The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) has unveiled the winners for the 37th edition of the fest which returned with a combination of in-person and virtual screenings and events.

“We are proud to celebrate these seasoned and emerging artists whose stories shift narratives and intersect and converge movements,” said Francis Cullado, Executive Director of Visual Communications. “After a year and a half of adapting to virtual presentations, we are grateful for the privilege of the Festival being a space where these artists could showcase their work in person to our communities.”

In the Narrative Feature section, jurors Alison De La Cruz (Artist), Neha Aziz (Programmer, Austin Asian American Film Festival), and Soham Mehta (Filmmaker, Run the Tide) gave the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature to I Was A Simple Man directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi.

In a statement about the film, the jurors said: “Every aspect of this film is intentionally and skillfully crafted to elevate a simple, nuanced story to moving, thought-provoking art. Yogi earns his deliberate pacing with his craftsmanship. The film takes us on a narrative journey through Masao, where we watch his personal reflection on how to come to terms with who he has become. We also witness the different versions of Masao attending his own death while allowing us glimpses of Masao’s love, at different stages of life. It is a cinematic love letter to a chapter of Hawaii’s own story, referencing a complex history over a large period of time, of the different peoples of Hawaii and their connection to each other and the land.”

The following Narrative Feature films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  •  A Special Jury Award for World Building went to Tiong Bahru Social Club directed by Bee Thiam Tan. The jury stated: “Tiong Bahru Social Club sets a bold and colorful landscape against a society of homogenized values and emotions. Tan goes for broke, committing to a vision and playing it out to the end, bringing us into a picture perfect world and carefully building an underlying tension in every look over the neighborhood itself.”
  • A Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting  went to Rogelio Balagtas, Sheila Lotuaco, Esteban Comilang, Vangie Alcasid,and Pablo SJ Quiogue of Islands directed by Martin Edralin. “There is something very special about the cast that Edralin put on the big screen,” said the jurors in a joint statement. “We are carefully given an intimate look into this Filipino Canadian family and their revealing silences. Anchored by Rogelio Balagatas’ performance as Joshua, a middle-aged man who lives with his aging parents, the audience falls in love with this family, and the way that they care for each other.”
  • Sujata Day‘s feature directorial debut Definition Please received a Special Jury Award for Fresh Narrative Voice. Said the jury of film: “From its first moments on the screen, you can tell Definition Please has a strong sense of style, and that the diverse cast has a deep commitment to each other. Those are hallmarks of success for any feature directorial debut. Taking on different elements to drive the story, writer & director Day gives us a fresh perspective of being South Asian in America. She appropriates the white male, underachieving, slacker motif and applies it to a brilliant, female, former spelling bee champion while using bullet-time freeze frames to help catch the audience up with her lead character’s mental gymnastics. The storytelling is edgy, honest, genuine, and funny.”
  • Vishka Asayesh of Kazem Mollaie‘s The Badger took home the Special Jury Award for Acting. The jury said: “Asayesh commands your attention as the fiercely independent Soodah, an entrepreneur and mother starting her second marriage when tragedy strikes. She is a modern woman in modern Iran, who must face the humiliation of seeking help from various authority figures while maintaining her dignity. She gives a stunning performance that invites you into the complexity of her world.”

In the Documentary Feature section, jurors Melodie Turori (Pasifika Artist), Sue Ding (Filmmaker, The Claudia Kishi Club), and Vincent Schilling (Executive Vice President, Schilling Media, Inc) presented the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature to Cane Fire, directed by Anthony Banua-Simon.

The jury shared: “This is a compelling and cutting overview of the legacy of colonialism in Hawaii now. Through interviews, his personal family narrative, and an impressive mountain of moving image archive, Banua-Simon skillfully weaves together a timeline of cultural erasure that has occurred in Kauai for generations. Crucially, the film also highlights the massive migrant labor force brought to work on the island’s sugar and pineapple plantations, the migrant laborer and activist Pablo Manlapit, and the early days of Hawaii’s Labor Movement. The film gives space to the many peoples of Hawaii who all suffered under the same oppressor; the Kanaka Maoli and the immigrants from Japan, the Philippines, and beyond.”

The following Documentary Feature films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  • A Special Jury Award for Sound went to Rana Eid of We Are From There directed by Wissam Tanios. The jury said of the docu: “We Are From There is poignant and hopeful, setting it apart from similar tales of displacement and war. Its use of sound plays a huge role bringing the audience into an intimate and personal proximity to the story. The result adds to a subtle portrait of the emotional journey of migration.”
  • Scott Clotworthy and Stanley Leung of the Jennifer Ngo-directed Faceless received a Special Jury Award for Cinematography. “Faceless places us on the frontlines of the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement,” said the jurors. “We honor this first-hand access to the protest and its activists as the work and dedication of cinematographers Scott Clotworthy and Stanley Leung takes us to the streets, often bearing witness to the brutal response from the Hong Kong police forces tasked to suppress the uprising. The film effectively reminds us of the continuing urgency to fight to maintain our rights globally, and the strength of an inspiring and unified resistance effort in Hong Kong.”
  • A Special Jury Award for Editing went to Susan Metzger and Ann Kaneko of Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust directed by Ann Kaneko. The jury stated: “The editing room in documentaries is where the story is truly shaped, written, and then re-written again and again. This year we make special recognition of a film that had an ambitious task of weaving together strands of the memories contained in California’s land, the experiences and trauma of multiple generations of women across cultures, histories of colonization and forced removal, and the politics of water rights that continue to plague Los Angeles. Through a poetic synthesis of past and present, and eyewitness accounts and voices, the editorial choices in this film leave us with an awareness of our complicated history with water, as well as a need to fight and take action moving forward so that this history doesn’t continue to hurt the Owens Valley or Payahuunadü and its stewards.”

In the Shorts Competition section, jurors Gerald Ramsey (Actor, The Lion King), Judy Lei (Filmmaker, The World’s Greatest), and Mallorie Ortega (Filmmaker, The Girl Who Left Home) awarded the Festival Golden Reel Award for Best Documentary Short to Closing Annisa directed by Sophie Luo.

Said juror Judy Lei: “An excellent and skillfully crafted exploration of art and discipline, this film gives us an intimate portrait of acclaimed chef Anita Lo as she closes down and says goodbye to her fine-dining restaurant Annisa. Closing Annisa  is a delicately plated presentation of personal reflection, commentary on what it means to not conform, and a celebrated excellence that comes with expanding people’s idea of identity.”

LAAPFF is proud to be an Academy Award qualifying Festival for the Short Film Awards. Recipient(s) of the Film Festival’s Golden Reel Award for Narrative Short will be eligible for consideration in the Animated Short Film/Live-Action Short Film category of the Academy Awards. The film that won this year’s Golden Reel Award and is now eligible to qualify in the Animated Short Film/Live-Action Short Film category of the Academy Awards is Zona, directed by Masami Kawai.

“Through glimpses of the near-future Los Angeles, this film delicately threads through the urgent conversations of climate change and water rights,” said juror Gerald Ramsey. “Through the powerful performances by the lead, Kana Kawai, we are beckoned to remember the importance of caring for the elders in our communities. Zona is a cinematic reminder of what could happen to our families, if we don’t take action now.”

Former Visual Communications Executive Director Linda Mabalot is lovingly remembered for her passion and commitment to nurturing and developing emerging Asian Pacific filmmakers. In that spirit, the Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award is presented to a short film that demonstrates an innovative and creative use of cinematic language. The Shorts Jury bestowed this year’s Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award to F1-100, directed by Emory Chao Johnson.

Ramsey shared: “From its structure to its sound design, this film presented a storytelling experience that both pushes the boundary of the documentary form and holds the protagonist with such intentional care. Chao Johnson uses video, illustration, and animation in this intimate portrait of an international art student studying abroad in the United States. F1-100 is a stunning meditation from a new filmmaker voice, telling a true tale of borders and identity.”

The following Narrative and Documentary Short films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  • The Special Jury Award for Cinematography went to Michael Tanji of River of Small Gods directed Bradley Tangonan and Hawaiian Soul directed by ʻĀina Paikai. Juror Mallorie Ortega said: “From the textured and quiet photography in River of Small Gods, to the historical mood captured in Hawaiian Soul, Michael Tanji’s work invites the audience for a closer look at the beauty of Hawaii.”
  • The Special Jury Award for World Building was awarded to Kids on Fire directed by Kyle Nieva. “This film effectively takes us into a world that many may not know: a bible camp, with a prepubescent boy who slowly learns of his special role in the impending apocalypse,” said Ortega. “The director’s satirical tone is evident. From the writing, to the art direction, to the cinematography, Kids on Fire took us down the road to an unexpected devil.”
  • Paolo Bitanga‘s Night & Day received a Special Jury Award for Cinematography. “Bitanga succeeds in his slice-of-life approach to one of the most beloved family celebrations in the Philippines,” said juror Judy Lei. “The cinematography gracefully allows the viewer to personally connect to these unnamed relatives on screen.”
  • Natalie A. Chao director of To Know Her received a Special Jury Award for Editing. “Chao’s skilful use of home video successfully utilizes archive footage as more than citations of the past, but as contemporary reflections of memory,” said Ortega.
  • A Special Jury Award for Editing also went to Jota Sosnowski and Brian Redondo of Keep Saray Home. Said Lei: “The film features an excellent combination of various storylines and perspectives to amplify the urgent conversations around migration and families.”