The American In Me: DC APA Film Festival and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

October 19, 2010 at 6:09 am 9 comments

Reflecting, Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, 2010

Just got back from a weekend at the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival in Washington DC. This is the second time I’ve attended the festival (the first time being in 2007 when the fest screened Snapshot: Six Months of the Korean American Male) and, as with my last visit, it was totally great. Although I had to take the red-eye from SFO and could only attend one day, I saw all three of Saturday’s programs, which pretty much satisfied my Asian American film jones.

Grace & food, DCAPA Film Festival closing night party, 2010

The DCAPA staff are an especially fun and friendly bunch and they always put on a great festival with lots of bang for your buck, with this year being no exception. Staff member Grace even cooked up a bunch of delicious snacks for the closing night reception, including ginger oatmeal cookies, edamame hummous, and K-food mini-tostadas with kimchee salsa.

The closing night film, The Things We Carry, was a gritty and heartfelt little drama about a pair of Korean American sisters coping with their fucked-up crackhead mom. The movie did an especially good job of capturing the rundown, seedy side of LA, with lonely and forlorn drug addicts puking their guts out in mini-mall parking lots. Though the film occassionally flirted with melodrama, the hard-ass lead performance by Alyssa Lobit kept the film from veering into pathos. Lobit also wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay and the film was produced by her sister Athena and executive-produced by their dad, so it was a family affair all the way.

Tat Marina, before and after, Finding Face, 2009

My short film, The Oak Park Story, screened with Finding Face, an intense agit-prop documentary feature about acid burn attacks on women in Cambodia. Though it wandered a bit in its focus, it still managed to convey a gripping urgency about these crimes, which are growing in number since the high-profile attack on 17-year-old karaoke starlet Tat Marina in 1999. Marina and her family are the focus of the film as both she and her brother, the swoonfully intense Tat Sequndo, attempt to bring the perpetrators (including Cambodia’s Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha) to justice.

Image capturing, Lincoln Memorial, 2010

The day after the festival closed I got to play tourist in DC, visiting the National Gallery to see the amazing Chester Dale collection, which included a huge number of paintings by brand-name Impressionists such as Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Cassat, and Monet. I also hiked over to see the Washington Monument in all of its erect glory, then trekked to the far end of the reflecting pool to cool my heels on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Americans of all shapes and colors snapped photos and posed with Honest Abe.

I ended up at Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, which I’d never seen in person before. The Memorial is arguably the most famous artwork by an Asian American in this country so it’s been on my list of places to visit. Arriving there near the end of a balmy early autumn day, I was impressed by the simple, poignant power and beauty of the piece. Several people there were clearly there to find the names of lost loved ones, somberly pausing in front of the polished black granite. Seeing it in person, I was struck not only by how long and tall the memorial is, but by how small names are rendered and how very many of them there are. It’s amazing exactly how much space more than 58,000 names can take up, even when engraved in pretty small text. It’s a testament to the brilliance of Lin’s design that the piece conveys at once the enormity of the loss of life as well as each individual behind that monstrous sacrifice.

Vets, Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, 2010

It’s significant to remember that back in the early 80s when her design was first selected, Lin was vilified by conservatives as an inappropriate choice for the memorial due to her Chinese background (Ross Perot called her an “egg roll”), since, of course, that was pretty close to being a gook, right? Doubters also wanted to install a more traditionally representative memorial instead of Lin’s minimalist design and because of that sentiment, Frederick Hart’s abysmally banal bronze statue of three noble soldiers mars the entrance to the memorial. But despite the naysayers, Lin put up an epic fight to preserve the integrity of her original design and, nearly 30 years down the line, Lin is a renowned artist, the memorial is a landmark, and the haters have been proven dead wrong. Glad I was able to finally see the results of Lin’s persistant vision, and glad it still resonates today.

Bonus beats: The Avengers, legendary San Francisco punk band, performs “The American In Me,” Winterland, 1978


Entry filed under: activism, asian american film, asian american studies, documentary, maya lin, the oak park story, visual art. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. huckle  |  October 19, 2010 at 6:23 am

    That’s right, haters! Maya Lin prevails!

    (very interesting info, Valerie, thank you for posting)

    • 2. valeriesoe  |  October 19, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      She stood up to them and didn’t back down, which isn’t what they expected from a nice little Chinese girl–way to demolish the model minority myth, too!

  • 3. Peter Soe, Jr.  |  October 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Can’t wait to see what choice words you have regarding Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s statement: “I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly.”

    WTF? Maybe she serves Oolong at her Tea Parties?

    • 4. valeriesoe  |  October 24, 2010 at 4:19 am

      Angle’s statement is so astoundingly idiotic that it needs no further comment. The scary part is that she’s still polling competitively in Nevada.

  • 5. dleedlee  |  October 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Did you, by chance, notice I.M. Pei’s National Gallery, East Wing at the opposite end from the Vietnam Memorial? One of my DC landmarks.

    And congrats on your screening. This wasn’t your film’s premiere was it? Sorry, I can’t remember.

    • 6. valeriesoe  |  October 20, 2010 at 10:55 pm

      Didn’t know that it was an IM Pei design–that’s a spectacular building, imho. The atrium is fantastic the way that it suddenly opens up when you walk into it. Thanks for the info!

      re: my film. No, it wasn’t a world premiere, but it was the first time it’s shown in DC!

  • 7. dleedlee  |  October 20, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    [edit] One of my favorite DC landmarks.

  • 8. ewaffle  |  October 21, 2010 at 1:47 am


    Sounds like a great although exhausting trip to DC.

    I always like reading the reactions that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial brings out in people. It is so well designed and well sited that it can take your breath away even on return trips. I had a physical/emotional/visceral response on my first viewing–it was unlike almost anything I have experienced.

    Maya Lin was a 20 year old undergrad at Yale when she won the commission for the memorial. Her class and confidence during the period, including the congressional hearings, were exemplary–as were the members of the commission who stood behind their decision in the face of a lot of opposition.

    • 9. valeriesoe  |  October 24, 2010 at 4:20 am

      It’s a brilliant piece of work–I’m really glad I got to see it since pictures don’t do justice to its effect in real life.


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