Health Girls (dir. Tess Paras | 4 mins | AFTER DARK)
I’m not actually sure what I watched and I feel like explaining why I laughed for three minutes would ruin the experience. For this once, I will include the film’s official submitted description: “Run-ins with the popular girls at school are the worst but can sometimes be… helpful?” I also will say that Sahana Srinivasan, who wrote the script and delivered the dialogue, will be a big star (and if not on screen, there is a future in self-care podcasts for her).
MINK! (dir. Ben Proudfoot | 20 mins | LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD)
Recent Oscar winner Ben Proudfoot is back at it again with a guaranteed nomination that is MINK!, a documentary about Patsy Mink, the first woman of color (ethnically Japanese, born in Hawaii) elected to Congress and the driving force behind Title IX (which Proudfoot had researched when he was filming The Queen of Basketball). Though it’s a short film, the amount of sharp turns that it takes is incredulous. For example, she only became a lawyer because med schools weren’t accepting women. Queen shit.
My Mother’s Daughter (dir. Flo Singer | 12 mins | FAMILY TIES)
Among the influx of documentaries featuring ordinary people, My Mother’s Daughter is one of the few that I’ve seen in recent years that feels authentically grounded in meaning and risk. Despite their father’s disapproval, director Flo Singer decided to contact their half-sister, Miaolin. Their shared mother had abandoned Miaolin and her father in China when she was visiting the United States and married another man. Without pointing fingers on the bad guy (well, maybe a little on the fathers who didn’t let them talk to each other), the sisters’ conversations feel fraught and careful. But there is sincerity in the way they care about each other, which speaks to a long-lost feeling that’s now been uncovered.
Super Duper (dir. Matthew Macasieb | 7 mins | FAMILY TIES)
Representation matters is the mantra for diversity across all fields. In Super Duper, we can see how a decision supporting representation can unfold and extend to different parts of the same community. Jalysa Leva is the Filipino-American creator of Jelly, Ben & Pogo, which portrays several Filipino-American families and culture within these episodic adventures of two children and a sea monster. The show opens opportunities for accurate portrayals (and more specially to my heart, halo-halo) and the reach towards community, whether it’s giving voice actors a step up in their career or creating a day-event inviting restaurants and having a grand old time.
Wei Lai (dir. Robin Wang | 14 mins | FAMILY TIES)
When I say I GASPED at the dinner scene —
w(HO) (dir. Candace Ho | 5 mins | HERE I AM)
If Danse Macabre is the beautiful, silent expression of love, then w(HO) is the perfect cacophonic narrative closure. Even though this list is in alphabetical order, there is something grossly satisfying about ending on this note.
The Shorts Programs are available to stream on-demand from October 20 to October 31! To see the program line-ups, check out the BAAFF website.