Nearly two dozen films, a Downtown party and an international guest list is an ambitious start to Pittsburgh's latest film festival, debuting Fri., May 12. Over nine days, the Silk Screen Film Festival will present 22 films, from North America, the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, representing the diversity of Asian and Asian-American experiences.
A number of filmmakers and actors are expected to attend the Red Carpet Gala (7:30 p.m.-midnight, Sat., May 13) which will also offer live dance and music performances, and food from local Asian restaurants; tickets are $50.
Films screen at the Harris Theater (809 Liberty Ave., Downtown); the Regent Square Theater (1035 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square); and the Melwood Screening Room (477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland). Tickets for regular screenings are $8; an eight-film pass is available for $50. For more information, call 724-969-2565 or see www.silkscreenfestival.org.
The films are as follows:
AMU. In Shonali Bose's drama, an Indian-American woman, visiting her family in India, uncovers disturbing secrets. Bose and actress Konkona Sensharma will attend the screening. In English, and Bengali, Hindi and Punjabi, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Fri., May 12. Regent Square
ARAHAN. Can a bumbling nerd summon enough good ch'i to defeat an unholy warrior from the past ... and get the girl? Ryu Seung-wan's action comedy is a light send-up of recent high-flying martial-arts flicks (you can't miss the wires in this outing), while remaining true to the genre's conventions. Good will prevail and there will be much crashing through windows and bad-guy pummeling. Athletic young people fighting is fine, but Arahan's best characters are the elderly, smart-alecky Tao masters. In Korean, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., May 13; 4 p.m. Sun., May 14; and 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 19. Melwood (Al Hoff)
BEING CYRUS. This English-language film from India is the debut of director Homi Adajania. The Cyrus of the title is a hunky young drifter who crashes into the home and lives of the Sethnas family, and soon the film becomes a Hitchcock-style thriller with a wry sense of humor and several entertaining plot twists. Cyrus' portentous, cliché-filled narration is an artistic misstep, but Adajania's hip-cool direction keeps the film brisk, off-beat and rewarding. Being Cyrus also marks the English-language feature-film debut of actor Saif Ali Khan, as Cyrus. A hot young star in India, Khan is the son of Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore and Indian cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan. 7:30 p.m. Thu., May 18, and 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 20. Regent Square (Ted Hoover)
BUFFALO BOY. Teen-age Kim leaves home during the rainy season to join a group of water-buffalo herders, a rough group more akin to a gang than to mythical cowboys. Minh Nguyen-Vo's coming-of-age story, set in mid-century rural Vietnam, is a gentle tale that even in its meditative pace and languid cinematography doesn't shy from depicting ugliness, whether it is of the human character, the grind of poverty or the capriciousness of nature. But it's the characters' relationship with the omnipresent water that looms largest ... this blessing and curse that forever entwines the generations it both sustains and hinders. Nguyen-Vo will attend the Tue., May 16, screening. In Vietnamese, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Fri., May 12, and 8 p.m. Tue., May 16. Melwood (AH)
CELL PHONE. A philandering Beijing chat-show host's cell phone repeatedly gets him busted ... the hottie mistress' penchant for filthy texts costs him his saintly wife, and then her saintly replacement. His eventual retreat into hermit-like cell-phonelessness highlights the hyperconnectedness of present-day urban settings versus rural life a generation ago; his roots are in rural China, where it was a day's journey to make a telephone call. Feng Xiaogang's comedy-drama questions which situation is better, and also underscores how annoying ring tones are in any language. In Mandarin, with subtitles. 2:30 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 8 p.m. Tue., May 16. Regent Square (Melissa Meinzer)
ELECTRIC SHADOWS. This gentle, heartwarming drama, directed by one of China's young female directors, Xiao Jiang, recalls similar films made by European directors who cast loving, nostalgic looks back at how children (such as themselves, once) could be vitalized and forever enraptured by cinema. Two outcast children in a rural town during the Cultural Revolution find a common language in their delight at film. Electric Shadows tracks their relationship over three decades, but it's also a bittersweet valentine to the communal allure of cinema ... even the propagandistic "approved" films screened outdoors on a sheet ... that has been supplanted by more isolating modern entertainment. In Mandarin, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Sat., May 13, and 8 p.m. Mon., May 15. Regent Square (AH)
EVE AND THE FIRE HORSE. Julia Kwan wrote and directed this family comedy-drama about a rebellious young girl living in Vancouver, among Canada's Chinese immigrant community. In English, and Cantonese, with subtitles. 5 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 7:30 p.m. Wed., May 17. Regent Square
GILANEH. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Mohsen Abdolvahab's drama explores how the Iraq-Iran war continues to affect the lives of one Iranian family. In Persian, with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 12 (Harris), and 4 p.m. Sat., May 20 (Melwood).
GRAIN IN EAR. A single mother, of Korean descent and working as a roadside food vendor in China, begins an affair with another ethnic Korean that ends tragically in Lu Zhang's drama. In Korean and Mandarin, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Thu., May 18, and 7 p.m. Sat., May 20. Harris
IQBAL. Nagesh Kukunoor's lighthearted saga is familiar turf: A deaf mute, Iqbal, from a rural Indian village dreams of playing professional cricket. Only his little sister and a local drunk (and former cricket star) believe he can make it. It's heartwarming, sure, but also fairly saccharine and wholly predictable. In Hindi, with subtitles. 9:15 p.m. Thu., May 18, and 4 p.m. Sat., May 20. Regent Square (AH)
IT'S ONLY TALK. Living on the outskirts of Tokyo, Yuko is a woman with a problem. Medicated to the gills to fight her debilitating manic depression, Yuko's just trying to get laid. Yet each man she encounters cannot, for one reason or another, perform the task. Shinobu Terajima gives a quite moving performance as Yuko in Ryuichi Hiroki's film. Unfortunately that performance, along with Hiroki's painterly visuals, are all but sunk by the film's interminable snail-like pace. By the end of its 126 moribund minutes, Yuko isn't the only one who's depressed. In Japanese, with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 7:30 p.m. Wed., May 17. Harris (TH)
JOURNEY FROM THE FALL. Ham Tran's film is a sprawling, heart-wrenching drama that concurrently depicts the lives of a Vietnamese family scattered after the fall of Saigon. The patriotic South Vietnamese father stays to fight on, and is soon confined to a brutal communist "re-education" camp. His wife, mother and young son escape the country in a harrowing boat journey hoping to reach America. Journey is yet another coda to the still-raggedy Vietnam War, as well as a moving testament to the human struggle to endure. It's also a timely reminder about the hope our country offers to immigrants, and how their stories become ours too. Tran will attend the screening. In Vietnamese, with subtitles. 5 p.m. Sat., May 13. Regent Square (AH)
LA VISA LOCA. What won't young Filipino Jess do to get a visa to America in Mark Meily's comedy? When the plans involve a fist-throwing celebrity, a former girlfriend turned sideshow mermaid, and the British producer of a cheesy "news" show, it's sure to be loco. In English, and Tagalog, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Wed., May 17, and 7 p.m. Sat., May 20. Melwood
MAN PUSH CART. In Ramin Bahrani's drama, a former Pakistani rock star ekes out a living selling coffee from a cart in Manhattan. Actor Ahmad Razvi will attend the Fri., May 12, screening. In English, and Urdu, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Fri., May 12, and 9:15 p.m. Fri., May 19. Harris
MAPADO. A gangster and a cop uneasily join forces on a journey to a remote island, hoping to catch up with a stolen lottery ticket, in Chang-min Choo's comedy. The two city guys are way out of their element in the country, and stunned to find the tiny village inhabited only by elderly women. Circumstances toss everybody together, and in typical fashion, new understandings are brokered across the various divides. Occasionally, the humor veers into broad slapstick (yes, there is an exploding toilet), but the scenery is spectacular and the resolution satisfying. In Korean, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Sat., May 13; 7 p.m. Fri., May 19; and 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 20. Harris (AH)
THE MOTEL. His ethnicity and his writerly proclivities alike cut both ways for adolescent outsider Ernest Chin. Stuck at the by-the-hour motel his tough-cookie mother runs along Any Roadside, U.S.A., chubby Ernest enters a writing contest ... but his mom says his honorable mention means "you're not even good enough to lose." He's crushing on a teen-age waitress, and befriended by a dodgy young Korean-American guy who sets up housekeeping at the motel. Writer-director Michael Kang's bittersweet comedy is highlighted by offbeat humor, a wonderful performance by Jeffrey Chyau as Ernest, and a fresh, winnowing sense of the pleasures, perils and compromises inherent to coming of age. Kang will attend the Sun, May 14, screening. 5 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 7:30 p.m. Fri., May 19. Melwood (Bill O'Driscoll)
PUNCHING AT THE SUN. Imagine an early Spike Lee film with a Pakistani cast ... and with even less subtlety. Set in Queens, New York, against a backdrop of post-9/11 mistrust, Mameet (Misu Kahn) grapples with the violent death of his older brother, a local basketball hero. The film has heart, and there ought to be something novel in a story about Muslim youth more interested in MCs than madrassas. Sadly, director and co-writer Tanuj Chopra's intentions are betrayed by a predictable script, wooden characters and a leaden plot. Rather than say something new about the urban immigrant experience, Chopra retells an old story in a slightly different accent. Chopra will attend the Sat., May 13, screening. To be screened via video projection. 6 p.m. Sat., May 13, and 7:30 p.m. Mon., May 15. Harris (Chris Potter)
QUIET SUMMER. At loose ends after college, Shuji honors his mother's request to take her ashes to Taiwan, the country of her birth. But the tranquil surface of Shuhei Fujita's drama belies the churning emotions below, as along the way his young Japanese protagonist explores the many meanings of home, family, culture and exile while discovering a secret history of his own family. Shuhei composes his film in brief and often dialogueless scenes that speak volumes; it's gorgeously photographed, and its sense of how the past permeates the present is as thoughtfully expressed as the story is left eloquently unresolved. To be screened via video projection. In English, and Mandarin, Japanese and Tagalog, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 7:30 p.m. Thu., May 18. Melwood (BO)
RED DOORS. First-time director Georgia Lee casts her lens on a contemporary Chinese-American family, comfortably middle-class in the New York City suburbs, but creaking with dysfunction and dissatisfaction. Dad has a spectacular, if quiet, mid-life crisis, which causes his three daughters ... two grown, one in high school ... to re-examine their goals as well as their familial obligations. Lee's slightly quirky film has moments that feel too scripted (and some of the acting is amateurish), but most scenes reflect life's natural rhythm and the very real warmth and awkwardness of families. 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 19. Regent Square (AH)
SLOW JAM KING. "Country vs. hip hop" supplants good and evil as the polarizing forces in Steve Mallorca's road comedy. The film follows JoJo Enriquez, a Filipino-American wannabe pimp, and his hostages as they embark on a hilarious and nonsensical road trip to Nashville toward a showdown with a militant black country-music star. Mallorca's feature film debut is genuinely ... if crudely ... affecting, borrowing equally from Don Quixote, Taxi Driver and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Among the memorable characters, Rona Figeuroa shines as Rese, the love interest we're introduced to in ... where else? ... a medieval-themed strip club in a Southern hick town. Mallorca will attend the Fri., May 12, screening. To be screened via video projection. 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 12, and 8 p.m. Mon., May 15. Melwood (Aaron Jentzen)
WATER. The last of Deepa Mehta's "elemental" trilogy, this gorgeously filmed and beautifully acted drama exposes the life of deprivation that widows faced in India under traditional religious laws. Set in 1938, as Ghandi and other progressives campaigned for modernizing such social codes, Water focuses on one widows' house, where the women's lives are crippled with bitterness, poverty and loneliness, yet still sustained through hope, humor and kindness. In this moving and provocative film, three women take steps toward independence, including Chuyia, whose pre-arranged groom has died, condemning the lively 9-year-old to a life of social exile. In Hindi, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., May 20. Regent Square (AH)
YEK SHAB (ONE NIGHT). A young woman wanders Tehran at night, encountering three men, each with his own story, in Niki Karimi's drama. In Farsi, with subtitles. 6 p.m. Sun., May 14, and 7:30 p.m. Tue., May 16. Harris