Most people assume that any kind of film classified as 'Asian' must be subtitled, include at least one back flip, and be laden in extra campy, ham-fisted dialogue. It's exactly this type of generalization Ben Tsui hopes to overcome with the annual Calgary ImaginAsian Film Festival. Screening over 20 films in three venues over the course of seven days, the CIAFF attempts to show what it means to be a pan-Asian filmmaker, whether that's Chinese, Korean, Indian or Taiwanese.
"We are the bridge between Asian and non-Asian communities [in Calgary]," says Tsui, the festival's coordinator. "We don't have to have subtitles and stuff. Some of the films screened this year are ethnically Asian films, but you won't see one Asian on screen."
To be classified as 'ethnically Asian,' at least one half of the film's production team must be of Asian descent. While this may seem to ostracize other filmmakers, Tsui insists that the CIAFF is just trying to give a chance to filmmakers who may have otherwise been overlooked.
"First and foremost, we support all filmmakers," says Tsui.
While the CIAFF has been around for many years in one form or another, it has only been officially named for the last two. In the last year alone, the festival has expanded from one venue to three, and has begun attracting the attention of some "names" in the Asian film community. Mia Riverton, who plays one of the leading roles in the festival's opening film, Red Doors, was flown in from Los Angeles to attend the opening night gala.
"I think the festival's amazing, and the fact Calgary can support it is great," comments Riverton, who also co-produced the film. "I think filmmakers should tell the stories they're excited about. If that's an independent Asian film, great. If it's more mainstream, that's great too."
The festival continues to grow every year, and with luck, so will its connection to the community-Asian and otherwise. While more screens and semi-star exposure certainly have their benefits, Tsui now has to run back and forth between shows in his track gear, sweat on his brow and fever in his eyes. Finding some time to change into formal wear and thank everyone for coming out to the opening night, Tsui radiates satisfaction.
"The bigger you get, the more people you need to run it, the more headaches you get," he smiles, kneading his hands. "It's worth it, though. It's worth every bit of sweat, every tear."