New American Filmmakers
2009 Hawaii International Film Festival
S. Leo Chiang, Director
Born in Taiwan, S. Leo Chiang immigrated to America as a teenager. In 2000, he made his first film, a short narrative entitled Safe Journey, while completing his MFA in film production at the University of Southern California. Since finishing his degree, Chiang has focused on documentaries and has made two full-length features: To You Sweetheart, Aloha, and this year’s NAF selection A Village Called Versailles.
A Village Called Versailles
A Village Called Versailles is a full-length documentary about Versailles, a community in eastern New Orleans first settled by Vietnamese refugees. After Hurricane Katrina, Versailles residents impressively rose to the challenge by returning and rebuilding before most neighborhoods in New Orleans did, only to have their homes threatened by a new government-imposed toxic landfill just two miles away. A Village Called Versailles recounts the empowering story of how this group of people, who had already suffered so much in their lifetime, turns a devastating disaster into a catalyst for change and a chance for a better future. –Hawaii International Film Festival
Karren Karagulian, Actor
In 1990 Karren Karagulian emigrated from his home country of Armenia to the United States. He began his acting career in 2000, with no formal training, when his friend director Sean Baker cast him in a minor role in the film Four Letter Word. He continued working with Baker and played another minor role in his 2004 film Take Out before being cast as the lead actor in the NAF selection film Prince of Broadway.
Prince of Broadway
Prince of Broadway is the story of Lucky and Levon, two men whose lives converge in the underbelly of New York's wholesale fashion district. Lucky, an illegal immigrant from Ghana, makes ends meet by soliciting shoppers on the street with knockoff-brand merchandise. Levon, an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant, operates an illegal storefront with a concealed back room where counterfeit goods are showcased to interested shoppers. Lucky's world is suddenly turned upside down when a child is thrust into his life by a woman who insists the toddler is his son. While Lucky copes with his new domestic dilemma, Levon struggles to save a marriage that is falling apart. The seedy side of the wholesale district is revealed through a journey that continually confronts the interplay between what is fake and what is real. –Hawaii International Film Festival
Quentin Lee, Director
Quentin Lee was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada when he was 16 and eventually to America, where he attended the University of California, Berkeley; Yale University; and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. In 1996 he wrote and directed his first feature, Flow, which focused on the experience of being a gay filmmaker. In the same year, he founded his own production company, Margin Films, with the mission to “produce culturally challenging commercial entertainment.” He has directed six feature-length films, including this year’s NAF selection The People I’ve Slept With.
The People I've Slept With
A promiscuous woman finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy and needs to figure out who the baby’s daddy is...now. Angela Yang loves sex. She loves it so much she needs to make baseball cards of her lovers to help her remember where she's been. It isn’t until Angela becomes pregnant that she thinks twice about her lifestyle. Her gay best friend, Gabriel Lugo, tells her to "take care of it," but her conservative sister, Juliet, persuades Angela to marry the baby's father and lead a "normal" life like her. Angela listens to her sister, chooses to keep the baby, and goes on a quest to find the identity of the father by any means necessary. Is it the “Nice but Boring guy,” the “Mysterious guy” or the “Five Second guy”? Watch Angela’s hilarious quest to make herself an honest woman! –Hawaii International Film Festival
Joseph Mathew-Varghese, Director
A native of India, Joseph Mathew-Varghese moved to America in 1994 and left his stable career in finance to pursue his passion for photography. After a stint as freelance photojournalist for the Associated Press in Baltimore, he became interested in making documentaries and set to work on his first film, The Last Season: The Life and Demolition of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Following the film’s completion in 2003, he began researching and filming his acclaimed documentary Crossing Arizona, which focused on immigration along the Mexican boarder. Mathew-Varghese’s newest film, Bombay Summer, is his first narrative feature.
Bombay Summer explores the fleeting friendships between three young people and their eventual disintegration in the face of betrayal and personal loss. At the center of the story is Geeta, a young, middle-class woman adept at balancing the needs of family and life in modern India. She is in the middle of a secret affair with Jaidev, a struggling writer who comes from a rich, traditional family. Their lives take a dramatic turn when they befriend a young migrant, Madan. Even though they come from different backgrounds, the three bond as friends. Interweaving stories of their personal lives, the film follows their journey of self-discovery and loss. –Hawaii International Film Festival
Hiroshi Watanabe, Actor
Hiroshi Watanabe pursued stage and film acting in his native country of Japan before moving to Los Angeles to attend the LACC Theater Academy. Among other roles in a busy career, he played a guard in the 2003 production The Last Samurai before landing a supporting role in Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed film Letters from Iwo Jima. He is the lead actor in this year’s NAF selection White on Rice.
White on Rice
Jimmy is 40 and divorced, and shares a bunk bed with his 10-year-old nephew. For most men, this state of affairs would be ego-crushing, but Jimmy is strangely unperturbed. Despite an utter lack of social finesse, he embarks on an enthusiastic mission to replace his ex-wife with someone better. Assisted by his suave friend Tim, he wrangles dates with all the women in his office (without success) and completely flubs a setup arranged by his sister Aiko. But worst of all, his carefree attitude provokes the ire of Aiko's straitlaced husband, Tak, who is quickly losing patience with Jimmy's freeloading. Jimmy hardly seems to notice, and when Tak's beautiful niece Ramona comes to visit, he begins to court her shamelessly. In addition to reading her diary, he pays his nephew to draw her portrait (passing it off as his own), and tries to give her a ride by breaking into Tak's car. Finally, when Jimmy shirks his responsibility to the family in order to follow Ramona to a party, the resulting mayhem causes everyone to take another look at how they relate to one another. White on Rice won Best Screenplay and the New Acting Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. –Hawaii International Film Festival
New American Filmmaker Interviews
The 2015 NAF selections included films from various genres and regions of the world, including a documentary filmed in North Korea, a 1980s-style teen comedy, and an action thriller set in the jungles of Colombia.
Watch video interviews as the NAF delegates discuss feminism, activism, and the 80s!
Zoë Bell >