Since 2000, the D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival has promoted diversity.
“I’ve watched the industry,” Festival Director Melissa Bisagni told WTOP. “[Hollywood said] we’re not making films featuring diverse casts because there’s not enough people to buy tickets, but the reports show it has nothing to do with that. … The industry bares the responsibility of having not shared stories that are integral to what make America.”
The 21st annual festival kicks off Thursday with an all-virtual slate, except for one in-person screening on closing night at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“The festival has gone through a lot of changes from being a grassroots mom-and-pop festival in the beginning … to being a big festival in the early 2000s,” Bisagni said. “COVID has helped us reshape once again. We’re rebuilding after last year’s first all-virtual fest.”
This year presents 55 films from nine countries, including “Americanish” on opening night.
“‘Americanish’ is such a wonderful, fun, family-friendly film by Iman Zawahry,” Bisagni said. “It’s the story of a Pakistani family living in Queens, New York. The three young female protagonist sisters and cousins try to make their way in the world, find who they are as Americans, at the same time not bucking against tradition and custom too hard.”
You can also check out the spotlight film “Lumpia with a Vengeance” by Patricio Ginelsa.
“It’s actually a sequel to a film shot almost 20 years ago,” Bisagni said. “It’s a fun, superhero, comic-book-style dramedy. People who sign up to watch the film will also get a link to the digital comic book that goes hand-in-hand with the film.”
Another standout film is the documentary “A Sexplanation” by Alexander Liu.
“About a man, now 36, his limited sex education and what it looks for him now as an adult, a gay man, a Catholic, trying to figure out what is the sex education I should have had, I could have had, that I didn’t have that has left me in this position of questioning myself,” Bisagni said.
You can also check out “A Tale of Three Chinatowns” by Lisa Mao and Penny Lee.
“It talks about the Chinatowns of Boston, Chicago and our own D.C. Chinatown, its history, the residents, what’s happening to it,” Bisagni said. “Is it still a Chinatown? We’re going to have a pre-recorded Q&A with the filmmakers and Ted Gong of the 1882 Foundation.”
The closing night film is the musical “The Girl Who Left Home” at the AFI Silver Theatre.
“It’s such a sweet film,” Bisagni said. “We’ve had such an explosion of diversity in musical theater from ‘Hamilton’ to ‘In the Heights.’ ‘The Girl Who Left Home,’ you watch the film and you’re amazed how a young, intrepid filmmaker can assemble such a wonderful cast.”
The film is directed by Mallorie Ortega, who grew up in Germantown, Maryland.
“I went to Northwest High School,” Ortega told WTOP. “For college, I went to UMBC where my filmmaking started. I double majored in theater production and film. That’s why you have a movie that is a musical! … I went to USC for grad school for film. Because I wasn’t in the theater world anymore, I really missed it, so I was like, ‘I need to make a musical.'”
She combined her two passions to write some catchy musical numbers.
“We open with a song called ‘Breaking Through,’ it’s so fun, it’ll make you want to dance out of your seat,” Ortega said. “One of my favorites is the title [song]. It’s just such a powerful ballad and our lead actress, Haven Everly, her vocals are like butter. She can sing anything — and she sings that one live in one take, so that’s really exciting.”
Her main character has a few similarities to Ortega’s own life story.
“She is at the height of her career [as] a theater performer … but she suddenly learns that her father has passed away and has to return home,” Ortega said. “It’s about chasing your dream; either fulfilling your familial duties or going on your own path. … My parents used to have a restaurant in Silver Spring [but] none of their daughters wanted to take over!”
Her family will beam with pride as they watch the screening at the AFI Silver.
“There’s a lot of us coming,” Ortega said. “We’ll probably sell out, so get your tickets soon!”