Honoring Icons and Pioneers of Asian American Media

Although innovations in storytelling are taking media in exciting, new directions, 30 Years of SFIAAFF wouldn't have been possible without the pioneers and icons that have shaped the Asian American media landscape today. Join us for a series of events that honor just a few of these legendary figures - Joan Chen, Cherylene Lee, and The Nakamura Family - through cast reunions, live conversations, readings, and retrospectives.

In its 30th year, SFIAAFF finds itself at a convergence of the past, present, and future. On one hand, the emergence of new technologies and innovative forms of storytelling begs us to embrace new directions in media-making, even beyond film into the realms of digital and interactive media, music, gaming, and culinary culture. At the same time, we pay our deepest gratitude to the pioneers and icons that have shaped Asian American Media over the past several decades. This year, we are honored to celebrate giants in the Asian American Media landscape: Joan Chen, Cherylene Lee, and The Nakamura Family.


Since the 1970s, Chen has appeared in beloved films and television shows such as The Last Emperor, Twin Peaks, and Mao’s Last Dancer. At SFIAAFF30, we are proud to celebrate Joan Chen as our Spotlight honoree with two very special presentations:

Saving Face
Alice Wu / USA / 2004 / 96 min
March 12, 2012 6:00 pm
SF Film Society Cinema at New People
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Join us at this special reunion screening of the landmark Asian American romantic comedy Saving Face! Producer Teddy Zee along with cast members, Lynn Chen and Michelle Krusiec will join us on stage to share their stories with the audience and reminisce!

Joan Chen / USA / 1998 / 100 min
March 9, 2012 7:00 pm
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
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Joan Chen’s directorial debut, Xiu Xiu is a heartbreaking coming-of-age melodrama set during the later stages of the Cultural Revolution. A young girl is sent to the Tibetan hinterlands to learn horse breeding, but finds that a far harsher fate awaits in this story of love unspoken and love lost. This special screening will be followed by a live conversation with Joan Chen!

March 11, 2012 6:00 pm
Pacific Film Archive Theater
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Best known for performing in Flower Drum Song and a Rat Pack-era Vegas revue Oriental Holiday with her sister Virginia, the unsung Asian American pioneer Cherylene Lee will join us to read from her fascinating new memoir on life in show business, Just Like Really, and reminisce with her sister and film historian Stephen Gong.

“We were a collection of Asian American performers who wanted to be discovered, like the plotline of the ‘Oriental Holiday’ show. Where else on the Strip could you see a Kabuki version of the tale of Frankie and Johnny, or a world-class pipa player, or two cute (though extremely young for the Strip) Chinese American sisters singing and dancing, backed up by a live five-piece band?”
—Cherylene Lee

March 10, 2012 3:30 pm

Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

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Perhaps no family has made a greater impact on Asian American media than the Nakamura family: Robert A. Nakamura, his wife Karen Ishizuka, and their son Tadashi. Over a period of four decades they’ve illuminated the experience of the Japanese in America and campaigned for the importance of diversity and community representation in media. Robert, currently a professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA, was a founder of Visual Communications, the oldest Asian American media arts organization in the country. Karen is a leading scholar of home movies, and a writer and producer for several of the family’s films. Their son Tadashi is a filmmaker whose Jake Shimabukuro Documentary will be premiering at this year’s festival. The program will feature clips from some of the Nakamura’s key works, as well as the family in conversationwith film historian Stephen Gong, Executive Director of CAAM.

Watch a trailer from Tad’s 2009 film, A Song for Ourselves.

“We realized that what community-based filmmakers are blessed with is the passion and persistence of our communities. Without a doubt, our stories and our people are our greatest strengths.”
—Karen Ishizuka and Robert A. Nakamura