Asian women struggle to make films

One of the largest Pan-Asian film festivals in the nation took place in San Diego with many emerging filmmakers receiving awards.

Among them, were three female Asian-American filmmakers who swept the documentary film category by winning awards for their films about being transgender, battling cancer, and living with deafness.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival was held from Oct. 20 to Oct. 28 at Ultrastar Cinemas in Mission Valley.

Over the course of eight days, more than 160 films from 21 different countries were shown to audiences at sold out screenings. Some movies proved so popular that additional screenings were added to keep up with the demand.

One of the more intriguing films was “Tales of the Waria,” a documentary by Chinese American filmmaker Kathy Huang.

The film confronts the taboo subject of being transgender and follows the lives of a group of “warias,” men who live openly as women as they search for love in Indonesia, a country that has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Almost six years after it’s inception —Huang first learned of the warias in 2005 and did extensive research for three years which included learning a new language and traveling to Indonesia— the film has proved meaningful and equally sensitive.

Huang and the film received the Best Feature Documentary award.

The festival is a great time for exposure but the women did mention the hardships they face working in  an industry dominated by male directors.

This was reflected in an “Asian Women in Hollywood” panel which addressed the stereotypes that exist in the business.

It highlighted the tribulations that Asian women face not just as actors but filmmakers.

Filmmaker Casper S. Wong spoke of this too. Wong directed “The Lulu Sessions,” a striking, deeply moving documentary about facing cancer and death. The film chronicles Lulu, a former cancer researcher, as she is diagnosed with cancer and battles through the last 15 months of her life. The story is that much more intimate because Wong is also Lulu’s best friend.

The film has won audiences over —it received the Special Jury Award— but Wong, a former attorney, says that many hurdles still exist for women.

“There are very few of us, and fewer still, are in positions of power where we can help each other green-light projects or to be effective mentors. Even in our 2011 world, without strong advocates and mentors supporting your work, it is simply harder to actualize your potential,” Wong said.

For many filmmakers, the festival serves as an opportunity to create change in the industry through gaining exposure and connecting with people.

“Support from groups like this has been invaluable in helping further my career,” said Mina T. Son, a Korean American filmmaker who screened her short, “Making Noise in Silence,” at the festival. The the short follows the lives of two Korean-American students at the California School for the Deaf. Son returned to the festival to receive an award for Best Short Documentary for the second year in a row.

Son’s sentiment is echoed by other filmmakers and the founder herself.

“There are very few festivals I’ve been to where people hug each other as they walk in the door,” said Lee Ann Kim, a Korean-American and former KGTB Channel 10 local news anchor, who started the festival 12 years ago. “It’s not just about films. It’s a full experience.”

The festival’s popularity continues to grow with attendance exceeding 20,000 this year.

For more information on the filmmakers and other films that were screened visit

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Asian women struggle to make films