Visual Communications Wraps 39th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival – Announces Jury, Audience and Emerging Filmmaker Awards

Audience Award Winners Include STARRING JERRY AS HIMSELF,



Jury Prize Winners Include OLD NARCISSUS (老ナルキソス) and FLY IN POWER


Emerging Filmmaker Awards Presented to

Danny Kim of ZERO WASTE and Set Hernandez of UNSEEN


Short Prize Winners Include



May 18, 2023 (Los Angeles, CA) – Visual Communications (VC) announced today the Audience Award and Jury Prize winners for the 39th edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.


The annual showcase for Asian American, Native Hawaian, Pacific Islander, diasporic and Asian international cinema ran from May 4 to May 13 with in-person programming in Little Tokyo, Gardena Cinemas, and Regal L.A. Live, along with online programming.


Reflecting on the festival, Visual Communications Executive Director Francis Cullado states, “this year’s Festival created moments of joy as our communities converged throughout films, conversations, and events as we celebrated artists and our collective stories. Our deepest gratitude to our staff, supporters, and community partners for their time and effort to make the Festival happen. Centering wellness and joy, guided by Linda Mabalot’s regenerative spirit, provided new programming offerings as we remember the ethos of why we began this Festival decades ago.” He adds, “however, it also uplifted modes of unwellness that did not bring moments of joy. From films unable to be presented because of technical issues, to not delivering initial Renewal intentions we have set prior to the Festival, we have to mitigate these unwell moments as part of our growing practice. We look forward to Number 40 as we look back at these recent moments in being better for our artists and communities.”


Highlights of the 10 days included: the World Premiere of ARMED WITH A CAMERA VOL. 2023 (AWC), which included six short films produced by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander artists, in reflection of VC’s renewed commitment to uplifting Native Hawaiian and Pasifika stories; the World Premieres of KAPWA TEXAS (Directed by PJ Raval), OLD NARCISSUS (Directed by Tsuyoshi Shoji) and ZERO WASTE (Directed by Danny Kim); the North American Premieres of THE CLOUD MESSENGER (Directed by Rahat Manajan) and THE VILLAGE (Directed by Seric Aprymov); the International Premieres of THE GRIZZLIE TRUTH (Directed by Kathleen S. Jayme) and WHO IS NEXT? (Directed by Nurzhamal Karamoldoeva, Sultan Usuvaliev); and the U.S. Premieres of UNSEEN (Directed by Set Hernandez) and YOU ANIMAL! (Directed by Avid Liongoren); and special screenings of BIG FIGHT IN LITTLE CHINATOWN (Directed by Karen Cho), JAMOJAYA (Directed by Justin Chon) and PAST LIVES (Directed by Celine Song).


Armed With A Camera Vol. 2023 (AWC)


This year’s festival also commemorated the 20th year since the passing of founding Executive Director Linda Mabalot and the launch of the Filmmaker Wellness Programming.


Eseel Borlasa, head of Artist Development & Exhibitions, added, “as we remember the regenerative impact of Linda’s life, we humbly give thanks for our festival’s audiences’ enthusiasm and grace through this year’s festival -most especially through the technical difficulties of our 2nd weekend of the festival. We thank the LAAPFF community for your patience as we gather resources to provide an additional opportunity to screen select programs from the fest.”




The Narrative Audience Awards went to Keliʻi Grace’s MY PARTNER and Law Chen’s



The Documentary Audience Awards went to Set Henandez’ UNSEEN and So Yun Um’s LIQUOR STORE DREAMS.




The Emerging Filmmaker Awards went to Danny Kim of ZERO WASTE and Set Hernandez of UNSEEN.




The Narrative Feature Jury, which consisted of Estella Owoimaha-Church, Ova Saopeng, and Madeleine Hakaraia de Young (Ngāti Kapu) awarded OLD NARCISSUS (老ナルキソス) by Tsuyoshi Shoji with the Best Narrative Feature prize.



OLD NARCISSUS (老ナルキソス) by Tsuyoshi Shoji


“A vulnerable and deeply heartfelt narrative unfolds, revealing a captivating story of self-realization that resonated with each of us.Within the context of this tender and poignant tale, we are compelled to explore the intricacies of dating and intimacy as experienced by an elderly gay man, offering a unique and rarely depicted perspective. Director Tsuyoshi Shoji, skillfully weaves together the threads of 74-year-old Yamazaki’s (TAMURA Taijiro) life: from his career, to his friend group of fellow elderly men, to his personal desire for romance. What results is a beautiful film of longing and belonging, grounded with creativity and connection. From start to finish, this is an instant classic.”


OLD NARCISSUS director + main actor



FINAU OF RED ,WHITE & BRASS by Damon Fepulea’i and Halaifonua (Nua) Finau


“A fantastic and highly entertaining invitation for universal audiences to  immerse themselves in the vibrant and joyous celebration of a Tongan family. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Damon Fepulea’i and Halaifonua (Nua) Finau of RED, WHITE & BRASS for their remarkable contribution in bringing the rich tapestry of Tongan language and culture to the forefront of this unforgettable storytelling experience. RED, WHITE, & BRASS  was so full of joy and felt like “home” even though it was a story from the other side of the world.”



WHERE IS THE LIE by Quark Henares


“We were thoroughly charmed by the timely and authentic storytelling that captivated the intricate dynamics of dating in the digital age. With great finesse, director Quark Henares skillfully transported us into the heart of modern-day romance, immersing us in a vivid and relatable narrative that kept us engaged from start to finish. Henares nurtured our interest in the story by seamlessly incorporating a variety of visual experiences that brought the world of dating to life. From the intimacy of video calls that bridged physical distances to the raw and authentic portrayal of text messages exchanged between characters, every interaction felt palpable and familiar.”





“Director Rahat Mahajan gave us a truly unprecedented cinematic experience. Through the lens of gorgeous cinematography, we were seamlessly transported to a boarding school nestled amidst the majestic Himalayan mountains. With every frame, Mahajan’s vision took us on a mesmerizing journey, bridging the gap between the ethereal heavens and the earthly realm. This meticulously crafted film weaves a tapestry of enchanting storytelling, crafting a new folklore and igniting our imagination with its fresh and innovative approach. Rahat Mahajan’s creation stands as an unforgettable testament to his artistic brilliance and the power of visual storytelling.”





“GOLDEN DELICIOUS graciously extends a warm invitation, beckoning you to revisit the profound and formative days of high school. With Alfonso Chin’s skillful craftsmanship behind the lens, the film delicately captures the essence of young adulthood and the transformative decisions that shape their lives. Each scene exudes a stylized sense of maturity, artfully preserving the vibrancy and effervescence of contemporary youth.”



Taijiro Tamura of OLD NARCISSUS



Max Eigenmann of RAGING GRACE




The Documentary Jury consisted of Kitty Hu, Laci Dent, and Yasir Masood, and they awarded Yin Q and Yoon Grace Ra’s FLY IN POWER with the Best Documentary Feature award.



FLY IN POWER by Yin Q., and Yoon Grace Ra


“We are deeply moved and profoundly touched by the exquisite artistry displayed in the remarkable documentary FLY IN POWER.This film masterfully weaves together the narratives of a social justice collective comprising Asian diasporic massage workers, sex workers, and their allies, showcasing their transformative journey of base building through mutual aid. In this cinematic exploration, we are immensely grateful to Yin Q and Yoon Grace Ra for their filmmaking prowess, as they skillfully center the care and well-being of this collective. The filmmakers astutely center not only the raw authenticity of their experiences through observational verite but also employs intentional visual storytelling techniques that evoke a profound sense of beauty, a resolute calmness, and an enduring spirit of hope. Through their lens, we bear witness to the strength and resilience of these individuals as they navigate the complexities of their lives, forging connections and supporting one another in the face of adversity. FLY IN POWER stands as a testament to the power of how we tell our stories and cinema to shed light on marginalized communities, to inspire empathy, and to ignite a fervent desire for social change.”


Yin & Yoon from Fly in Power



WHO IS NEXT? by Nurzhamal Karamoldoeva, Sultan Usuvaliev


“Amidst the fervent global movement to safeguard reproductive rights and programs dedicated to caring for survivors of assault, communities worldwide are urgently prioritizing the fundamental human rights of women. In this pressing context, directors Nurzhamal Karamoldoeva and Sultan Usuvaliev present a timely and compelling documentary that sheds light on the systemic issue of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan, focusing on the heartbreaking case of Aizada Kanatbekova -whose life was tragically cut short as she attempted to escape a forced marriage. Karamoldoeva and Usuvaliev skillfully use a powerful combination of emotional interviews, gripping security footage, and thought-provoking social media content, to create an immersive cinematic experience akin to a gripping true crime drama while centering the structural issues at hand. We were transported into the heart of a captivating narrative, entwined with the complexities of culture and tradition that have, until now, remained untold on the grand screen. This documentary stands as an urgent call for awareness, challenging societal norms, and igniting conversations that seek to address and eradicate violence against women. “



IN SEARCH OF BENGALI HARLEM by Alaudin Ullah, Vivek Bald


“This film expanded our awareness of South Asian histories on this continent, and challenged what we thought we already knew. IN SEARCH OF BENGALI HARLEM compassionately brings forward the story of Bengali immigrants, their labor as Britain’s colonial sailors, and the way they carved a new community for themselves here in the United states. Through Alaudin’s journey, our understanding of South Asian history in North America was rewritten. Directors Ulla and Bald patient storytelling is a game changer and informs how we fit in American Culture moving forward. We are grateful for the way they wove together impressive character work and investment in community, which yielded a story that was complex, and heartfelt.”



UNSEEN by Set Hernandez


“UNSEEN challenged us to expand the way we experience cinema, and brought the audience in, with care & love, to experience different forms of non fiction storytelling. Tenderness and intentionality on what we can see and what we can hear, is felt from beginning to end; largely by the care and trust between Set (Director) and Pedro (Participant). UNSEEN is a compassionate confrontation that prompts audiences and filmmakers to rethink the way we tell and receive stories.”




The Short Film Jury which included Maha Chehlaoui, Marie-Reine Velez, Shu Zhu and Xin Li, awarded Liz Sargent, director of TAKE ME HOME, with the Golden Reel Award for Best Narrative Short, which automatically qualifies the film for Best Live Action Short Film at the upcoming Academy Awards®. 



TAKE ME HOME by Liz Sargent


“We were deeply moved by the delicate and powerful portrayal of family in TAKE ME HOME. From the opening scenes to the closing moments, the film beautifully captures the tender dynamics between Anna (Anna Sargent) and her sister Emily (Jeena Yi). With emotive performances that resonate with authenticity, coupled with the film’s intimate cinematography, Director Liz Sargent tenderly  unveils the intricacies of life and grief through skilled nuance. In this deeply personal narrative, “TAKE ME HOME” transcends individual experiences to touch upon universal themes, speaking to the profound connections that bind us all.”



TO WRITE FROM MEMORY by Emory Chao Johnson


“This introspective journey grows into a profound exploration of their own past. TO WRITE FROM MEMORY is a quiet personal portrait of Director Emory Chao Johnson’s intersectional identities that moved us to reflect on our own interactions with our parents, body image and personal health. With a bold approach to the visual narrative combined with the utilization of voicemail messages, the film is a masterpiece that is powerfully fresh and hauntingly familiar.”



THE VOYAGER’S LEGACY by Bailey Poching


“This film was an absolute delight. With THE VOYAGER’S LEGACY, Director Bailey Poching successfully delivered buoyant whimsical storytelling anchored to the frightening realities of the  dawn raids in New Zealand from 1973 to 1979. Through its varied storytelling techniques, lighthearted editing and commanding performances, THE VOYAGER’S LEGACY showed a glimpse of what this young talent can do.”



THE OLD YOUNG CROW (今昔カラス) by Liam LoPinto


“We were utterly captivated by the heartfelt cultural exchange between Persian and Japanese perspectives. The enchanting blend of whimsy and charm allowed us to seamlessly join the narrative bridge that unites communities.”





“KE KAHEA: AN INVITATION INTO SACRED SPACE is a blessed invitation to know cultural practitioner Aʻiaʻi Bello and the work she leads to create sacred kapa from the wauke plant. Director Justyn Ah Chong’s film is a respectful and powerful cinematic window to Bello’s work and the transformative journey that unfolds. The work unearths lessons for everyone involved, and quietly yields a poignant lesson of ancestral wisdom.”



BIRDSONG by Omi Zola Gupta, Sparsh Ahuja


“This film magically took us to the breathtaking landscape of Northern Laos, in an intimate portrait of the dying whistled language of the Hmong people of the region. The film beautifully centers the importance of language, cultural preservation and reminds audiences of the power of cinema to help preserve cultural heritage.”





“For its rich and vibrant storytelling that matches the real life vivacity of the film’s two stars – Director Sean Wang’s own Grandmothers. We were moved to feel love for life through the stars on screen, and through their own grandson’s filmmaking.”




Estella Owoimaha-Church

Estella is the first-generation of her family born on Tongva Land (for now known as Los Angeles). While identifying as an Angeleno, deeply connected to the lands that raised her, Estella’s roots burrow deep beyond the asphalt of South Central L.A.. Her maternal grandparents are from the villages of Satufia of Savai’i and Saleilua of Upolu, Samoa; her paternal grandparents are from Calabar, Cross River, Nigeria. She transitions into the role of Executive Director at Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) post nearly two decades of service as an educator. Estella was the first Samoan to be named a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize in 2018 and awarded California Theatre Teacher of 2020. As a Black-Pacific Islander (PI), mother to a Black-PI child, and eldest sister of two Black-PI young men, she holds dear her responsibility to serve generations of past, present, and future. So long as she is capable, Estella will advocate for all those who look like her, step up as co-conspirator for others in the margins, and forge clear paths for young people where there once were none.


Ova Saopeng

is co-artistic director, producer and theatremaker with Los Angeles based TeAda Productions. He is an accomplished actor, teaching artist and playwright. He is a refugee from Laos and is passionate about elevating the refugee and immigrant experience. Stage creations include: Masters of the Currents, Refugee Nation, Global Taxi Driver and Native Immigrant. Film credits: Pirates of the Caribbean:World’s End, Love is Good, Burmese Refugee, Go to Sleep: A Lao Ghost Story, Warsol, Susu More info or IG:teadaproduction or IG:og_ova


Madeleine Hakaraia de Young (Ngāti Kapu)

is the incoming festival director for Māoriland Film Festival – New Zealand’s International Indigenous Film Festival held each March in Ōtaki, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Māoriland Film Festival is the largest International Indigenous Film Festival in the Southern Hemisphere and is the showcase event of the Māoriland Charitable Trust – a centre of excellence for Māori and Indigenous film and creativity. Located on New Zealand’s Kāpiti Coast, Ōtaki is a vibrant seaside town where Māori culture and language thrives. Māoriland is celebrated for its manaakitanga and community spirit. It is a place where creatives come to heal.


Madeleine is a founding member of Māoriland and leads festival programming. Year-round she supports the work of the MCT as a producer. Supported by a team of rangatahi, she has spent the last 10 years developing and overseeing the implementation of Te Uru Maire – the Māoriland Rangatahi Strategy. Te Uru Maire nurtures rangatahi to find their voice through film and develop the practical skills to tell their unique stories. Over 200 short films have been made through this programme over the last 10 years with over 2,000 participating rangatahi, both in New Zealand and internationally. Madeleine’s work with Te Uru Maire was recognised at the 2021 New Zealander of the Year awards where Madeleine was a semi-finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year.




Kitty Hu

Kitty Hu is a queer Chinese diasporic documentary filmmaker and co-founder/head of development at Shoes Off Media, an intergenerational Asian women-led production co centering storytellers with lived experiences both in front of and behind the lens. As the daughter of immigrants, Kitty’s work applies community-centered documentary tactics to amplify stories at the intersection of justice and human relationships, looking at topics like labor, housing, culture, migration and climate. Her work has been featured on HBO Max, Hulu, CNN+, PBS and her personal short, Golden Boy, played in festivals nationally including DOC NYC and LAAPFF (her fave). She also supports impact and advocacy opportunities at Brown Girls Doc Mafia and is a proud member of the Asian American Documentary Network.



Laci Dent

Laci Dent is a writer/director based in Los Angeles. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a storyteller who builds atmospheric worlds through her passion for unique tales, uncanny characters and dark undertones. Her work has been recognized by many prestigious film and art institutions around the world including The Black List, SFFILM, The California African American Museum and the Museum of Modern Art to list a few. In addition to her filmmaking endeavors, Laci is an assistant professor of Screen Arts at Pepperdine University.


Yasir Masood

I’m a Texas raised and Pakistani born filmmaker creating work that explores migration, masculinity, and identity in Muslim-American communities.

My goal as an artist is to redefine the Muslim image in popular culture, to one that is nuanced, human, and more honest to our experience. I believe in a collaborative approach to filmmaking and I try to apply the working class mentality that I inherited to everything I do.




Maha Chehlaoui

is a classic multi-hyphenate of Filipina-Syrian descent. Raised all over the place, she eventually landed in NY as an actor. In the aftermath of 9/11, the need for empowered Arab and Muslim American voices propelled her into writing, directing, producing and community and institution building. She is now a consultant and producer of award winning theatre and film, as well as Program Director for the Think Tank for inclusion and Equity.


Marie-Reine Velez

is an arts leader working towards systemic anti-racism and equity through radical empathy, resource sharing, and questioning the status quo. Marie-Reine is the assistant director at USC Visions and Voices where she works with deans, faculty, and students from across the university to produce events, workshops, and programs in the arts and humanities; and a board member of California Presenters. A theatre and music events producer since 2005, Marie-Reine previously worked with TeAda Productions as a producer and general manager, and at Center Theatre Group in the literary department. She has served on both national and regional committees, including the Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists ConFest host committee in Los Angeles, the Western Arts Alliance Professional Development Committee, and the California Presenters Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee. Twitter and IG: @mariezpz


Shu Zhu

is a graduate from American Film Institute’s MFA Directing Program. With a special interest on rebellious expressions regarding intersectional identities, Shu has created works that have been showcased at prestigious festivals and institutions around the world, such as Telluride Film Festival, Chinese Young Generation Film Forum, National Museum of Art in Mexico, National Film Archive of India, Jia Zhangke Art Center, among others. As a first generation Chinese Canadian immigrant, Shu aspires to amplify unique AAPI stories and experiences through representation behind and in front of the screen.


Xin Li

Born and raised in China, Xin has lived and studied all over the United States in the past decade, from the Midwest to both coasts. After earning her MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, she has produced documentaries and narrative films that have screened at SXSW, Hot Springs, Aspen Shortfest, DOC NYC, and distributed on The New Yorker, and Short of the Week. A short film she produced, “DEAR MAMA…” won NAACP Image Awards as Outstanding Short-Form in 2023. Xin is a recipient of Film Independent’s Project Involve Producing Fellowship, the Los Angeles Media Fund Fellowship, Visual Communications’s Armed with a Camera Fellowship, and the Netflix Nonfiction Directing/Producing Fellowship. She was part of the inaugural HBOMax x WBD Access Animated Shorts Program. SANTA ANITA, a narrative feature film she’s producing, has been supported by the SFFILM Rainin Grant, ARRAY, Gotham Week Project Market, and the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.