The 22nd annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas (AFFD) begins today, July 13, at the Angelika Theater, bringing Asian and Asian-American narrative features and documentaries to local filmgoers.
Paul Theiss, the event’s lead programmer, says the festival’s goal remains unchanged. He wants “to get people in the theaters and introduce them to films from Asia that they’re just not going to typically see.”
“It’s an avenue for introducing people to Asian culture through film,” he says.
Theiss has been involved with AFFD for a decade and has nurtured a lifelong love of Asian cinema. “I grew up watching a lot of older [films],” he says. “I’m a practicing lawyer. And so, when I was a young lawyer, I didn’t have many avenues for arts outside of work. And so I was looking to get involved in films.”
Theiss initially programmed repertory screenings for the festival before transitioning into his role as lead programmer. This year, he is assisted in his programming duties by special guest programmers Anderson Le, a producer and the artistic director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, and Mae Hoang, a director and the co-founder of AFFD.
In addition to providing local audiences the opportunity to see films that might not play locally, AFFD also provides filmmakers the chance to meet with audiences and participate in Q&As. “That’s one thing that we’ve been focused on more throughout the last couple of years,” says Theiss.
This year’s filmmaker attendees will include Sing J. Lee, the director of the festival’s centerpiece screening, The Accidental Getaway Driver, which Theiss says is “based on a true story about a driver who unwittingly picks up a couple of escaped convicts and gets…fooled around into driving them around as they try to make their escape.”
Lee received a Directing Award for the film from the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Also in attendance will be Joyce Ha, an actor from Linh Tran’s Waiting for the Light to Change, which won the Slamdance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film.
Theiss says the festival’s films span a variety of genres and cultures, showcasing the breadth of modern Asian and Asian American cinema. AFFD tries “to identify films that are from different countries,” he says. “So that we can have the most diverse selection of films possible.”
While a majority of this year’s 18 films were made in South Korea, the festival will also be screening movies from Malaysia, China, and Japan. Theiss feels that its lineup has something for everyone.
“You don’t want to program 18 action movies. You don’t want to program 18 horror movies. [It’s about] trying to find the right balance,” he said.
The festival’s opening night kicks off with The Night Owl. “It’s a historical piece,” Theiss says. “It’s about an acupuncturist who is blind during the day but can see in the dark. And he happens to witness the murder of the Crown Prince, and…everything breaks down from there.”
“Our closing night film, Drive, is a fantastic film,” adds Theiss, calling out another movie he’s looking forward to showing. “It’s a thriller. It’s from South Korea. It’s about a social media influencer who gets kidnapped and is in the trunk of a car. And her kidnapper is driving the car, and he demands that she livestream the whole thing.”
Theiss believes that even audiences who are not familiar with foreign-language films will be able to lose themselves in the festival’s offerings.
“The twist is that [the movies are] going to introduce you to Asian culture. So you’re going to see things that maybe you’re not familiar with…but that’s part of the goal, is to expose people to these different ways of life, to different countries.”
“But at the end of the day, they’re movies. If you like movies, you’re going to like the ones that we show.”
The Asian Film Festival of Dallas runs through July 16 at the Angelika. To learn more about the festival, review the 2023 lineup, or purchase tickets for this year’s screenings, readers can visit the Asian Film Festival of Dallas website.