Hawaii Film Blog

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

U.S. Indies at LVHIFF

The Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival is famous for its Asian film fare, and the programmers do indeed have a knack for picking the most interesting, unique, and even controversial Asian films that don't often show at many US film festivals. But for those of us living in Hawaii, where you can count the arthouse cinemas on one hand, and where there has been a gaping hole left by the conversion of the main Honolulu arthouse to a $1 second-run theater a few years ago, the LVHIFF also gives us the rare opportunity to see independent films from the Western world (including Asian American films).

In fact, the fest has a new category this year: U.S. Independent Films. The feature-length narrative and documentary films in this showcase, plus the many indie shorts being screened in the festival's shorts programs and before certain features, attest to the continued burgeoning of American independent film.

Hawaii indie filmmakers would do well to check out what their Mainland counterparts have churned out lately... (click film title to go to LVHIFF listing and to buy tickets)


I Am a Sex Addict

American Fusion
Dir: Frank Lin
A Chinese immigrant divorcee finds love with a Mexican American dentist, to the dismay of her family, who eventually learns how to accept him. Stars Sylvia Chang, Esai Morales, and Asian American icons James Hong ("Chinatown") and Pat Morita ("Karate Kid").
Official Site

Dir: Ian Gamazon, Neill Dela Llana
LVHIFF Golden Maile Nominated Feature
Adam, an American citizen visiting his home country of the Philippines, gets an anonymous phone call claiming that his mother and sister have been kidnapped. The caller, who turns out to be the leader of a local Muslim terrorist group, threatens to kill them if he doesn't comply with his demand: bomb a church. The Hollywood Reporter called "Cavite," "guerilla filmmaking at its finest," and indie film guru John Pierson liked it so much, he assigned his UT Austin producing class the task of finding distribution for it. Pic won Best Narrative Feature at the Woodstock Film Fest, and Special Jury Prizes at SXSW and SF Int'l Asian Am Film Fest.
Official Site

Dir: Mora Mi-Ok Stephens
A bipartisan love story set against the backdrop of the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC. Shot cinema verite style at the actual RNC, the director, producer, and several crew members were arrested during production. Nominated for NY, NY Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Fest. Film Journal said the film was an "indie surprise...terrific...although shot with a regular DV camera, looks exceptional, thanks to the use of 35mm lenses."
Official Site

I Am a Sex Addict
Dir: Caveh Zahedi
An auto-biopic of Zahedi, who became addicted to sex with prostitutes in his 20s, and later sought solace in like company at Sex Addicts Anonymous. Zahedi is an acclaimed filmmaker--a cult figure to some--who was featured in Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" waxing philosophic on French film critic André Bazin's belief that literature’s strength is telling stories, and cinema's strength is reproducing reality.
Official Site

The Motel
Dir: Michael Kang
Pre-teen Ernest Chin and his family live and work at a sleazy motel. Misunderstood by his family, Ernest must turn to hotel guest Sam Kim, a self-destructive but charismatic Korean American man who guides him through puberty, teaching him the rites of manhood. Won Best Feature awards at SF Int'l Asian Am Film Fest and San Diego Asian Film Fest. Directed by the dancing Asian Am guy in the Virgin Cola commercial of the early 90s (remember that?!). Variety says pic is example of "shrewd, sympathy-inspiring storytelling" and Film Threat promises "an uneasy good time."
Official Site

Mutual Appreciation
Dir: Andrew Bujalski
A singer-songwriter moves to NYC in search of a drummer, and tries to fend off distractions of both romantic and unromantic natures. Long nights, random (mis)adventures, and mixed emotions ensue. This is the 2nd feature by the 2004 "Someone to Watch" Independent Spirit Award Winner who has been compared to Cassavetes, Renoir, Linklater, Godard, Jarmusch, Allen, and Leigh, among other greats. Awards include Best Director, Sidewalk Moving Picture Fest, and Best Screenplay, Newport Int'l Film Fest. Film has been called "unique and addicting...authentic and hilarous" by Film Threat and full of "pitch perfect performances" by Variety.
Official Site

Only the Brave
Dir: Lane Nishikawa
The true story of Japanese Americans (and one Korean American) in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought on the U.S. side in WWII. Stars Mark Dacascos, Jason Scott Lee, Tamlyn Tomita, & Pat Morita.

Red Doors
Dir: Georgia Lee
In this "Eat Drink Man Woman" meets "American Beauty," Ed Wong, a Chinese American living in the suburbs of NY, has just retired and plots to escape his mundane life. But the tumultuous, madcap lives of his three rebellious daughters thwart his plans. Stars Tzi Ma and Jacqueline Kim ("Charlotte Sometimes"). Winner of NY, NY Best Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca, Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at CineVegas, and the Audience Award for First Narrative Feature and Grand Jury Award for Screenwriting at Outfest. The NY Times called "Red Doors" a "heartwarming comedy...unique and yet universal story" and the Wall Street Journal called it "hilariously funny and unbelievably revealing."
Official Site

Rounding First
Dir: Jim Fleigner
In the tradition of "Stand By Me," three 12-yr old pals escape Little League camp in the summer of 1980 to trail the parents of one of the kids.
Official Site

Dir: Eric Byler
Hawaii-raised director Byler ("Charlotte Sometimes") is back with another meditation on love square dances and infidelity--this time, among trust fund babies. Byler's previous film, "Charlotte Sometimes" earned a Cassavetes Award nom at the 2003 Independent Spirit Awards.


Spam-Ku: I Won a Haiku Contest About Spam

6 Ft. 7 In.
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Rafael Del Toro
A comedy about Indian American parents who must reveal to their son that he has an expiration date.
Official Site

The Act
[Precedes "The Squid & the Whale"]
Dir: Susan Krake, Pi Ware
Rosy Marconi is a stand-up comedian with a secret. Film Threat says the film "goes beyond the realm of short films. It stands tall with the finest indie dramas..."
Official Site

Among Thieves
[Precedes "Keane"]
Dir: Oscar Daniels
Running from the cops in South Central L.A., a young thief ducks into a window and happens upon an elderly white woman dying of cancer and her abusive health aide worker. He takes over her care while waiting for the coast to clear, but not before the dying woman asks him to kill her. Film Threat says, "In a Sundance overflowing with great shorts, 'Among Thieves' stands out as one of the best."

Chinese Beauty
[Precedes "Kamikaze Girls"]
Dir: Debbie Lum
In her jogging outfit (makeup, long eyelashes and trendy wristbands), Bonnie chases down love, literally.

[Cost of Living Shorts]
Dir: Stephen Dypiangco
A park sweeper finds a wallet full of money and struggles with the decision to keep it or not.

Cowboy Johnny Yamada
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Yohei Kawamata
The only things the title character wants to do are pass cowboy class, graduate from the University of Utah, and get the girl.

Dungeon Majesty
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Liza Cardinale
A fun, rollicking film based on a real life cable TV show in California, in which 4 pretty gals and 1 lucky guy play Dungeons and Dragons.
Official Site

Future Imperfect
[Twilight Zone Shorts]
Dir: Marshall Lewy
Alice's fiance Bradley suddenly disappears while they are on a biking trip. Bradley is never found, and five years later, Alice is married with a kid in the suburbs when Bradley suddenly crashes through her kitchen on the same bike he was riding when he disappeared.

Good Cop, Bad Cop
[Twilight Zone Shorts]
Dir: Mark Cartier
Accused of a terrible crime, a man's biggest enemy becomes himself when relentlessly pushed by two detectives.
Official Site

Inay (Mother)
[Cost of Living Shorts]
Dir: Debbie Formoso
A young Filipina immigrant takes a job with a Filipino-American family as a caretaker for their 70-year-old grandmother who suffers from a dementia. All the while she struggles with her new home and misses her old one.

Light Stains
[Twilight Zone Shorts]
Dir: Sandra Cheng
3D glasses will be provided for watching this experimental, visually edgy short about a Victorian-era woman who becomes an astronomer.

Little Bit Different
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Lynn Okimura
This spoof is exactly like Sesame Street's "One of These Things is Not Like The Other" game...only it's just a little bit different.
Official Site

Perils in Nude Modeling
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Scott Rice
A nude model in an art studio becomes the focal point of a lonely man's desires in this Student Academy Award-nominated short.
Official Site

[Twilight Zone Shorts]
Dir: Todd Albright
Told completely in reverse, this film begins with an elderly man sitting in a destroyed apartment and goes backward from there.
Official Site

[Cost of Living Shorts]
Dir: Jung-Jin Ahn
The course of a rocky relationship between a father and daughter comes down to one word in a spelling bee.

[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Roman Cortez
What happens when girls start gossiping? Pure chaos. See what happens when people start spreading rumors and lies in this wacky, fast-paced film.
Official Site

[Cost of Living Shorts]
Dir: Angela How
A woman struggles over a love that is not hers to keep.

Spam-Ku: I Won a Haiku Contest About Spam
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Steven Tsuchida
A young man wins a haiku contest about Spam. He believes his luck will change for the better as he awaits his prize, but his prize brings more intigue than anticipated. Directed by Hawaii born-and-raised Tsuchida, who was named one of the
25 Faces of Indie Film in 2003 by Filmmaker Magazine.

Tiles and Smears
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Liezel Olegario
This film teaches us to never betray a toaster's love.

Virtual Date 3.0
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Roman Cortez
With the help of the latest virtual reality technology, 3 geeks get to meet the woman of their cyber dreams. Official Site

Year of the Scapegoat
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Ross Novie
A global conspiracy is uncovered that has the world being taken over by the Chinese!

The Zit
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Mike Blum
A zit becomes a growing problem in this surprising animated short by a Disney animation veteran. Official Site



After Innocence
Dir: Jessica Sanders
Documents the recent flood of convictions reversed by new DNA evidence, and what happens to the exonerated after they are freed. Awards include: Special Jury Prize at Sundance and prizes at Seattle, Newport Beach, Boston Independent, Full Frame Documentary, and Nantucket Film Fests.
Official Site

The Fall of Fujimori
Dir: Ellen Perry
Golden Maile Nominated Documentary
As president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori used radical and oppressive means to clean his country up until his government erupted in scandal in 2002, making him an international fugitive. The SF Chronicle called the film "a fascinating study."
Official Site

The Grace Lee Project
Dir: Grace Lee
What's in a name? Grace Lee (the director) tries to figure that out in a documentary about various Asian American women named "Grace Lee," including a local Hawaii KGMB news reporter and an 88 year-old Detroit community organizer. Film nabbed "Emerging Director" Award at the Asian Am Int'l Film Festl in NY and Film Threat called it "an interesting and humorous ride."
Official Site

Dir: Ward Powers
A Michigan lawyer drops everything, picks up a DV camera, and travels the globe posing 20 questions about the meaning of life to people including Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lamai. The Detroit Free Press says "One" allows us to "glimpse at least a spark of enlightenment in less than two hours."
Official Site

Race is the Place
Dir: Ray Telles, Rick Tejada-Flores
An audacious visual and verbal riff on race in America from a wide swath of artists, poets, rappers, performance artists, cultural critics, and comedians, including Hawaii's own Haunani-Kay Trask and Lois-Ann Yamanaka.
Official Site

Dir: Mark Becker
Two Mexican mariachi singers roam the bars and streets of San Francisco playing for tips that make up the sustenance for their families. Film shows the high cost of survival in the face of systemic poverty, the hardship of being an artist when there is no rainbow or pot of gold, and the importance of family and home. The L.A. Times said the film has an "unmistakably soulful quality."
Official Site

What's Wrong with Frank Chin?
Dir: Curtis Choy
Golden Maile Nominated Documentary
A portrait of the iconic curmudgeon of the Chinese American literati, best known for his writings on the emasculation of Asian males by mainstream American stereotypes (think Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu). Chin also gained notoriety for bitterly criticizing fellow Asian Am writers like David Henry Hwang, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan, who presented Western audiences with more "digestible" views of Chinese and Chinese American culture. Variety said film is "entertaining portrait that strongly suggests Chin merits greater appreciation in literary, minority history and academic circles."


Rising Up: The Alams

Drummer Wanted
[Lo-Fi Shorts]
Dir: Mark Woollen, Myles Bender
Tom, the guitarist for the band Ike, sums up the film like this: "You don't know how much of a pain in the ass it is to audition drummers, man; do you know how many fuck'n freaks there are?"
Official Site

Rising Up: The Alams
[Precedes "Diary of a Provincial Girl"]
Dir: Konrad Aderer
Mohammed Alam, husband and father to two U.S.-born girls, was one of 80,000 predominantly Muslim immigrants who endured the discriminatory process of Special Registration, which involves jail time, searches, and fingerprinting. Now faced with deportation, the Alams are fighting back as members of South Asian activist organization DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving).
Official Site

Sky Burial
[Precedes "One"]
Dir: Ellen Bruno
Documents Tibetan sky burial where the dead are offerred to the vultures.
Official Site

The Meaning of "Independent"
Filmmaker Magazine: "25 New Faces of Indie Film"
>> Short Run
>> Asian American Film Festivals

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