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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


AAIFF 2022 - Asian American International Film Festival

Asian CineVision founded the Asian American International Film Festival in 1977 which turned into the nation’s longest running film festival for the best independent productions from the Asian diaspora and overseas. The festival is in New York City, the second largest Asian-American market in the USA. Running from August 3- 13, 2022, AAIFF its 45th year and embraced the hybrid format with in-person screenings at the Asia Society and online streaming nationally and globally. AAIFF has maintained its Asian community-based philosophy as an instrument for social change and diversity. As part of the nonprofit CineVision, AAIFF has carried out its mission in supporting the production of features, documentaries, and shorts reflecting the Asian and Asian-American experience. AAIFF has also embraced the promotion, distribution, and preservation of productions, fostering skills for effective filmmaking through educational programs. AAIFF 2022 presented films from more than 20 Asian countries and highlighted 18 world, 32 East Coast and 31 New York premieres featuring 73 directors. Films selected can become part of AAIFF’s National Tour program which shares diaspora stories through a rental service. AAIFF was held primarily at the Asia Society.  Other venues like Littlefield in Brooklyn and the Museum of the City of New York were part of AAIFF featuring selections and discussions from the program, as well as content available to stream on Facebook. The festival arranged several seminars, panels, and Q&A sessions with shorts filmmakers. The annual CineVision award, Asian CineVision Asian American Media Award, was bestowed on August 3rd to Jean Tsien, the producer of the opening night documentary FREE CHOL SOO LEE. Seminars addressed Korean storytelling, female filmmakers’ perspectives on Chinese society, and in seven thematically organized sessions, carried in part on YouTube, engaged with directors of short films. Among the numerous community partners supporting AAIFF this year were A-Doc, Cambodian Living Arts, Kawan Budaya, Korean American Community Foundation, Korean Cultural Center, Mekong NYC, Womankind, and Youth Korean American Network. The principal presenting sponsor of AIFF 2022 was Citigroup Inc. and the presenting partner the Asia Society.

Produced by Third World Newsreel and directed in 1976 by Christine Choy, FROM SPIKES TO SPINDLES, is an outstanding short documentation of the Chinese American community and of the struggles it has faced over the last 200 years. Choy presents candid interviews of old and young Chinese Americans about their experiences. The interviewees include business people, labor experts and union organizers as well as the recording of community meetings, demonstrations, and clashes with the police to present the reality of the complex changing Chinese community. Her presentation of Chinese women at work in the garment industry and factories is impressive, conveying the obvious point of oppressed labor. Exposed to the documentary’s carefully selected archival material the audience learns about the long history of exploitation and discrimination experienced ever Chinese people were brought to this country as cheap labor, and the legal steps taken to terminate their immigration by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and revoked in 1943 limiting to 205 per year the number of Chinese immigrants. In the late 1870s, organized opposition by other minorities blamed Chinese for the unemployment they were causing. Though FROM SPIKES TO SPINDLES is now close to 50 years old, the relevance of the documentary has grown. It elucidates hidden discrimination, the necessity to join or start unions, and the impact of gentrification on Chinese neighborhoods. The struggle for legal, occupational, and political equality has been embraced now by other groups in their fights to create unions.  It requires that the victims act and organize because staying silent has no benefit. As Christine Choy comments about the Chinese community, “We will not wait another 100 years to be heard”.

Directed and co-written by the Jakarta based Kamila Andini the dramatic Indonesian 2021 feature YUNI belongs to the best films screened at AAIFF. Her production provides Western audiences unfamiliar Indonesian culture  with superb insight into the problems a young woman faces coming of age. Yuni, aged 16, is a good student about to graduate from secondary school, following her dream to continue her education and aiming for a scholarship. Yuni faces opposition from her community and family because she rejects Muslim traditions of becoming a bride as expected from her. Even her close friends consider her marriage as a viable option though they have explored openly among themselves notions of sex, dating, and friendship. But the idea of deciding their own lives rather than accepting their elders’ normative rules is not yet persuasive for them. Yuni is raised by her grandmother, who believes that marriage is a blessing and does not comprehend why Yuni turns down several marriage proposals from a construction worker, an old wealthy businessman already married looking for a second wife, and her favorite teacher. Her school plans to introduce a mandatory virginity test and Yuni considers losing hers to deter marriage proposals. Arawinda Kirana’s portrayal of Yuni is superbly performed. The portrayal of Yuni’s  and the naturalistic camera workr show a realistic and candid perspective of a young woman constrained by tradition but refusing to follow that path. Andini does not take sides but conveys that in modernizing Indonesia, for some women like Yuni, it is possible to escape cultural constraints, and marriage and having children are no longer the only options.

The most compelling feature at AAIFF was NO NEW WAVE by first time director Yao Zi  Wei. NO NEW WAVE portrays three young Chinse filmmakers and their New York social and semi-professional experiences. As suggested in an introductory byline, they live “On an island of expired dreams,“ joining the growing number of  thousands of other young aspiring filmmakers with or without formal training in this city with few chances of surviving  making films. Their lifestyles do not denote deprivations and what holds this community together is precarious friendship and aspirations of eventually producing a film. Few have taken the first steps of filming something and fewer can articulate a clear concept when queried. They are attracted to the world of ordinary and homeless people rather distant from their own existence. In most semi-professional encounters, the projects they plan are not finished. They enjoy being together at mostly female small social events. The advice and suggestions they get from people on the outside who presumably work in films are surface articulations as are the promises of showing their completed work. The principal character in his film is Ginny, played in a persuasive contemplative manner by Wei Weny. Shot in black and white, NO NEW WAVE does not document engaged filmmakers but depicts filmmaking attempts, social events, and the everyday life of the protagonists. They hardly promise “a new wave” nor does Yao aim to portray one. He focuses on the biographical experience of aspiring Chinese film makers who are not concerned with issues of the Chinese community and do not seem as expats to experience alienation living in New York. Apart from their lifestyle, their attempted filmmaking is very similar to the experience of many others coming to New York City to make films. For Yao Ziwei there is no solution to the failure of doing so. When the film ends, Ginny walks forward through a long subway passage with overhead signs reflecting the paradoxical mood of the film: “So Tired, If Late get Fired, Why Bother? Why the Pain? Just go Home, Do It Again”. There are no predictable avenues to success and the people Ginny encounters in the passage all walk backwards. Yao conveys his perspective about the prospects of filmmaking from a realistic position without a bias. His approach is not colored by cynicism. After all, most individuals graduating from film schools never complete a production.


Claus Mueller, New York City,



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