Reflections on a transforming summer

It has been a couple weeks since the end of the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), and I have used the this time to reflect on how my experiences this summer changed me. After engaging with the festival on a daily basis for almost 3 months, my eyes have been opened to the commercial, artistic, and activist spheres of the film and media industry. My work at AAIFF exposed me to the success and the struggles, the tips and tricks, and the motivations and passions of independent filmmakers. I am incredibly grateful for the hundreds of actors, producers, filmmakers and industry people I was able to talk to throughout the festival – who passed knowledge onto me and allowed me to think more critically about the film industry and my potential role in it later.

A sold out screening during the festival! (Courtesy of AAIFF Facebook)
A sold out screening during the festival! (Courtesy of AAIFF Facebook)

Before I started my internship, I took note of my goals for the summer. Some of these were strictly professional and related to what I hoped to accomplish through my work, and others were more personal and focused on self-exploration. Through my work as the Special Events and Development Coordinator, I hoped to build strong relationships and partnerships, collaborate with my peers, and run events smoothly.

I am happy to announce that I accomplished all these goals. For example, at the conclusion of our Opening Night Gala all of the sponsors and caterers I had been working with for the past two months came up to me and expressed their gratitude for organizing the event. These interactions and signs of appreciation showed me that I had done my job correctly, which made all the hard work worth it. I was at my proudest moment during Opening Night when I saw the culmination of two months of work in one night and saw people enjoying themselves.

Additionally, by working everyday at a film festival, I made it a goal to immerse myself in independent film and film production. This was not a hard goal to accomplish since I had the privilege of watching any or all of the shorts or features that we put on. By the end of the festival, I watched every short along with a few features when I had time to sit in on the screening. After watching all of these high-quality films, I believe even more strongly in the need for Asian representation in the film industry – the talent and skill exists but people are not getting the exposure they deserve.

Opening Night of AAIFF'16! (Courtesy of AAIFF Facebook)
Opening Night of AAIFF’16! (Courtesy of AAIFF Facebook)

While my summer at the festival was nothing short of extraordinary, I have mixed feelings about the film industry. The festival often had to work with high-profile distributors and producers, which could become frustrating as we battled with deadlines and budget concerns. However, the world of arts activism, and especially Asian American representation in film is important and needed. Because of this, I would absolutely recommend that any other students interested in film or arts activism volunteer for AAIFF. Even though the film industry might be stacked against Asian American interests, the work that AAIFF and many other Asian American film festivals do remains vitally important as a platform.

My Summer Planning a Film Festival

For the past few weeks I have been interning at the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), which is presented by Asian Cinevision and in its 39th year. The festival takes place across New York City and is running from July 21-30. The festival is the longest running film festival in the country dedicated to showcasing films by, for, and about Asians and Asian Americans. In an industry where Asian faces are underrepresented, or portrayed solely through stereotypes, the festival is meaningful in giving recognition to actors, directors, and filmmakers who might otherwise be overlooked.

Our first team meeting, in the Made in NY Film Center in Brooklyn, NY. (from the @asiancinevision Instagram)
Our first team meeting, in the Made in NY Media Center in Brooklyn, NY. (from the @asiancinevision Instagram)

All staff members and interns of the film festival participate in deciding the final programming that will be shown. In my first week, I watched the entire roster of selected short films. The shorts were categorized by themes, from international Asian stories, to films made in New York, to films about parents and family, to narratives and documentaries about the LGBTQ community. As a group we also discussed where and when to show our feature-length films. Because everyone on the AAIFF team is Asian or Asian-American, these discussions have always come with personally invested praise or criticism. Everyone is dedicated to making sure the best films with the most meaningful stories or characters will be shown. On Opening and Closing Night, the largest nights of the festival, we decided to show two films with LGBTQ themes, in continuance of our mission of recognizing marginalized communities in film.

However, the main part of my work thus far has involved coordinating the logistics of the film festival itself. I am responsible for special events and development, where I will see most of my work culminate during the 10 days of the festival. In coordinating special events, I maintain contact with our theater venues and contributing sponsors. Many sponsors provide catering for our biggest nights, so I must reach out to restaurants to partner with the festival. I am also responsible for building partnerships with new and old sponsors who can offer us monetary or in-kind donations. The fundraising that comes from our partners is often in the form of a product donation that we can distribute during the festival, or monteary contributions that help cover expenses such as venues, program booklets, or filmmaker travel expenses. My work is heavily rooted in preparation and assuring that things will run smoothly when the festival comes. The fruits of my labor are not instantly recognizable, but come July 21 with everything in action, I know I will be able to take pride in what I have contributed.

A promotional postcard for this year's festival. A still from our Opening Night film, SPA NIGHT is in the background.
A promotional postcard for this year’s festival. A still from our Opening Night film, SPA NIGHT, is in the background.

Looking ahead, I am confident that my goals of building stronger relationships and partnerships with people I work with can be accomplished. The event and development planning I am working on now has already enabled to begin achieving this goal, and during the festival I will have a chance to collaborate heavily with my peers and other volunteers to ensure events run smoothly. I hope in the coming weeks I will be able to prepare my team as best as I can.