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Recap: The 13th annual DisOrient Film Festival celebrates independent Asian American artists

Last weekend, the Eugene community gathered together for the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon, a five day film festival packed with 12 feature-length films and 16 short films created by Asian American filmmakers.

According to a study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 5.7% of the 900 most popular films of 2017 featured Asian roles, and 3% employed Asian directors. DisOrient aims to provide a platform for independent Asian and Pacific Islander filmmakers to screen their work.

Hosted by KEZI news reporter Brady Wakayama, the opening night gala at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art last Thursday included stirring live performances by singer/songwriter Chinyi Chen, cartoonist Vishavjit Singh and slam poet Alex Dang.

Singh, the featured presenter and creator of Sikhtoons, gave an engaging and hilarious lecture titled “Disorienting Stereotypes with Art.” As a turban-wearing Sikh man, Singh said he faced so much bigotry after the events of 9/11 that he couldn’t leave his house for two weeks for fear of harassment. Refusing to succumb to the hatred targeted at him and his culture, he channelled his frustration into cartoons that poked fun at American ignorance.

“Labels are data points. In isolation, they define us.” said Singh. “We have got to tell our stories so people stop using labels.”  

Dang, the only slam poet in history to be on the Portland Poetry Slam national team for four consecutive years and a three-time Eugene Poetry Grand Slam champion, finished closed the night by performing a handful of emotional, richly passionate poems about his experiences as an Asian American. In one poem titled “Orange Chicken,” he expressed the notion that people view him and the popular dish in similar ways.

“I too, have skin golden and glazed, to be ripped open by white teeth and be left even whiter meat,” Dang during his performance.

After this opening night gala, the festival officially kicked off. Friday included two screenings at the Broadway Metro theater of human rights activist Anastasia Lin’s documentary “Badass Beauty Queen,” which details how she fights oppressive systems of China through her status as Miss World Canada 2015.

The festivities continued Saturday morning at the EMU with a series of shorts and documentaries about the lack of Asian representation in comics and pop culture. Opening short “Marvel Presents a New Superhero… Model Minority!” spoofed the idea that Asian immigrants are perceived as “heroic model minorities” while other races are considered “villainous” and “problem minorities.” Feature documentary “Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes” also delved into the issue of racial stereotypes in comics by challenging false perceptions of race through art.

On Sunday, DisOrient headed into its final day with “A Taste of Home,” a documentary about Chinese-American food culture, followed by a Q&A with DisOrient founder Jason Mak. Mak, born and raised in Eugene, completed his undergraduate degree at UO before heading to UCLA for grad school where he wrote his thesis on Chinese foodways, a term which refers to the intersection of food and culture.

During a Q&A session after the screening, Mak discussed how he grew up washing dishes in his family’s restaurant and how that experience led him to realize that foodways tell stories about immigration.

Mak explained to the crowd how Asian-Americans’ owning of laundromats and restaurants stems from the fact that there used to be legal limitations on other occupations and ownership of property, and Asian immigrants were only legally allowed to do “women’s work.”

“These stories are about finding a home, resistance and survival,” said Mak. “Resistance is survival.”

The DisOrient film festival’s purpose isn’t just to enjoy entertaining films — it’s also to educate audiences on the importance of breaking down stereotypes and the stories of Asian American struggles. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, film and other forms of art act as a soothing balm for these cultures to heal from history’s deep wounds.

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Mia Vicino

Mia Vicino