This week, Asian Cinevision hosts the 34th annual Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) in New York City, including three films highlighting the lives, loves and struggles of LGBT Asian and Asian American people (and their communities).
Tonight, August 11, is the festival’s LGBTQ Cinema Night. In collaboration with the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA), Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York (SALGA), & Q-WAVE, the festival will screen the non-traditional romantic comedy When Hainan Meets Teochew, directed by Yew Kwang Han, and Tales of the Waria, a documentary about the transgender community in Indonesia, directed by Kathy Huang.
When Hainan Meets Teochew is the atypical, comedic love story of Ms. Teochew, a feminine man with long hair, and Hainan-boy, a masculine woman who is often mistaken for a man, featuring actors Tan Hong Chye and Lee Chau Min (respectively), whose real-life gender identities mirror those of their characters. The story begins when a bra falls on Teochew from an overhead apartment window as he is walking by. He immediately wins the lottery and decides to keep the bra as a token of good luck. Hainan begins an arduous search for her precious underwear, distributing hundreds of missing posters around her neighborhood. Eventually, an argument over the missing bra ensues, resulting in Ms. Teochew having to move in with Hainan-boy. The pair grows closer as they face an angry landlord, an estranged father, a sickly mother, and a crazy ex-girlfriend.
The film is shot in Mandarin, Hainanese and Teochew dialect, with English subtitles. It premiered in Singapore in December 2010, and has screened in 2011 at the 35th Hong Kong Interational Film Festival and the 3rd Asian Queer Film Festival.
Tales of the Waria documents the lives of four members of the waria community, a transgender community in Indonesia, as they balance their identity with their Muslim faith and their search for intimacy and love. Suharni’s seemingly perfect relationship with her boyfriend is tested when she leaves town to find work. Mami Ria, a waria elder, struggles to revive her 18-year relationship with a police officer. “Ex-waria” Firman leads a quiet life with his wife and two kids, but still dreams of the past when he had long hair and danced with men. Guiding us through these stories is Tiara, a glamorous and entertaining waria who secretly harbors her own heartache.
Shot over several years with warias serving as advisors and film crew members, the film provides unprecedented access to a community that dares to live differently from the norm, despite what consequences may await them. Director Kathy Huang underscores the importance of this film in highlighting differences within the transgender community worldwide. She explains that unlike in other parts of the world, warias often do not desire surgeries as a part of their transition. Furthermore, she emphasizes,
Here in the US, the gay community is very open. There are gay celebrities, clergymen, and politicians. It's the transgender community that often remains in the shadows. In Indonesia though, the gay community tends to be closeted (with many gay men eventually marrying women), while the [female] transgender community is out in the open. One of Indonesia's most celebrated talk show hosts - their equivalent of Oprah - is Dorce, a waria.
Tales of the Waria is shot in Indonesian, with English subtitles. It screened to sold-out audiences at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, Frameline and Outfest. The film was funded by the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), and the Pacific Pioneer Fund, and will be broadcast on PBS nationally in spring 2012.
On August 13, AAIFF will screen The LuLu Sessions, a documentary by S. Casper Wong about Dr. Louise Nutter (affectionately called “LuLu”), her best friend and former lover, and her journey through the final 15 months of her life as she faces the very illness she researches: end stage breast cancer. This film screening is co-sponsored by Women’s eNews, The LGBT Community Center, Self Help for Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer (SHARE), and The National LGBT Cancer Network.
LuLu is unlike anyone you’ve ever met. She’s an amusingly profane, chain-smoking, no-holds-barred, genius cancer research scientist and demanding yet beloved professor. Her sweet-sounding nickname, LuLu, has nonetheless, stuck from her hardscrabble childhood days as a former cheerleader growing up on a small farm in Vermont. At 42, she is told she has the very illness she researches – end stage breast cancer. The next 15 months - LuLu’s last - are an adventure that rattles her assumptions, values and places a spotlight on the boundaries of the bond between LuLu and the filmmaker.
Director S. Casper Wong explains what this film means to her, stating,
The Lulu Sessions is a powerful, stark testimonial about the tenacity of love and our capacity for pushing past limits - in love, friendship, forgiveness and life itself, in the face of impending mortality. This film is one of the first personal documentaries seen through the lens of a Chinese American, queer woman. Yet, in its heart, “LuLu” binds audiences - straight or gay, Asian or not, men or women, young or old - to the most universal of stories, that of love and death.
The LuLu Sessions was nominated for four Grand Jury Awards, took Second Place in Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Toronto LGBT Film Festival, and will be the Opening Night Film at the Austin LGBT Film Festival in September. The film will premier in Europe at the Cambridge Film Festival, and will screen at the Copenhagen LGBT Film Festival, where it has been nominated for best documentary.
Tales of the Waria will screen tonight at 6:30pm. When Hainan Meets Teochew will screen tonight at 8:30pm. The LuLu Sessions will screen Saturday, August 13 at 4:45pm. All films will be shown at Clearview Chelsea Cinema. Tickets are on sale at www.aaiff.org/event/tickets.