Festival brings Asian filmmakers to Philly

The Asian Film Festival brought niche films to a broader audience, including “I Am” produced by  alumna Sonali Gutali. Philadelphia is home to a variety of great events like the auto show, the International Flower

Courtesy Sonali Gulati Alumna Sonali Gulati works on the set of her coming-of-age film, “I Am.” Gulati graduated in 2004 with her Master’s of Fine Arts in Film and Media Arts. Gulati said her film stemmed from personal experiences with her family.

The Asian Film Festival brought niche films to a broader audience, including “I Am” produced by  alumna Sonali Gutali.

Philadelphia is home to a variety of great events like the auto show, the International Flower Show and First Fridays. It is no surprise that alongside these events, Philadelphia is also home to an Asian American Film Festival.

The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival was founded in 2008 by a group of individuals including alumnus Joe Kim.

Kim studied Film and Media Arts and said he appreciates the foundation his studies provided.

“My undergraduate education was very important and helped open my eyes to new ideas and different perspectives,” Kim said.

Utilizing what he learned in his classes, he brought an Asian American niche film festival to Philadelphia after witnessing similar festivals in other places.

“Our film festival is a specialty niche film festival and we accept films by and/or about Asian Americans,” Kim said. “If we didn’t screen these films, most likely they would not be available for Philadelphia audiences to watch.”

The narratives in these films are very tangible and contain a raw plot that is inviting and relatable to the audience.

In the screening of “Saigon Electric,” Director Stephan Gauger produced a coming-of-age film for young adults that highlights dance.

In the film, many different stories intertwine with each other. The dance was filmed artistically and didn’t take away from the movie, but instead helped move the plot along.

The film was shot during the course of four weeks in Vietnam and included subtitles.

“I want to help modernize and shape the industry [in Vietnam], as well as produce a film that featured the changing youth culture that is happening in Vietnam,” Gauger said.

“Even with its subtitles I really enjoyed the show, I wasn’t expecting this at all,” said Adriana Ortiz, a junior psychology and sociology major.

For many of these filmmakers, shooting films overseas is inexpensive, but gives them a chance to capture the true essence of that specific culture.

During the question and answer portion of the screening, Kim presented Gauger with “The Best

Narrative” award for “Saigon Electric.”

All of the actors employed to produce the narrative film were non-professional, except for one professional actress who played one of three leading roles.

“For a film about dance it made more sense to use real dancers versus trying to teach real actors how to dance,” Gauger said. “We just happened to get lucky with our dancers.”

“To have a show where the dancing is tight and the acting is equally so, is amazing, but it’s even more amazing to know that only one actor was actually professional. That to me is mind boggling,” junior public health major Whitney Ajibola said.

Many said they entered the featured film with either low or no expectations at all.

“I walked in with no expectations and after [Gauger’s] brief introduction my expectations were very low but I was pleasantly surprised,” attendee Joe Reilly said.

Romance and drama are two of the many different genres featured at this film festival. Like many other artistic mediums, films such as “Saigon Electric,” tackle social issues of class and gentrification.

Another coming-of-age film in the festival, “I Am,” is directed and produced by alumna Sonali Gulati.

Gulati graduated in 2004 with her Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Media Arts. Like Kim, her classes helped prepare her for the independent film industry.

“I learned a lot at Temple. I had never picked up a film camera in my life and that was the first thing we did on day one,” Gulati said.

Thus far, Gulati has directed seven films. As with her other works, inspiration for “I Am” stemmed from personal experience.

“My inability to come out to my mother as a lesbian became the motivation to make this film,” Gulati said.

Unlike Gauger, Gulati faced the challenge of keeping the momentum while producing the film during its six-year period. Finding the time and resources to travel, pay actors and get permission for certain locations are some common roadblocks filmmakers face.

“I faced many challenges with fundraising and time to travel to India but I managed to do it, even though it took me longer than I had hoped for,” Gulati said.

Despite the challenges, Gulati said she is happy with her end product.

“It’s hard to pick one favorite scene but I guess it would be the scene where the doctor prescribes medication to cure my homosexuality,” Gulati said.

Nov. 8 marks the ending of the week long film festival with a free screening and catered reception following Tony Nguyen’s, “Enforcing the Silence,” at Prince Music Theater at 1421 Chestnut St.

Alexandra Olivier can be reached at alexandra.olivier@temple.edu.

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