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San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 2011

SFIAAFF 2011 will be screening around 120 films in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose from today through March 20. A sampling of some of the previews:

Michael Hawley follows up on his initial overview with capsule reviews of four documentary and six narrative features, among them, Zhang Meng's Piano in a Factory (image above), a "delightfully loopy film, which is quite unlike any Chinese movie I've ever seen. Zhang has a sublime visual sense, utilizing interior and exterior spaces for utmost effect in his compositions and camera movements. This is also a musical of sorts, with several production numbers and a soundtrack that encompasses everything from Russian pop songs to the theme from Super Mario Bros. One could complain that Piano in a Factory is a bit precious and overworked, but that criticism is easily overshadowed by the film's enormous ambitions and sense of fun."

Frako Loden on Homayoun Asadian's Gold and Copper: "Don't miss this one! It starts out as a mundane story of a sober young theology student who brings his rug weaver wife and two small children to Tehran. Seyyed can't concentrate on his studies when he's constantly disturbed by a neighbor girl who plays music on the radio. Other stresses of city life distract him from noticing his wife's months-long complaints of numbness in her fingers and legs. It isn't until she collapses and has to be hospitalized that they learn she has the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Her inability to weave, cook or care for the kids forces him to take over these tasks at the expense of his mullah training. What sounds like an Iranian Mr Mom is much more profound and even transcendent, as the young family faces crippling disease and loss of income while it grows stronger in love and courage."

Also at the Evening Class, Francis "Oggs" Cruz on Chito Roño's Emir, "a seventy-million peso endeavor by the Film Development Council of the Philippines, with generous funding from the President's social funds and other government sponsorships or partnerships… Is Emir, a movie that tackles the experiences of Filipino overseas contract workers, deserving of such governmental support? Considering that the mandate of the Council is for the development of the film industry and not the promotion of overseas labor or local and international tourism, is the decision to concentrate such a budget on one expensive production a wise one, when it would be undoubtedly more helpful for the development of the film industry if such immense budget was spread to many filmmakers who have films that are just waiting for a fraction of the seventy million pesos to get made?… While it is unwise to blind ourselves to the reality that the Philippines is surviving because it is exporting labor to richer nations, Emir never regards this resignation to this new form of colonization (a near-accurate term especially because this system of economy that relies solely on the fact that other nations are in need of Filipinos' services and have the capacity to pay for Filipinos' services result in the Philippines' being subservient to other countries' superior wealth), as a serious problem, which it is."

Kimberly Chun previews Hossein Keshavarz's clandestinely-shot Dog Sweat (2010) in which "20-something Iranians" dream of "Western-style intoxicants and freedoms and [wonder] why America doesn't come and 'save us from this nightmare.' In another bedroom, girls gossip ('There were some hot guys at the demonstration!') while shimmying with themselves in the mirror. Keshavarz captures the propaganda-embellished concrete and the parks for men searching for other lonely men, and the double standards that apply to the music-loving woman who yearns to sing but must hide from the recording studio owner, and the rebellious girl who acts out by donning a scarlet hijab and romancing her cousin's husband. A rough snapshot of a generation that crosses class lines, conceived during Ahmadinejad's crackdown on artists and dissidents, Keshavarz succeeds in conveying the palpable hopes, humor, anxieties, and fears of young people in resistance, primed to explode."

Also in the Bay Guardian, Matt Sussman focuses on "After Death: Horror Cinema from South East Asia," a mini-retro that "proves that using regional ghost stories as a springboard for Romero-worthy blood feasts is still a winning formula for many Southeast Asian directors."

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