by Abe Ferrer
"The first year, it was a party. The second year, it was a happening. Now, this is an annual event. You know what we call that? We call that a tradition."
So said Winston Emano, for many years the program emcee and a founding member of the Asian Pacific Filmmakers Experience in Park City. Since 2002 — a year that welcomed the presence of a vanguard generation of Asian Pacific American filmmakers who presented short and feature-length works at the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals — a small but resourceful group of media arts and cultural workers have worked diligently to make a space for APA cinematic artists. In the words of Experience co-founding committee member David Magdael, “If not for us supporting our own peoples, no one from the Sundance or Slamdance side was going to recognize us, much less celebrate us. So we ourselves had to.”
The fifteenth edition of The Experience (#APAParkCity) was held during the 2019 edition of the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals starting on Jan. 24, 2019. As if to create the “perfect storm” catering to calls for cultural inclusion, Sundance this year instituted a series of initiatives calculated to broaden the participation of people of color whose business it is to champion, interrogate, and celebrate the stories and creators of underserved communities
On Friday, Jan 25, the #APAParkCity Committee teamed up with RYOT & VICE Studios to host a Meet-and-Greet event to welcome filmmakers, programmers, and supporters to settle in for what promised to be a meaningful weekend. Over one hundred guests crowded the former Kimball Arts Center just off Main Street to get their drank on, meet up, reunite, and wax philosophical on the prospects for APA cinema in the coming year.
The daylong #APAParkCity events on Sunday, Jan. 27 kicked off at the Kimball Arts Center with a VIP reception and panel “The Road to Decolonization.” Presented by the Center for Asian American Media in partnership with the Sundance Institute, the panel, moderated by David Magdael, sought to identify strategies to tearing down the walls of ethnic and gender inequity that have conspired to freeze out peoples of color from full participation in mainstream entertainment. The panelists — filmmaker Karim Amer, Harness Executive Director Marya Bangee, Level Forward co-founder Abigail Disney, and ARRAY Vice-President Tilane Jones — advocated for owning their unique backgrounds and capacities for telling compelling stories and constructing clear directions and strategies for ensuring that artists of color, executives, investors, and audiences alike are ingrained into the larger entertainment arena.
From Kimball Arts Center, guests caravanned up the road to high above Main Street Park City, site of the spacious Kickstarter Lodge and the “Main Event” activities that have been a staple of #APAParkCity. David Magdael ran up the hill to share hosting duties with Kollaboration’s Minji Chang and Comcast NBCUniversal’s Laarni Rosca Dacanay. Together, the threesome guided the overflow audience through an overview of the Committee’s activities for the afternoon session, and even took time to recognize recently-appointed Sundance Film Festival programming chief Kim Yutani for her overall fierceness in championing inclusiveness and enfranchisement of all forms of storytelling in the entertainment arena.
The Filmmakers/Creatives panel — moderated by Minji Chang and composed of filmmakers Justin Chon (MS. PURPLE), Lulu Wang (THE FAREWELL), content creator and actor Sujata Day (INSECURE), actor Avan Jogia (NOW APOCALYPSE) and Chan Phung (Acquisitions Executive for Netflix’ Original Indies Film team) — assessed the current state of American independent cinema and how their works fit into that framework. Chon, director of the 2017 Sundance feature GOOK, was adamant that his stories remain firmly grounded within a more inclusive “American” aesthetic, while Wang recounted her frustrations at being approached by audiences in the wake of her World Premiere screening who prefaced their accolades for THE FAREWELL as somehow being “not quite Asian.” Day implored the audience to look at themselves —actual and budding content creators alike — to aggressively seek out avenues of support and exposure of their stories, while Jogia, a hyphenate talent as an actor and budding producer/director, also detailed his challenges in negotiating his identity as being multi-racial. Meanwhile, Phung noted that the current environment she works in is vastly different that when she first started out. “When I started, there were only two Asians in the whole company,” she said. Phung sounded a note of cautious optimism, stating that “we still have a ways to go.”
The Documentary panel moderated by Traci Lee of NBC Asian America highlighted larger-than-life personalities as well as the larger-than-life stories to go along with them. The panel, which included IDA President Kevin Iwashina, Academy Award-nominated documentarian Bing Liu, Slamdance artist Tim Tsai, and CAAM Boardmember and retired NBCUniversal Executive Vice-President and Chief Diversity Officer Paula Madison, each pondered their role in promoting and insuring cultural inclusiveness as cinematic artists of color. Madison, also the Executive Producer and subject of Jeannete Kong’s 2014 documentary FINDING SAMUEL LOWE: FROM HARLEM TO CHINA, declared that it was time for Asian American creatives to “stop being nice” in demanding a significant measure of participation and agency in creating, distributing, and articulating their own stories. Liu pondered their roles in America’s “new normal” and how fellow creatives from other ethnic communities can find opportunities for collaboration, while Tsai noted the challenges in foregrounding the stories that find communities in sharp conflict with one another. Iwashina echoed Chan Phung’s observations on the gradual influx of POC creative executives in commenting on his own thoughts on how the overall entertainment landscape has changed for Asian Pacifics and other communities of color.
This year’s edition of #APAParkCity closed out with another Sundance partnership panel on Jan. 30, “’Broad Cast’ News: How CRAZY RICH ASIANS Changes The Game For Asian Talent.” Presented with Asian Society’s Southern Cal and Northern Cal chapters, the panel was hosted by producer Janet Yang and brought back filmmakers Justin Chon and Lulu Wang to join with director Richie Mehta (DELHI CRIME STORY) and producer Anita Gou (THE FAREWELL) to chat about the real and perceived changes that the Year 2018 has wrought in Asian Pacific American cinema, and the challenges and possibilities for the Movement in the coming year.
This year’s Asian Pacific Filmmakers Experience in Park City was proudly sponsored by: Kickstarter; Asian Employees at Netflix; Comcast NBCUniversal; Home Box Office, Inc.; Starz; Center for Asian American Media; SAG-AFTRA; and RYOT & VICE Studios.
The Experience was hosted by the Asian Pacific Filmmakers Experience Committee, composed of: Visual Communications; David Magdael & Associates; Kollaboration; the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment; Boston Asian American Film Festival; Center for Asian American Media; Pacific Arts Movement; Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival; Asian American Documentary Network; and Asians in Hollywood.
Finally, this year’s Experience could not have been pulled off without the following: Linda Mabalot, Founding APAParkCity member; Irene Cho, Sustaining APAParkCity member; Minji Chang; Bing Chen; Justin Chon; Jon M. Chu; Liz Cook; Francis Cullado; Laarni Rosca Dacanay; Susan Jin Davis; Sujata Day; Abraham Ferrer; Ellen Huang; Alex Hudson; Kevin Iwashina; Avan Jogia; Janine Jones-Clark; C. Wayne Kitchen; Emerlynn Lampitoc; Anderson Le; Traci Lee; Vivian Lin; Bing Liu; Paula Madison; David Magdael; Tiffany Massey; Elise McCave; Verna Myers; Ted Nguyen; Greg Pak; Chan Phung; Geoffrey Quan; Rachelle Samson; Chris Sanagustin; Michelle Sugihara; Mini Timmaraju; Ciara Trinidad; Tim Tsai; Kenji Tsukamoto; Lulu Wang; Jo-Ann Wong; Savine Wong; Donald Young; Marvin Yueh; and Dorothy Xiao.