Thank you to the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon for honoring Virginia Wing, our star of When the World Was Young, with the DisOrient Inspirational Artist Award. It fed my soul to have a virtual reunion during the closing night program of the Festival with writer/director Garth Kravits, and my castmates Virginia Wing, Jason Ma and Jo Yang.
The Q & A also featured Donald Young, the producer of Wayne Wang’s Coming Home Again, which won Best Feature Narrative.
Ben Phantom performed three songs before the awards ceremony and received the 2021 DisOrient Special Recognition for Outstanding Music Video for Saigon.
Because the festival was virtual this year due to the pandemic, I had the opportunity to watch almost all of DisOrient’s terrific lineup of 46 films and learned so much more from the Q & A’s with the filmmakers.
A special thanks to DisOrient Executive Director Pamela Quan and Program Director Susan Hirata, DisOrient founder Jason Mak and his wife, Widya Mak, Britt Hua, Trish Quan and Ron Miyaguchi.
Below are the winners, special mentions and nominees.
Best Feature Narrative: Coming Home Again; Filmmaker Wayne Wang
Synopsis: Based on a personal essay by first-generation Korean American author, Chang-rae Lee (Justin Chon) returns to San Francisco to care for his terminally ill mother. In this intimate snapshot set over the course of a single day, Chang-rae tends to his mother (Jackie Chung) and tries to recreate her Korean New Year’s dinner, while he grapples with family expectations and the pain of watching a loved one slip away.
Nominees: Coming Home Again, See You Then, The Girl Who Left Home
Best Feature Documentary: Curtain Up!; Filmmakers Hui Tong and Kelly Ng
Synopsis: It’s show time at PS124, an elementary school in New York’s Chinatown, where students in the theater club are working on this season’s production of Frozen the Musical. Off stage, they navigate school, family expectations, and their own identities. As opening night and graduation loom, students find their voices through rehearsals and the continued support of teachers, family, and one another.
Nominees: Cane Fire, Ghost Mountain, and Curtain Up!
Best Short Narrative: Valley; Filmmaker Allan Zhang Tran
Synopsis: Two friends growing up in the San Gabriel Valley ditch school and spend the day together, at a time when their lives are starting to take them down different paths.
Nominees: Valley, Unpot, Hello From Taiwan, Blue Lanterns, Refrigerate After Opening, I Sound Asian
Best Short Documentary: Equality Tea; Filmmaker Jaime Sunwoo
Synopsis: It’s time to take off the white gloves and spill the tea, that liberty and justice were not for all…
Throughout America, women organized tea parties for meetings and fundraisers to support the suffrage movement. The Woman’s Suffrage Party sold ceylon, young hyson, gunpowder, and oolong tea under their charitable brand “Equality Tea.” Yet the history of tea is steeped in inequality, driven by colonialism, war, and appropriation. In her short film, Equality Tea, Sunwoo brews tea while drawing parallels between the fraught histories of the tea trade and the suffrage movement.
Original score by Matt Chilton, based on a 1895 suffragist anthem by Augusta Gray Gunn. Commissioned by Park Avenue Armory and The Laundromat Project for 100 Years | 100 Women.
Nominees: Fugetsu-Do, An Object of Merit, Equality Tea, Atomic Café, KAYE: Next Life Around, Keep Saray Home
Jason D. Mak Award for Social Justice: Cane Fire; Filmmaker Anthony Banua-Simon
Synopsis: This documentary takes an expansive look at the history and present day reality of the Hawaiian island, Kauai. Contrasting Hollywood’s depiction of Hawaii as tropical paradise and a prime tourist destination with the realities of indigenous and working class residents, this is an eye-opening look at the forces that shaped Kauai through generations of colonialism, capitalism, and activism.
Nominees: Cane Fire, Equality Tea, Take Out Girl, Keep Saray Home, See You Then
DisOrient Inspirational Artist Award: Virginia Wing (When The World Was Young)
Synopsis: Returning home to care for their mother whose memory is deteriorating, two siblings find more of her past than they knew was there.
Virginia Wing is a Chinese-American actress whose ancestors came to the “Gold Mountain” from Canton (now Guangdong) in the mid-1800s, lured by the Gold Rush and the building of the railroads. She is currently writing about growing up Southern in the Mississippi Delta, where she was born and raised. Professionally, she has run the gamut from opera, theatre, cabaret, TV, film, playwriting, directing and producing to script analysis.She modeled in her youth and is in the Breck Girl Hall of Fame. She was the model in the Mitsouko by Guerlain ad in the 60s, which won awards internationally. She was a nominee for Best Actress in the Hollywood NAACP Image Awards. She is most proud of this film because the characters did not have to have Chinese accents, did not have to speak Chinese or refer to themselves as being Chinese. They were not written as Exotic or Other, but as Americans who happen to be Chinese, caught up in a universal story. At last! She can be seen in NYTW’s production of Three Sisters in the Spring of 2020. Click on the Performing Arts Legacy Website for more about Virginia Wing.
DisOrient Special Recognition for Outstanding Music Video: Ben Phantom (Saigon)
A son journeys to Vietnam with his father, 42 years after his father escaped as a refugee.
DisOrient Heritage Award: Fugetsu-Do; Filmmaker Kaia Rose
Synopsis: For over 115 years, this Japanese confectionary in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo has served 5 generations of customers and is a testament to the resilience of its Japanese American owners. The beautiful cinematography and Brian Kito’s engaging storytelling are imbued with the spirit of this sweet shop.
DisOrient 2021: Raising Our Voices Award: Take Out Girl; Filmmaker Hisonni Mustafa
Synopsis: Tera Wong works in her family’s Chinese restaurant, located in an LA project called the “Low Bottoms.” When Tera delivers food to a local drug kingpin, she sees an opportunity that could pull her family and the restaurant out of financial turmoil. But as she’s pulled in deeper and the stakes get higher, she sees these dreams begin to crumble and learns that she might not be the only one keeping secrets.
TBA: Audience Choice Feature Documentary Award, Audience Choice Feature Narrative Award, Audience Choice Short Documentary Award, and the Audience Choice Short Narrative Award
DisOrient is the premiere Asian American independent film festival of Oregon, celebrating films with authentic Asian Pacific American voices, histories and stories. We highlight social justice themes that translate to universal human experiences. We promote representation, diversity and inclusion to broaden the narrative of who is American, and to strengthen and build community.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman, Balancing Act, Belongingness, When the World was Young and Hide and Seek.