San Diego Asian Film Festival preview

Fifteen years ago, the University of San Diego hosted the first-ever San Diego Asian Film Festival. Tonight, the red carpet will be rolled out downtown at Reading Cinemas in Gaslamp. Here is a look into what makes this festival so special to the USD community:



Tonight, the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp will play host to opening night of San Diego’s marquee cinematic event, the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Featuring 140 films from 21 countries, the festival is the largest exhibition of Asian film in the western part of the United States and the largest film festival in San Diego. In 2012, USA Today actually listed it at No. 6 on its list: “The Pop Traveler: Ten reasons to Visit San Diego!” What many people may not know, however, is that 15 years ago the festival began right here on campus at the University of San Diego.

Leeva Chung, a professor in the communication studies department, has been heavily involved in the festival since its inception in 2000. Acting primarily as the main liaison for the university, she remembers the trials that they faced in trying to create this event at such a small school.

“It really was about where we could find the space,” Chung said. “Where could these films be shown? Would it be doable or practical? Because there was no IPJ, no SOLES, there was no SLP. There was nothing on this campus. Where would the filmmakers stay?”

The surprising answer to that question is that they actually stayed right on campus in the dorms. They stayed upstairs in the rooms of Camino and Founders for $50, placing them directly in the heart of the festival. Chung even mentioned that they utilized classrooms in the Hahn Nursing School and Camino for some of the smaller showings.

This allowed the festival to take the form of half Hollywood premiere and half campus event. On the one hand there were communications professors such as Eric Pierson serving on the festival jury, while at the same time there were thousands of people lining up to see celebrities, such as actress Michelle Rodriguez and director Karyn Kusama, showcase their successful closing night film, “Girl Fight.”

After the inaugural festival here at USD, it became clear that it had to expand. The festival began to branch out into surrounding movie theaters downtown and at Hazard Center, then moved all the way to La Jolla and Encinitas.
In spite of the rapid growth, USD has remained committed to its long-standing affiliation with the festival. Chung explained how that commitment fueled a desire to involve the school more heavily in this year’s 15th anniversary of the festival.

“They said ‘how do we get USD more involved,’” Chung said. “I said I’m going to try to find sponsorship. So I’ve been working since September to try to find money to showcase USD, to make us a sponsor. A big sponsor.”
Chung’s hard work has paid off in a huge way, with USD appearing on the program next to the likes of Wells Fargo and Qualcomm as major funding contributors. Students and fans will also find that some of the theaters showing the films will be called “The USD Theater.”

Perhaps the biggest way in which the university will be showcased, however, is with the festival’s decision to host the premiere of ABC’s new Asian-American sitcom, “Fresh off the Boat,” at our very own Shiley Theater.

“It’s based on the true life story of Eddie Huang, who is a celebrity chef,” Chung said. “He’s really big with the Asian-American community. He’s a chef. He’s a comic. He’s eccentric to say the least. He wrote a book and it was called ‘FOB: Fresh Off the Boat.’ With a title that people don’t necessarily use anymore, it’s been, in the past, really derogatory. Especially thinking about Asians and how they came here.”

While the controversial title has caused many Asian groups to become upset, Chung notes that Huang’s ability to spin it may prove to be a positive for the community.

“[He] took the title and used that language in his context to make it something different and empower the voice of the Asian community,” Chung said. “It’s supposed to appeal to all Asian audiences. There are 70 different Asian countries. Here in the U.S. we’re just Asian now. Not Thai or Vietnamese. Just Asian. It’s supposed to appeal to our broader experiences of being in the United States.”

No matter what the outcome of the show may be or what impact it will have, the significance of this event occurring on campus cannot be overstated. A major network that is home to the likes of “Modern Family” is bringing its pilot premiere of a show to the school. Students will have the opportunity to talk to filmmakers and actors after it is over and provide feedback for a show before it ever airs.

Whether you are Asian or not, any fans of good film will find a way to connect to this event and what the festival has to offer as USD revives its strong presence in San Diego’s biggest event of this weekend.