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Video Sundays: Beyond Representation—1990s Asian American Film & Video

Recommended viewing: A year-long program featuring the independent voices and boundary-pushing images of Asian American cinema's past.
Kelley Dong
Following its initial run last May and June, Sentient.Art Film. has revived the series "My Sight is Lined With Visions: 1990s Asian American Film & Video" as a year-long program, helmed by Sentient.Art.Film Artistic Director Keisha Knight and co-curator Abby Sun. The history of Asian American film and video is shaped by what B. Ruby Rich and Brian Hu describe (in Film Quarterly's recent dossier on fifty years of Asian American cinema) as its "public-ness." Through the initiatives of community-based media arts organizations like the Center for Asian American Media and Visual Communications (which now celebrate their 40th and 50th anniversaries, respectively), burgeoning Asian American filmmakers strove to generate cultural consciousness, just as the term "Asian American" entered the national vocabulary.
In the "public" tradition of Asian American cinema, and against the limitations imposed by the pandemic, this series challenges barriers of access by making these hard-to-find titles available online. You can rent the entire selection until January 25, 2022. Additional accompaniments like free Q&As with the filmmakers and panels (co-presented with the Center for Asian American Media) are set to be announced throughout the year.
This time around, Sentient.Art.Film has included a rotating monthly roster of free short films and videos from the Vault, starting with Roddy Bogawa’s own restoration of his short film Four or Five Accidents, One June… (1989). There are also two new additions to the main slate: Tran T. Kim-Trang’s eight-film meditation, The Blindness Series (1992-2006), and Marlon Fuentes’s Bontoc Eulogy (1995). In an interview with programmer Herb Shellenberger, Sun states that the series aims to respond to "the decades-old idea of representation being the thing that matters," and to capture "how gloriously messy and punk Asian American film really can be." Knight and Sun's selection presents a history of experimentation, from the auto-ethnography of Spencer Nakasako's Kelly Loves Tony (1998) to Jon Morigitsu's satirical attack on the model minority myth, Terminal USA (1993). Demonstrative of a thrilling transitional moment in history, the films also contain the inconsistencies, ideological gaps, and unanswered questions of artists willing to take risks at whatever cost.
Sentient.Art.Film's program includes essays by Asian American writers and curators on the films, giving these especially rare titles the appropriate measure of respect through thoughtful contextualization. Phoebe Chen, for instance, wrestles with Shu Lea Cheang's cumbersome ways of "showing" in Fresh Kill (1994), while Devika Girish contends with the "collaborative" nature of Nakasako's film and its depiction of gendered labor. Together, this collection of writings explicitly map this moment as part of a rocky political and artistic struggle, one with nuances and pitfalls that cannot be separated from its legacy, especially if we aspire to move forward. In her reflection on Rea Tajiri's coming-of-age drama Strawberry Fields (1997), Theresa Wang asks: "To consider a future is to participate in a world-building and an intervention, but how can that be endeavored without implicating and mediating a past?"

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