My picks for 19th Annual Polish Film Festival (Oct. 17-25, 2018)

by Tom Nguyen

October is always teeming with great film festivals in Los Angeles! It’s as if all the cinephiles, like myself, suddenly needed a break from an overstimulating summer of competing activities, and cocoon ourselves inside a myriad of film screenings this month as a Fall transition. Next up: 19th Annual Polish Film Festival, which opened Wednesday, October 17, 2018, at Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, with a gala screening of Squadron 303, based on the true history of Polish pilots who shot down three times more Luftwaffe planes during the Battle of Britain than other Allied pilots.

The film festival continues through Thursday, October 25, at two primary venues: Laemmle Noho 7 Theatre in North Hollywood and Laemmle’s Monica Film Center in Santa Monica. There will also be free screenings at CSU Northridge and USC campuses and Hellada Gallery in Long Beach. Here are my picks (in order of appearance at the festival): Continue Reading →

‘Gook’: Q&A with Ava Duvernay and why Independent Filmmaking and Representation Matters

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by Tom Nguyen

The indie film ‘Gook’ by director/writer/actor Justin Chon (‘Twilight’) opens in LA theaters today, and has been highly talked about, not only for its provocative title. The story of two Korean-American siblings who own a store in a predominantly African American Los Angeles neighborhood, and the consequences of their friendship with a young black child during the first day of the LA riots, won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Audience Award and was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films for national release — a rarity for an independent film written, produced and directed by and starring folks from a minority community…but I’ll get into Hollywood’s diversity problem and Chon’s astute observations later.

The film shot in black and white follows one day in the life of a street-wise Eli (Justin Chon), intent on keeping his late father’s shoe store afloat, despite daily struggle in Paramount, a suburb next to Compton. His brother Daniel (a very funny David So of Youtube popularity) is more interested in aspirations of being a singer than helping Eli mind a store long past its better days. Kamilla (a brilliant 11-year-old Simone Baker making her debut), a young girl from the neighborhood, is the heart and soul of the movie, as an orphaned girl drawn to the store and the brothers, looking for more parental love and affection, than she receives at home from a sympathetic but absent older sister, Regina (Omono Okojie) and stern older brother, Keith (a very intense performance by Curtiss Cook Jr.).

The film is a humanizing, honest snapshot of complex race relations in a lower income Los Angeles neighborhood that isn’t often portrayed on screen. While the film starts out with what could have been tired cliches, like Eli’s multiple encounters with Latino gangsters or the racist Korean store owner across the street who pulls a gun on Kamilla, there’s a purpose to Chon’s depiction of the simmering racial tensions of this multi-ethnic community — the day happens to be the acquittal of white police officers in the Rodney King beating trial and as the riots start in nearby South Central, those tensions boil to the surface, with moral dilemmas and serious consequences for each character. Continue Reading →

Los Angeles hosts the launch of the 1st Central American International Film Festival

By Oscar Bautista
Photos by Juan C Martinez (via Facebook)

Hosted at the University of Southern California (USC), the Central American International Film Festival (CAIFF) kicked off its free 3-day long event on Nov. 13. This event was open to the community, as well as those in the film industry, giving everyone the opportunity to see the works of many Central American filmmakers.

Starting with a red carpet reception, the CAIFF’s opening night got to showcase the perspectives of Central American cinema with a nice star-studded affair.

Though the attendees mainly consisted of people involved in film and media, it was still amazing to see so many faces from our local Central American communities, coming out to support films reflecting the diversity of Central America. Continue Reading →

Film Festivals, Foreign Oscar Entries and Special Screenings Galore! November 11-17

by Tom Nguyen

Unfortunately, a bout of flu kept me from AFI FEST. If you also missed (or decided to avoid) all the buzz, fanfare and crowds surrounding a lot of new films from around the world, have no fear! As AFI FEST winds down this week, there are multiple more film festivals and special screenings all over SoCal, especially for fans of foreign cinema! It’s one of those weeks where everyone seemed to schedule their festivals on the same week…there are 3 Latin American film festivals alone! Here is a list of notable ones and descriptions from their sites:


19th Annual Arab Film Festival @ Harmony Gold, Nov. 13-15, $10-12/film
AFF is the largest independent annual showcase of Arab films and filmmakers in the country. The festival has an international standing and is considered one of the most important Arab film festivals outside the Arab world. It strives to present the best contemporary films that provide insight into the beauty, complexity and diversity of the Arab world alongside realistic perspectives on Arab people, culture, art, history and politics.

Continue Reading →

Watch Out, The Muslims Are Coming!

The documentary, The Muslims Are Coming, recently screened at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Bearing the name of the tour a few Muslim comedians took along the Bible Belt of America, the documentary is a good way to see how the media creates fear in Americans from their ignorance of a religion different than their own. Directors Negin Farsad and Dead Obeidallah, along with fellow Muslim comedians Kareem Omary, Aron Krader, Preacher Moss, Maysoon Zayid and Omar Elba, document their tour and the reactions and receptions they receive. Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, Colin Quinn, Rachel Maddow, Lewis Black are among those interviewed giving their own perceptions on how this “Muslim takeover” scare tactic from those in the right wing has controlled the conversation of what being a Muslim is really about.

DSC05049 Continue Reading →

Free Screenings of Contemporary South American Cinema at USC April 5-7

April 5-7, another set of free film screenings open to the public at the USC School of Cinematic Arts will be showcasing recent cinema from South America. These films aren’t the most recent coming from South America and I’ve seen quite a few of them already, but from dramas to comedies to horror, this series is a good representation of the different genres of quality film and diverse stories coming from South America cinema. You can click on the film titles in the lineup to RSVP. Continue Reading →

Hapa Japan Festival April 2-6

Hapa Japan Festival is April 2-6 and explores mixed race and mixed roots Japanese people’s history, identity, and representations through film, music, scholarship, an exhibit, and community activity. Come join them for a concert featuring emerging hapa artists, a comedy night at East West Players, readings by award-winning authors, a historical exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum, film screenings of great documentaries, and a 2-day academic conference at USC. Presented by the Hapa Japan Database Project and the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. All events are free and you can register here. Continue Reading →