Asian American Showcase marks 10th year with expanded fest, more docs, features and art exhibit

The Asian American Film Showcase marks its 10th year with a 10-day festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning April 1, an expanded doc section and a three-month art exhibit, book-ended with features by returning filmmakers Michael Kang and Quentin Lee.

Fresh from its Sundance premiere, Kang’s debut feature, the coming-of-age story “The Motel” opens the Showcase. Screening with “The Motel” is Kang’s short “A Waiter Tomorrow,” which played in the 2000 Showcase.

Closing-night film April 9 is the Chicago premiere of Quentin Lee’s third directorial effort, the gay family hostage drama “Ethan Mao.”

Tim Hugh is director of Asian American Film Showcase.

“A lot of the directors [that have been featured in the Showcase] are finally getting recognized by more mainstream audiences,” said festival director Tim Hugh. “Our mission is to support Asian American artists. Seeing Quentin and Michael’s new films, that progression speaks for itself.”

The Showcase’s 10th anniversary comes amid the rising prominence of Asian American filmmakers, as evidenced by films like last-year’s Justin Lin-helmed “Better Luck Tomorrow” and Alice Wu’s new “Saving Face”

“It’s a blessing and a curse because there are films we would have liked to spotlight that we weren’t able to get this year,” Hugh said. “But our job’s not done until you can go out to a theater every month and see films by Asian Americans and know they’re being recognized.”

With a growing body of more accomplished Asian American filmmakers, and an upswing in the sheer volume of submissions, organizers have grown far more selective in programming the Showcase since its first year, when “we were showing just five or six things, and it was hard to find quality films,” Hugh said.

Asian American Film Showcase Highlights

Also returning to the Showcase are Satsuki Ina and Stephen Holsapple with the hour-long doc “From a Silk Cocoon” about Ina’s parents’ renunciation of their U.S. citizenship in protest of their internment during World War II. “From a Silk Cocoon” screens April 3.

Quintuple-threat filmmaker, Downer’s Grove native Steven E. Mallorca, wrote, produced, directed, edited and scored “Slow Jam King,” a road comedy of self-discovery in which a Filipino-American hip hop kid learns the pleasures of the titular 70’s song form, showing April 2 and 7.

Dong-Won Kim’s Sundance award-winning feature doc about North Korean political prisoners in South Korea plays April 9.

A tribute reception for Highland Park native Lauren Tom, (“The Joy Luck Club,” “Friends,”) will be held April 10, in conjunction with the Center for Asian Arts and Media’s Woman Warrior Festival.

The visual art exhibition “Then and Now: Ten Years of Asian American Art in Chicago,” curated by Larry Lee, opens with the Showcase April 1 and runs through June 30 in the Film Center lobby.

The annual rock show that has run with the festival in years past will be put off until later in the year, to avoid competition from South by Southwest.

Five narrative features, six feature docs, six documentary shorts and 43 narrative shorts make up this year’s Showcase.

The nonprofit Foundation for Asian American Independent Media, which runs the Showcase, arose out of the 1995 Year of the Dragon tour, led by local rockers Seam to promote their compilation of Asian American bands.

“Year of the Dragon was awakening for a lot of people, that there were Asian Americans out there rocking,” Hugh said. Journalist Ben Kim and Seam members Soo Young Park and William Shin “saw from that experience that there was a need to provide exposure for more Asian American artists” and launched FAAIM.

Hugh, “an auto mechanic by day,” started out as an avid fan of the fest before joining the volunteer staff five years ago. He said the Showcase is “pretty much the only festival that only shows work by Asian American filmmakers, as opposed to Asian filmmakers.”

“I never lived in China,” Hugh explained. “I grew up in America. My parents grew up in the 50’s on rock & roll. The stories we’re showing are stories that I can relate to, and hopefully our audience can relate to, because we grew up with the same experience.”

The 10th Annual Asian American Film Showcase runs April 1-10 at the Film Center, 164 N. State. Most of the filmmakers will attend their respective screenings. See for a complete schedule.