AWFF Brings Asian Films to Culver City

by Ersi Danou October 25, 2018
Actrsss Freida Pinto at the 4th AWFF, Culver City

Freida Pinto arrives at the 4th Annual Asian World Film Festival Opening Night Screening of Love Sonia.

morgan lieberman/getty images

The 4th edition of the Asian World Film Festival opened at the Arclight in Culver City, boasting a collection of new films from over 50 Asian countries. The unique feature of the festival is that all films are official Oscar and/or Golden Globe entries. The fundamental idea is to help guide all participant films through the extremely competitive Hollywood awards season which culminates in the selection of Oscar and Golden Globe nominees. Out of the 56 total Asian Oscar submissions in 2015 and 2016, 38 were presented at AWFF. In this respect, the Festival truly constitutes a bridge between the Asian and Hollywood film industries. “It’s a simple but effective idea”, said Brett Syson, Director of Operations.

In a time when all turn starry-eyed to Asia, especially China, searching for a view to the next chapter of the film industry, it is no wonder that the mission of AWFF would entice filmmakers, executives and movie goers alike. The Opening Night gala at the Culver Hotel, with soft jazz live music, warm lighting and elegantly-dressed Asian guests felt like a scene from a Chinese period film, but the few Caucasians there contributed to an eclectic atmosphere, characteristic of the Pacific Rim. Yes, it is high time for this Asia-Hollywood affair.

Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, Founder and Chairman of the Festival, is a visionary Producer/Director with ties to both Hollywood and his native Kyrgyzstan. Executive & Program Director Georges Chamchoum, an award-winning Director and Producer as well as film festival organizer, Co-Founder and Managing Director Asel Sherniyazova, a Kyrgyz with a business and educational background, and Director of Operations Brett Syson, who has worked as a British diplomat in Asia as well a film consultant – among others – comprise the core manpower of the Festival.

The Organization’s Advisory Board includes several recognizable names such as actress Lucy Liu, author Amy Tan, director Jean-Marc Vallee, and former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa. The festival’s program does not emerge from the usual selection process, but all Asian films (from Turkey to Japan) which are entered for Academy, Golden Globe and Guild consideration are invited. Some of the participants compete for the Best Film, Actor/Actress, Audience, Jury, and Rising Star Awards. Lifetime Achievement and Cinematic Legacy Awards are also offered.

This year HFPA member actress Lisa Lu and actress Awkwafina will be honored with the Snow Leopard Life Achievement Award. Lu has been making movies for over six decades, including The Joy Luck ClubThe Last Emperor and this year’s smash hit Crazy Rich Asians. Awkwafina is known for Ocean’s Eight, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and Crazy Rich Asians among others. 

Because AWFF’s programming encompasses such a vast and culturally diverse region, it is difficult to consider it an expression of a unified culture. The festival does transmit, however, a sense of what emerging Asian and Middle Eastern film industries consider worthy of competing for the highest American awards. Out of the approximately 30 films, 16 are Academy Award submissions and 7 are eligible for Golden Globe consideration.

In line with the non-Bollywood narrative tradition, Love Sonia, the Indian Opening Night social drama by Tabrez Noorani, deals with the painful theme of sex trafficking; the Chinese Closing Night period drama In Harm’s Way, directed by Bille August, centers on the clandestine love story between an American pilot and a Chinese widow in 1940; Burning, the Korean centerpiece follows a love triangle relationship, combining thrill and poetic expression.

In addition, AWFF offers several industry panels including Streaming: The Future of Global Entertainment, Asia-Hollywood Panel, Filmmaker Panel, Women in Film, and Bringing Blockchain to Film Industry. A section of the program called Signature Screenings features a few retrospective and specialty screenings as well as short films from the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.