2018 New York Asian Film Festival: Korea leads pack of female directors

This year’s New York Asian Film Festival, which began June 29 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, will screen 57 feature films over 17 days. Only eight of those features — 14 percent — were directed by women (although an increase from last year’s one percent). This year’s program has four world premieres, three international premieres, 21 North American premieres, three U.S. premieres, and 12 New York premieres, showcasing comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, horrors and arthouse films from East Asia — China, Hong Kong Panorama, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.  

Stephen Cremin, Deputy Director of the New York Asian Film Festival, explains that four of the festival’s 10 Korean films are by female directors, two of whom are attending the festival.

“We knew early on that we wanted an Irene Villamor film this year, and it was hard to choose between them,” said Cremin. “We did watch a lot of recent films (and romances) from her countrywomen including Antoinette Jadaone and Sigrid Bernardo before settling on Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story). The most successful film in the Philippines each year is often directed by a women, including in 2017 and 2018 (so far).”

This is Villamor’s second time entering an international film festival and she was very surprised that her movie was selected. 

“In my country (the Philippines), a large percentage of film directors and writers are women,” explained Villamor. “So I would say our film environment is pretty welcoming and very open to the female perspective. There is freedom to what we can say or how we convey our message/and or themes. Producers are generally investing based on stories and concepts and actors playing what roles, not on any gender bias. But thematically, I personally believe there should be more empowering stories for women. We are bound by box office and audience perception/acceptance to our movies. But we could always do more and push and use this freedom while we have it.” 

When asked what the main struggle is the filmmaking industry, Villamor said it is educating the moviegoing public. “I mostly work for the mainstream studios,” she said. “Getting my themes across would always be in consideration of a bigger mass audience, how would they accept and read it. The main struggle in this country now is educating the moviegoing public, for the general audience to appreciate the language and treat film as art, not just entertainment.

She explains that “what sells” is still the norm and piracy is rampant. “It’s getting harder to make people flock to the cinemas,” she said. “Local film festivals are serving a bigger audience than it used to, but still limited to a certain niche.”

“There are varying views of how we see “mainstream” and “independent/festival” films in our country,” she said. “Experimental films or those with social relevance are more of the indie kind while romance movies are of the mainstream fare, escapist entertainment. But I believe that there should be no independent or mainstream movies. There are big studios yes, but there should only be one cinema and the goal should always be making great movies. There should be no hindrance to being a filmmaker, man or woman.”

She is glad that an international film festival like the NYAFF has noticed this growing trend in the Philippines and have actually screened her film  (Sid & Aya) in spite of it being marketed as a romance movie.

“International film festivals should encourage this diversity of stories from countries like mine,” she said. “And not be stereotypical in its selection, thematically speaking. Women’s voices are growing louder and echoing in all parts of the globe. Festivals should welcome and hear these voices, however they appear to be.”

Cremin explains that although the numbers are low, the New York Asian Film Festival isn’t complacent when it comes to representation. “Representation of women, and children, and immigrants, etc., are things we talk about at length during the selection process which takes almost a full year,” said Cremin. “In the case of Irene, we were aware that our lineup of Filipino cinema was very ‘masculine’ and wanted to show the exciting trend in the romance genre, which Irene is at the vanguard of.”

He said that Korea is an interesting case because it’s really the women who are tackling important subjects on film rather than just chasing box office. “Three years ago, we did a focus on Korean producer Shim Jae-Myung and her Myung Films that was celebrating its 20th anniversary. No festival in Korea has celebrated her extraordinary career,” said Cremin.

NYAFF’s Women Filmmakers

Jeong Ga-young: Hit the Night (2017) South Korea, 85 minutes, North American Premiere · Q&A with director/actress Jeong Ga-young

Soon-Rye Kim: Little Forest (2018) Soon-Rye Kim, South Korea, 103 minutes, New York Premiere

Jeon Go-woon: Microhabitat (2017), South Korea, 104 minutes, North American Premiere · Q&A with director Jeon Go-woon and actor Ahn Jae-hong

Sung Hsin-Yin: On Happiness Road (2017) Taiwan, 111 minutes, North American Premiere

Malene Choi: The Return (2018) Denmark, 84 minutes, New York Premiere

Huang Xi: Missing Johnny (2017) Taiwan, 104 minutes, New York Premiere

Bongkod Bencharongkul: Sad Beauty (2018) Thailand, 91 minutes, North American Premiere, · Q&A with director Bongkod Bencharongkul and producer Kongkiat Khomsiri

Irene Villamor: Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story) (2018) Philippines, 94 minutes, New York Premiere · Q&A with actress Anne Curtis

The New York Asian Film Festival will close June 15 and 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.  For more information, visit https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-asian-film-festival/.

© Lisa Iannucci (7/6/18) FF2 Media

Featured Image: Soon-Rye Kim’s Little Forest (2018)

Top Photo: Jeong Ga-young’s Hit the Night (2017)

Middle Photo: Irene Villamor’s Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story)

Bottom Photo: Malene Choi: The Return (2018)

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

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