2017 New York Asian Film Festival: ‘We should have done better’ admits NYAFF director

This year’s New York Asian Film Festival, which is set to kick off on June 30 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, will screen 57 feature films over 17 days. Only six of those features — a paltry 1% — were directed by women.

“There were only two last year, if memory serves,” said Samuel Jamier, Executive Director of the New York Asian Film Festival. “Not glorious, I know. I should point out that there really aren’t many female directors in Asia overall, but we should have done better!”

Jamier said that although the program has been built organically, focusing on the best, most exciting and most original films they could find, this year they were determined from the start to focus on women-oriented titles.

“We toyed for a while with the idea of having a section specifically dedicated to female directors, but ended up with the broader idea of including as many films as possible with female protagonists, and stories where strong women, politically, physically, psychologically, take the lead,” he said. “The opening, centerpiece and closing films, Bad Genius, Birdshot and The Villainess are all female-centric (and all three are thrillers, incidentally).”

The six feature films directed by women are: A Single Rider by Lee Joo-Young; Close-Knit by Naoko Ogigami; The Gangster’s Daughter by Mei-Juin Chen; The Long Excuse by Miwa Nishikawa; Someone to Talk To by Yulin Liu; and The Truth Beneath by Lee Kyoung-Mi.

Of these six, only two — Chen Mei-Juin from Taiwan (The Gangster’s Daughter) and Naoko Ogigami from Japan (Close-Knit) — are expected to attend NYAFF to participate in Q&A sessions.

“For a long time, the festival has been associated with a certain idea of cinema, very rooted in genre film and ‘fanboy-hood,’ if I can call it that,” said Jamier. “While these are the origins of the New York Asian Film Festival, I thought we needed to evolve from this and be less of a ‘boys’ festival… it’s our Sweet 16, after all! I wanted for the festival to keep its identity, but also be more open to new ideas, and find new directions, new horizons.” 

In addition to what’s being shown at the festival, Jamier has been working hard to place women in key festival positions. “I’ve tried to put as many women as possible in key positions in programming, operations, marketing and PR,” he said. “More than half of the staff and volunteers are female at this point. Obviously, I think it affects the way you shape an event and select films. As we watched and reviewed titles for the selections, we gravitated more and more towards ‘female-forward’ stories. In this respect, I think it made sense for us to also have more LGBTQ films in our line (five titles) as well.” 

Jamier said that the festival is particularly sensitive about issues of fair representation. “I don’t want our festival to be preachy or political, we aim to be a big film party, where our audience is entertained, provoked and moved,” he said. “But at the same time, we don’t live in a vacuum. We can’t pretend to make our program from an ivory tower and “just show films.” The process of selection has implications, and I 
think we’ve developed a sense of responsibility, perhaps, when it comes to gender issues. So yes, that means more female-directed films, and more female-focused films in general.”

The festival opens on June 30 with the international premiere of Thai high-school thriller Bad Genius and closes on July 16 with the U.S. premiere of the South Korean revenge thriller The Villainess. The festival’s centerpiece gala is Mikhail Red’s ecological thriller Birdshot from the Philippines.

The New York Asian Film Festival is curated by executive director Samuel Jamier, deputy director Stephen Cremin, and programmers Claire Marty and David Wilentz. It is co-presented by Subway Cinema Inc., and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival is held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City and then, starting July 13 at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. For more information, visit https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-asian-film-festival/.

© Lisa Iannucci (6/29/17) FF2 Media

Featured Image:  Scene from The Truth Beneath by Lee Kyoung-Mi.

Top Photo: Scene from The Gangster’s Daughter. Director Chen Mei-Juin from Taiwan will be in NYC for Q&A on Saturday July 1.

Bottom Photo: Scene from Close-Knit. Director Naoko Ogigami from Japan will be in NYC for Q&A on Saturday July 8.

Photo Credits: New York Asian Film Festival (from the Film Society of Lincoln Center website)

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