An Asian American Film Festival Experience

Throughout my time at Swarthmore, I have gone into Philadelphia a significant amount of times. On one fine Swarthmore morning, I shuffled through the seemingly hundreds of emails that had arrived into my inbox and found one from the SAO (Swarthmore Asian Organization) that caught my eye.

Philadelphia’s Asian American Film Festival was happening—the event included films with Asian representation, Asian American directors and producers, and lectures about Asian American media representation. I had never seen the word ‘Asian’ so many times when associated with the Western film realm. Coming from Louisiana, I had never attended a film festival nor any festival involving Asian Americans as a center theme, as there were simply never any around me. I checked up on the times and secured my free SEPTA passes from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and I was set.

Therefore, I had started my first solo trip to Philadelphia. I’d say it was a trip of firsts: my first film festival, solo train ride, and going to a city alone. Tucked into a corner, some morning lectures (accompanied with fancy free bagels) were being held in the Institute for Contemporary Art. One of the lectures that struck me was about the Japanese representation in the World War II museum in New Orleans, somewhere very close to home. I had never considered any of the aspects of a museum that I had gone to many times before. There was a lot of time for back and forth Q&A after the session, and it was eye-opening for me.

Documentary ‘Forbidden City’ club dancers

After taking a break for lunch (more free food!) there was a screening on the Academy Award winning documentary “Forbidden City”. It was about an exclusive and successful San Francisco nightclub near Chinatown that featured the first all-Chinese ensemble of dancers. It was honestly one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, with funny and meaningful interviews mixed with old footage. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Being surrounded by people who loved art, film, and expanding the horizon of American filmmaking and Asian American representation was a super special experience. Taking a chance to go into Philadelphia for a new experience, a film festival, or to learn something new has always been something I’ve loved to do. To me, cities hold the meaning of a wonderful and entrancing place to explore and learn to love. Being so close to Philadelphia, Swarthmore College is just a train away. At the end of every trip in the city, coming back to Swarthmore as the sunset fades is something I have also learn hold close to my heart. Hop on a train, my fellow (future) Swatties.

Sunset on the way back to Swarthmore

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