The San Diego Asian Film Festival has always been one of the city’s most successful cinema celebrations, drawing huge crowds to its home at UltraStar Mission Valley. This year, however, the already-enormous SDAFF is expanding, programming even more movies in several new venues throughout the county.
And that’s not the only thing that’s changing. The San Diego Asian Film Foundation, the organization that produces the festival, has renamed itself Pacific Arts Movement. Former reporter and news anchor Lee Ann Kim, the founder and executive director, tells CityBeat that the new name will allow the group to branch out.
“Having the word ‘Asian’ and then ‘Film’ was super-restrictive,” she says. “It wasn’t very flexible. Changing it made so much sense. You could just feel the possibilities under that name.”
So, Pacific Arts Movement now has room to indulge itself in other disciplines, but, right now, it’s all hands on deck for the film festival, which opens Thursday, Nov. 1, with SDAFF’s first show at the Birch North Park Theatre, and runs through Nov. 9.
One of the biggest differences between this year and last is the presence of a new artistic director, Brian Hu.
“Previously, we would look at what the other Asian film festivals were doing,” Kim says. Under Hu’s watch, SDAFF is trying to stay ahead of the curve.
“I wanted to get as many films that are premiering this fall season as possible,” Hu says, “as opposed to waiting a year before they arrived here.”
He’s also broken the festival into different sections. There’s “Asia Pop!,” “Asian American Panorama,” “Discoveries,” “Masters” and, of course, “Extreme.”
“From my curatorial perspective, it’s the idea that, in the past, all films were meant for everybody—I don’t like that approach.
By having these sections, we have specialized niches. If you’re interested in the great masters, that’s where you go; if you want Asian- American films, here’s your slate. It’s like having five different festivals curated for you.”
Amber Alert: Two friends follow a car identified in a series of Amber Alerts, only to have things shift into serious horrormovie mode.
The Big Picture: French thrillers are all the rage these days. In this one, a successful lawyer’s life unwinds and he finds himself on the run and trying to create a new life for himself.
Flight: Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film in more than a decade suffers from many of the standard alcoholism-film clichés, but it features a tremendous performance from Denzel Washington, playing a pilot who lands his broken jet miraculously, with minimal loss of life.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: Go white-water rafting without actually getting wet. Screens on Fridays through November (except Nov. 30) at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West: Get up close and personal with the famous explorers in IMAX, Fridays through November (except Nov. 16) at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Man With the Iron Fists: The Wu- Tang Clan’s RZA co-wrote (with Eli Roth), directed and stars in this ultraviolent martial-arts epic, which also features Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. They’re all on the trail of a fortune in gold.
The Other Son: An Israeli and a Palestinian discover they were switched at birth.
The Sessions: John Hawkes is great as Mark O’Brien, a writer and poet paralyzed by polio who turns to a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) in order to lose his virginity at age 38.
Wreck-It Ralph: The latest animated film from Disney stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy in an old-school video game who desperately wants to be liked.
One Time Only
House of Ghosts: This homage to the classic horror films of William Castle screens at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, in the spooky Seuss Room in UCSD’s Geisel Library.
The Birds: Halloween is over, but Hitchcock’s classic thriller is terrifying any time of year. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Crack that whip. Spielberg’s adventure yarn still stands up. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, through Saturday, Nov. 3, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Casablanca: One of Bogart’s best, but, man, he had a lot of great ones. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Chicago: The Ken wraps up its anniversary celebration with Rob Marshall’s Best Picture-winning adaptation of the musical. Screens at noon, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4, at the Ken Cinema.
The General: Buster Keaton’s silent masterpiece will be accompanied by a live organist at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Balboa Theatre, Downtown.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: A goofy-looking alien turns on Henry Thomas’ heart light. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Submarine: Charming coming-of-age film about a 15-year-old British boy who’s desperate to lose his virginity just as his parents are going through tough times. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Tahrir: Director Stefano Savona will answer questions via Skype after this documentary about the events that went down during last year’s Arab Spring. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, at UCSD’s Great Hall.
Strange Brew: Bob and Doug McKenzie make a triumphant return to the smallish screen. Part of Beer Week, it screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park.
The Hunger Games: In one of the biggest-grossing films of the year, Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss, a teen from a dystopian society who volunteers for an event that pits 24 kids in a battle to the death. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Chasing Mavericks: A surfing movie, surprisingly co-directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson, about a teen who turns to crusty surfing legend Gerard Butler to help him survive a massive wave.
Cloud Atlas: This epic production is almost three hours long and stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles. It consists of six stories that span different time periods, with a running storyline about reincarnation and the effects of our actions on future generations.
Fun Size: A teenage girl loses track of her little brother while attending a Halloween party thrown by a really cute boy.
How to Survive a Plague: Documentary about ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), two organizations whose efforts helped made it possible for millions of people to survive HIV. Ends Nov. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Nobody Walks: Things get weird when New Yorker Olivia Thirlby moves in with Southern California’s John Krasinski and his family. Co-written by Lena Dunham. Ends Nov. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Pusher: A drug dealer’s life spirals after a botched deal. This is a remake of the 1996 film directed by Drive’s Nicholas Winding Refn.
San Diego Italian Film Festival: Runs through Nov. 11. Details can be found at sandiegoitalianfilmfestival.com.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D: Very few video-game adaptations are successful enough to demand a sequel. The first one looked terrific—let’s hope this sequel follows suit.
Simon and the Oaks: Swedish film about two boys, one of whom is Jewish, growing up during WWII.
Somewhere Between: Documentary about four girls who were adopted as babies in China and brought to the U.S. Ends Nov. 1 at the Ken Cinema.
Trade of Innocents: Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney are a married couple rescuing trafficked children in Southeast Asia.
Masquerade: Korean film about a king’s body double who must hold his country together after the ruler is poisoned.
Alex Cross: We’re used to Morgan Freeman in the role of this famous detective. Now the part is played by Tyler Perry. Another obvious sign of the impending apocalypse.
The Oranges: Two families who’ve been friends for years find their bond put to the test when the daughter (Leighton Meester) of one couple stars having an affair with the husband (Hugh Laurie) of the other. Ends Nov. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Paranormal Activity 4: Now with more paranormal.
Smashed: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good as the alcoholic teacher trying to get sober, but there’s little in this that you haven’t seen before. Ends Nov. 1 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
This Guy’s In Love with You Mare: Filipino flick screening at UA Horton Plaza about a guy who tries to get his ex-girlfriend back when he sees that she might be falling for his best friend.
Seven Psychopaths: Martin McDonagh returns with another violent comedic drama. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an L.A. screenwriter surrounded by psychopaths such as Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. Like McDonagh’s debut, In Bruges, this one has an emotional heart to it, despite the blood and guts.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it’s gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Here Comes the Boom: High-school biology teacher Kevin James becomes an MMA cage fighter in order to keep his school’s extracurricular activities afloat.
Sinister: Novelist Ethan Hawke stumbles upon footage that explains how a family was murdered in the very house in which he’s working—which, of course, puts him in serious danger, too.
The Thieves: Korean thriller about a group of expert thieves going after a massive diamond worth more than $20 million that’s stashed deep in a casino. Of course, if they get it out, the only thing they have to worry about is each other.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton hasn’t made a film that’s been an original idea in years, so it sort of makes sense that he’d remake one of his own movies.
Taken 2: Remember all those dudes Liam Neeson killed in the thoroughly violent Taken? At least one of them has a family member out for a little payback.
Hotel Transylvania: You won’t be surprised to hear that this new animated film involves vampires. And 3-D.
Looper: Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom) teams once again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this time-twister; JGL is a hit man whose future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be rubbed out.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This adaptation of the beloved young-adult novel has made plenty of old adults feel for their youth.
Pitch Perfect: Anna Kendrick is the new girl at college who finds her place by joining a bad-ass all-girl vocal group.
End of Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are L.A. cops targeted by a Mexican cartel after a routine traffic stop.
The House at the End of the Street: Jennifer Lawrence and her mother, Elisabeth Shue, move next door to a house where there’d been a brutal murder. When Lawrence makes friends with the sole surviving family member, things get dangerous.
The Master: The new one from Paul Thomas Anderson looks at the relationship between drifter Joaquin Phoenix and emerging religious figure/cult leader Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It is intelligent, artistic, cerebral, and challenging. Ends Nov. 1 at Hillcrest and La Jolla Village cinemas.
Trouble with the Curve: Aging baseball scout Clint Eastwood would have much more success if he’d stop talking to chairs.
Arbitrage: Richard Gere is a hedge-fund billionaire who makes some serious mistakes while trying to stay rich.
Samsara: Shot in 70-millimeter film on several different continents over half a decade, this is the latest from the folks responsible for Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka.
Searching for Sugar Man: When two South Africans try to learn how an obscure American singer-songwriter from the ’70s died, they get more than they bargained for. Despite that sounding like a feature, it’s a pretty damn good documentary.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: If it feels like they release one of these every summer, that’s because that they release one of these every summer.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy concludes.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: So cold.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it’s not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
The Intouchables: French blockbuster sensation about an aging Caucasian paraplegic who hires a poor young black man to be his caretaker.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity: Liam Neeson narrates this IMAX film, screening at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.