Independent and foreign film screenings are hard to come by in this town, making festivals, which are often run by passionate volunteers, an integral component of the Dallas film scene. The Oak Cliff Film Festival just wrapped up its fifth, and arguably best, year this June. The higher profile fests, such as Dallas Film Society’s Dallas International Film Festival (in its 10th year) and the USA Film Festival (in its 46th), while inconsistent in their programming, certainly help lay the groundwork for Dallas on a national level, supporting smaller niche-oriented festivals such as the recently wrapped African Film Festival, and Dallas VideoFest, which focuses on independent, experimental and non-commercial films.
One of the biggest of the “smaller” fests is the annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas, which claims to be the “South’s largest showcase of Asian and Asian-American cinema.” With 33 feature-length films and an array of short film presentations including six international premieres and plenty of North American and Southwest premieres, the Asian Film Festival's presence both in Dallas and in the Southwest as a whole is certainly not negligible. This year the films assembled for the festival span the continent, representing Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Iran. It's a rare opportunity for Texans to see what some of Asia’s best filmmakers are doing, with a little bit of historical context thrown in here and there.
The volunteer-led festival runs from July 14 to 21, with all films screening at the Angelika Film Center — Dallas (5321 E. Mockingbird Lane). Passes and VIP passes are available online at asianfilmdallas.com.
Because of the number of feature-length films, most with casts and directors that will be new to Dallasites, the downside to the festival is that it can be difficult to navigate. What should you see? In the interest of providing some subjective guidance, below you’ll find our picks for the seven films we’re most looking forward to over the next few weeks. And yes, before you ask, there will be subtitles.
Journey from the Fall
2006, Vietnam. Director Ham Tran. In Vietnamese with English subtitles.
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 15
The Vietnam War ripped Vietnamese families apart, but Western films about the conflict tend to focus on the war’s effects on American and European soldiers, not the Vietnamese families who were caught in the middle of the global conflict. Journey from the Fall traces the story of a family ripped apart in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon in 1975.
2010, South Korea. Director Jang Cheol-Soo. In Korean, English subtitles.
11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15
If you’re familiar with South Korean cinema you know Korean filmmakers have a strong bent toward the gruesome, and Jang Cheol-soo’s thriller Bedeviled is no exception. If you don’t mind blood and have a taste for revenge stories, you’ll enjoy this story of Bok-Nam, who, after a lifetime of exploitation and abuse delivered by both her husband and female elders on the ironically beautiful island she inhabits, finally snaps.
Samurais and Idiots - The Olympus Affair
2014, Japan. Director Hyoe Yamamoto. In Japanese with English subtitles.
2 p.m. Saturday, July 16
Who doesn’t love films about the chilling corruption of corporations and their leaders? Samurais and Idiots — The Olympus Affair contributes to the mini-genre in the form of a documentary made by director Hyoe Yamamoto that details the ouster of Olympus Corp.'s (a camera and optical company) CEO Michael Woodford in a multibillion dollar scandal which remains one of the biggest in Japanese corporate history. Plus the name is great. We’re so in.
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
1939, Japan. Director Kenji Mizoguchi. Japanese, English Subtitles.
11:30 a.m. Sunday, July 17
Kenji Mizoguchi was an incredibly prolific filmmaker in early 20th century Japan, with more than a hundred films to his name. Despite his work ethic, very few of his films are available today; almost all of his silent-era films and even many of his films with sound have been lost over the years. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum is one of the few that remain, and a new restoration allows audiences to experience his beautiful 1939 story of a Kabuki actor and his wife who sacrifices everything for his success.
Khesht va Ayeneh (The Brick and the Mirror)
1965, Iran. Written and directed by Ebrahim Golestan. In Farsi, English subtitles.
3 p.m. Sunday, July 17
We talk about Iran a lot in the United States these days, but we don’t often talk about Iranian cinema. While the filmmakers of the French New Wave were busy writing criticism and making films in France, new wave movements were also emerging throughout the world, including in, yes, Iran. Ebrahim Golestan’s classic, The Brick and the Mirror, offers a look into the filmmaking of 1960s Tehran in this expressionist telling of a taxi driver who discovers an abandoned baby in the back seat of his car and spends a long night trying to determine what to do with it.
You Call It Passion (pictured at top)
2016, South Korea. Director Jeong Gi-Hun. In Korean with English subtitles.
1 p.m. Wednesday, July 20
If you’re in need of something lighter (there are a lot of heavy films in this festival), catch Jeong Gi-Hun’s You Call It Passion, an endearing film about an eager journalist whose first assignment takes her down a surprising path.
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Port of Call
2015, Hong Kong. Director Philip Yung. In Cantonese with English subtitles.
8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20
Directed by former critic Philip Yung, Port of Call, which is based on a true story, tackles the difficult and immensely important subject of the safety and rights of sex workers in its chilling illustration of a young escort in Hong Kong who meets a tragic end, and the men in charge of investigating her death.