The 13th Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas shifted into high gear Thursday night. People from around the Dallas Area came to Angelika Film Center near Mockingbird Station. I rode the little escalator up to the second floor of the complex and checked into the makeshift headquarters. Each year, AFFD would alternate between Angelika Dallas and Magnolia Theater at West Village, and thankfully The Angelika had more than enough space to accommodate the influx of film-goers who came in droves to see the opening night screening of the live-action film of the Manga/Anime hit series "Black Butler".
You couldn't help but to feel overwhelmed by the excitement of the people who came to stand in line. In its 13th year, which the event been coined "The Lucky 13", AFFD has made significant leaps and bounds compared to its humble beginnings back in 2001 when they first started. I remember back in 2003, when they had The 3rd Annual AFFD at West Village, they screened about less than ten films and it ran for three days over the weekend. So if you wanted to see an Asian film, you had to go to it right then and there, no exceptions. Originally I didn't want to go because I was busy with a college paper, but my roommate goaded my into going, saying that was worth it. We went to watch "The Returner" which was an action/sci-fi flick that has Transformers mixed with Terminator. I had a great time and my roommate won a DVD series of the anime "Blue Gender". We always talked about coming back to the festival next year, but the opportunity never came up again.
AFFD has gone above and beyond this time around. 39 feature-length films, 26 short films, and 14 filmmakers who you can meet face to face over the course of seven days. Has the bar been raised since 2001? The answer would be yes. It's the start of the new week and already I'm exhausted from all stuff that I have attended so far.
What You Need To Know
If you're coming to Angelika Dallas. Come early. If you're driving and taking certain freeways at certain times in the afternoon, you will be in traffic, and you will be arriving late. Nothing more depressing than finally getting out of a traffic jam, and you find out that your movie is half over. Consider using the Dallas Dart Rail. Mockingbird Station is situated right next to The Angelika and with its fast service and affordable fees, you can commute to the festival and not be hampered by the heat and the road rage. Take advantage of the AFFD 2014 Magazine that they have on display. They're free, easy to use, and gives you plenty of insight of all of the films and events that will occur over the week. With a lot of films being showcased, its impossible to watch them all. But they do offer encore screenings of some films. I couldn't make it to "Black Butler" on opening night, but I was able to see it the following night thanks to checking out the free AFFD Magazine.
Bring a jacket. I know that its summer, bring a jacket. If you're taking your family or going on a date to AFFD to see multiple screenings of films, your body temp will steadily decrease. Movie theaters keep their place chill for a reason. I wouldn't go to movie one moment and then head outside to 100 degree heat just to feel warm again. So bring a jacket.
Please chat with only AFFD staff about things related to AFFD. I know that Angelika is hosting this year's festival, but its saves time to talk with staff who are wearing the signature AFFD logo shirts and special badges. Check with the staffers sitting at the makeshift tables and ticket booths for AFFD info, and then grab something at the concession station nearby.
When you go to see the festival film, please take a ballot that a AFFD staffer will hand you when you enter the screening room. Each of the films being showcased are being voted for an award at the end of the festival. 5 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Just make a little tear along the number of the ballot. FYI, they don't count ballots that have "3" votes. Neutral doesn't count. You like the movie 5, if not 1. Another thing to take into consideration is that most of the films will have a filmmaker who made that movie in attendance. Some of the film screenings will have a brief Q & A session with the filmmaker at the end of the show. So if you ever wanted to ask a film director anything, ask them about what was their inspiration for their movie. Ask them about what the film crew did during their downtime between film takes. Ask them about what they wanted their audience to take away with them after seeing the completed film. And to lighten the mood a little, go ahead and ask them about the fun stuff they can do here while they're in Dallas.
Samurai, Gangsters, and Ghosts (Ah Well!)
My quota of films that I have seen so far is ten. I have seen quite a variety, and I do recommend to pace yourself (and your wallet) between films. There isn't an exact science as to how would be the best way to watch a film during a festival, but depending on your mood and also who you are with will ultimately determine which movie you will see at AFFD. If you have kids, taking them to see a comedy or an anime feature will be your best bet. But be aware, that none of these films are rated like the films that you would normally see in the states, these films have been approved by the festival so they're not too graphic or too obscene depending on your sensitive sensibilities. Satellite Girl and Milk Cow for instance, an anime rom-com mixed with action and sci-fi, wasn't one of big draws like Lupun III and Patema Inverted. But what it lacks in visuals and and notoriety, it makes up for it in its silliness and occasional tongue-in-cheek laughs.
And speaking of rom-coms, there are just a few of those in this year's festival. One of my personal favorites would be this film from Vietnam called "Funny Money". A film about a young businessman whose life go awry when he gives another person a damaged currency dollar. Was the money cursed? Is karma a factor? Possibly. But you will find yourself being taken away by the antics and the immaturity of this take of boy meet girl. If romance isn't your thing, but the arts is, than "Touch of the Light" is the movie for you. Based on the true story, it stars the main character as himself, a blind piano prodigy who makes his way through college without the support of his loving family. There are its funny moments, its tearjerker moments, and then you have moments that make you want to rise from your seat and applause.
Suffice to say, it wouldn't be Asian Cinema, if it didn't have its gallery of guns, martial-arts action, and ultra violence. Films like "Black Butler", "The Kings Wrath", "The Demon Within", and "Samurai Hustle" has dominated the conversation during the first half of the festival. Though each of the films couldn't be as different as night and day, these are the types of films that audiences have come to expect when then come to AFFD; A fact that AFFD has come to acknowledge regularly. I watched several of the the AFFD ad promos in between films, and they would have an ad that says that they do offer other films that doesn't involve violence and spilled blood. You can't help but to feel for the creative minds behind the whole thing. Its been over a decade since the first festival, and to this day, they try their best to distance themselves from other Asian film festivals that solely promote violent films and not much else.
So far, I've only grazed the surface of AFFD. For the remainder of the week, AFFD will only be showing films in one screening room instead of two. So check back by the end of the week on the second half of the report on AFFD at iliveindallas.com for the hits and misses of the festival.