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37th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Announces Award Winners

October 7, 2021


Visual Communications Wraps
37th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Marking A Return to In-Person Theaters

Grand Jury Prize Award Winners Include:
Best Narrative Feature: I WAS A SIMPLE MAN by Christopher Makoto Yogi;
Best Documentary Feature: CANE FIRE by Anthony Banua-Simon;
Golden Reel – Best Narrative Short: ZONA by Masami Kawai (Academy Award® Qualified);
Golden Reel – Best Documentary Short: CLOSING ANNISA by Sophie Luo;
Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award: F1-100 by Emory Chao Johnson

38th Edition of Festival Returns May 2022

Thursday, October 7, 2021 – Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), presented annually by Visual Communications (VC), returned to in-person theatres for the 37th edition of the Festival from September 23 to October 2, 2021. The Academy Award® qualifying Festival presented over 139 films at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center’s Aratani Theatre, the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at the Japanese American National Museum, and Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center. The largest Festival of its kind in Southern California, LAAPFF has announced this year’s award winning films.

“We are proud to celebrate these seasoned and emerging artists whose stories shift narratives and intersect and converge movements,” said Francis Cullado, Executive Director of Visual Communications. “After a year and a half of adapting to virtual presentations, we are grateful for the privilege of the Festival being a space where these artists could showcase their work in person to our communities.”

In the Narrative Feature section, jurors Alison De La Cruz (Artist), Neha Aziz (Programmer, Austin Asian American Film Festival), and Soham Mehta (Filmmaker, RUN THE TIDE) bestowed the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature to I WAS A SIMPLE MAN, directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi.

The jury shared their thoughts on the film: “Every aspect of this film is intentionally and skillfully crafted to elevate a simple, nuanced story to moving, thought-provoking art. Yogi earns his deliberate pacing with his craftsmanship. The film takes us on a narrative journey through Masao, where we watch his personal reflection on how to come to terms with who he has become. We also witness the different versions of Masao attending his own death while allowing us glimpses of Masao’s love, at different stages of life. It is a cinematic love letter to a chapter of Hawaii’s own story, referencing a complex history over a large period of time, of the different peoples of Hawaii and their connection to each other and the land.”

The following Narrative Feature films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  • Special Jury Award for World Building to TIONG BAHRU SOCIAL CLUB (dir. Bee Thiam Tan)
    The jury shared: “TIONG BAHRU SOCIAL CLUB sets a bold and colorful landscape against a society of homogenized values and emotions. Tan goes for broke, committing to a vision and playing it out to the end, bringing us into a picture perfect world and carefully building an underlying tension in every look over the neighborhood itself.”
  • Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting to Rogelio Balagtas, Sheila Lotuaco, Esteban Comilang, Vangie Alcasid,  and Pablo SJ Quiogue of ISLANDS (dir. Martin Edralin)
    The jury shared: “There is something very special about the cast that Edralin put on the big screen. We are carefully given an intimate look into this Filipino Canadian family and their revealing silences. Anchored by Rogelio Balagatas’ performance as Joshua, a middle-aged man who lives with his aging parents, the audience falls in love with this family, and the way that they care for each other.”
  • Special Jury Award for Fresh Narrative Voice to DEFINITION PLEASE (dir. Sujata Day)
    The jury shared: “From its first moments on the screen, you can tell DEFINITION PLEASE has a strong sense of style, and that the diverse cast has a deep commitment to each other. Those are hallmarks of success for any feature directorial debut. Taking on different elements to drive the story, writer & director Day gives us a fresh perspective of being South Asian in America.  She appropriates the white male, underachieving, slacker motif and applies it to a brilliant, female, former spelling bee champion while using bullet-time freeze frames to help catch the audience up with her lead character’s mental gymnastics. The storytelling is edgy, honest, genuine, and funny.”
  • Special Jury Award for Acting to Vishka Asayesh of THE BADGER (dir. Kazem Mollaie)
    The jury shared: “Asayesh commands your attention as the fiercely independent Soodah, an entrepreneur and mother starting her second marriage when tragedy strikes. She is a modern woman in modern Iran, who must face the humiliation of seeking help from various authority figures while maintaining her dignity. She gives a stunning performance that invites you into the complexity of her world.”

In the Documentary Feature section, jurors Melodie Turori (Pasifika Artist), Sue Ding (Filmmaker, THE CLAUDIA KISHI CLUB), and Vincent Schilling (Executive Vice President, Schilling Media, Inc) presented the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature to CANE FIRE, directed by Anthony Banua-Simon.

The jury shared: “This is a compelling and cutting overview of the legacy of colonialism in Hawaii now. Through interviews, his personal family narrative, and an impressive mountain of moving image archive, Banua-Simon skillfully weaves together a timeline of cultural erasure that has occurred in Kauai for generations. Crucially, the film also highlights the massive migrant labor force brought to work on the island’s sugar and pineapple plantations, the migrant laborer and activist Pablo Manlapit, and the early days of Hawaii’s Labor Movement. The film gives space to the many peoples of Hawaii who all suffered under the same oppressor; the Kanaka Maoli and the immigrants from Japan, the Philippines, and beyond.”

The following Documentary Feature films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  • Special Jury Award for Sound to Rana Eid of WE ARE FROM THERE (dir. Wissam Tanios)
    The jury shared: “WE ARE FROM THERE is poignant and hopeful, setting it apart from similar tales of displacement and war. Its use of sound plays a huge role bringing the audience into an intimate and personal proximity to the story. The result adds to a subtle portrait of the emotional journey of migration.”
  • Special Jury Award for Cinematography to Scott Clotworthy and Stanley Leung of FACELESS (dir. Jennifer Ngo)
    The jury shared: “FACELESS places us on the frontlines of the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement. We honor this first-hand access to the protest and its activists as the work and dedication of cinematographers Scott Clotworthy and Stanley Leung takes us to the streets, often bearing witness to the brutal response from the Hong Kong police forces tasked to suppress the uprising. The film effectively reminds us of the continuing urgency to fight to maintain our rights globally, and the strength of an inspiring and unified resistance effort in Hong Kong.”
  • Special Jury Award for Editing to Susan Metzger and Ann Kaneko of MANZANAR, DIVERTED: WHEN WATER BECOMES DUST (dir. Ann Kaneko)
    The jury shared: “The editing room in documentaries is where the story is truly shaped, written, and then re-written again and again. This year we make special recognition of a film that had an ambitious task of weaving together strands of the memories contained in California’s land, the experiences and trauma of multiple generations of women across cultures, histories of colonization and forced removal, and the politics of water rights that continue to plague Los Angeles. Through a poetic synthesis of past and present, and eyewitness accounts and voices, the editorial choices in this film leave us with an awareness of our complicated history with water, as well as a need to fight and take action moving forward so that this history doesn’t continue to hurt the Owens Valley or Payahuunadü and its stewards.”

In the Shorts Competition section, jurors Gerald Ramsey (Actor, THE LION KING), Judy Lei (Filmmaker, THE WORLD’S GREATEST), and Mallorie Ortega (Filmmaker, THE GIRL WHO LEFT HOME) awarded the Festival Golden Reel Award for Best Documentary Short to CLOSING ANNISA, directed by Sophie Luo. 

Juror Judy Lei shared: “An excellent and skillfully crafted exploration of art and discipline, this film gives us an intimate portrait of acclaimed chef Anita Lo as she closes down and says goodbye to her fine-dining restaurant Annisa. CLOSING ANNISA is a delicately plated presentation of personal reflection, commentary on what it means to not conform, and a celebrated excellence that comes with expanding people’s idea of identity.”

LAAPFF is proud to be an Academy Award® qualifying Festival for the Short Film Awards. Recipient(s) of the Film Festival’s Golden Reel Award for Narrative Short will be eligible for consideration in the Animated Short Film/Live-Action Short Film category of the Academy Awards®. The film that won this year’s Golden Reel Award and is now eligible to qualify in the Animated Short Film/Live-Action Short Film category of the Academy Awards® is ZONA, directed by Masami Kawai. 

Juror Gerald Ramsey shared: “Through glimpses of the near-future Los Angeles, this film delicately threads through the urgent conversations of climate change and water rights. Through the powerful performances by the lead, Kana Kawai, we are beckoned to remember the importance of caring for the elders in our communities. ZONA is a cinematic reminder of what could happen to our families, if we don’t take action now.”

Former Visual Communications Executive Director Linda Mabalot is lovingly remembered for her passion and commitment to nurturing and developing emerging Asian Pacific filmmakers. In that spirit, the Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award is presented to a short film that demonstrates an innovative and creative use of cinematic language. Previous recipients include TAMA TU (dir. Taika Waititi), PILGRIMAGE (dir. Tadashi Nakamura), PAULINA (dir. Caylee So), and MISS WORLD (dir. Georgia Fu).

The Shorts Jury bestowed this year’s Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award to F1-100, directed by Emory Chao Johnson.

Juror Gerald Ramsey shared: “From its structure to its sound design, this film presented a storytelling experience that both pushes the boundary of the documentary form and holds the protagonist with such intentional care. Chao Johnson uses video, illustration, and animation in this intimate portrait of an international art student studying abroad in the United States. F1-100 is a stunning meditation from a new filmmaker voice, telling a true tale of borders and identity.”

The following Narrative and Documentary Short films were also honored with Special Jury Awards:

  • Special Jury Award for Cinematography to Michael Tanji of RIVER OF SMALL GODS (dir. Bradley Tangonan) and HAWAIIAN SOUL (dir. ʻĀina Paikai)
    Juror Mallorie Ortega shared: “From the textured and quiet photography in RIVER OF SMALL GODS, to the historical mood captured in HAWAIIAN SOUL, Michael Tanji’s work invites the audience for a closer look at the beauty of Hawaii.”
  • Special Jury Award for World Building to KIDS ON FIRE (dir. Kyle Nieva)
    Juror Mallorie Ortega shared: “This film effectively takes us into a world that many may not know: a bible camp, with a prepubescent boy who slowly learns of his special role in the impending apocalypse. The director’s satirical tone is evident. From the writing, to the art direction, to the cinematography, KIDS ON FIRE took us down the road to an unexpected devil.”
  • Special Jury Award for Cinematography to Paolo Bitanga of NIGHT & DAY (dir. Paolo Bitanga)
    Juror Judy Lei shared: “Bitanga succeeds in his slice-of-life approach to one of the most beloved family celebrations in the Philippines. The cinematography gracefully allows the viewer to personally connect to these unnamed relatives on screen.”
  • Special Jury Award for Editing to Natalie A. Chao of TO KNOW HER (dir. Natalie A. Chao)
    Juror Mallorie Ortega shared: “Chao’s skilful use of home video successfully utilizes archive footage as more than citations of the past, but as contemporary reflections of memory.”
  • Special Jury Award for Editing to Jota Sosnowski and Brian Redondo of KEEP SARAY HOME (dir. Brian Redondo)
    Juror Judy Lei shared: “The film features an excellent combination of various storylines and perspectives to amplify the urgent conversations around migration and families.”



  • Grand Jury Award: I WAS A SIMPLE MAN (dir. Christopher Makoto Yogi)
  • Special Jury Award – World Building: TIONG BAHRU SOCIAL CLUB (dir. Bee Thiam Tan)
  • Special Jury Award – Ensemble Acting: Rogelio Balagtas, Sheila Lotuaco, Esteban Comilang, Vangie Alcasid, and Pablo SJ Quiogue, ISLANDS (dir. Martin Edralin)
  • Special Jury Award – Fresh Narrative Voice: DEFINITION PLEASE (dir. Sujata Day)
  • Special Jury Award – Acting: Vishka Asayesh, THE BADGER (dir. Kazem Mollaie)


  • Grand Jury Award: CANE FIRE (dir. Anthony Banua-Simon)
  • Special Jury Award – Sound: Rana Eid, WE ARE FROM THERE (dir. Wissam Tanios)
  • Special Jury Award – Cinematography: Scott Clotworthy and Stanley Leung, FACELESS (dir. Jennifer Ngo)
  • Special Jury Award – Editing: Susan Metzger and Ann Kaneko, MANZANAR, DIVERTED: WHEN WATER BECOMES DUST (dir. Ann Kaneko)


  • Golden Reel Award – Best Narrative Short: ZONA (dir. Masami Kawai)
  • Special Jury Award – Cinematography: Michael Tanji, RIVER OF SMALL GODS (dir. Bradley Tangonan) and HAWAIIAN SOUL (dir. ʻĀina Paikai)
  • Special Jury Award – World Building: KIDS ON FIRE (dir. Kyle Nieva)


  • Golden Reel Award – Best Documentary Short: CLOSING ANNISA (dir. Sophie Luo)
  • Special Jury Award – Cinematography: Paolo Bitanga, NIGHT & DAY (dir. Paolo Bitanga)
  • Special Jury Award – Editing: Natalie A. Chao, TO KNOW HER (dir. Natalie A. Chao)
  • Special Jury Award – Editing: Jota Sosnowski and Brian Redondo, KEEP SARAY HOME (dir. Brian Redondo) 
  • Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions Award: F1-100 (dir. Emory Chao Johnson)


Visual Communications’ mission is to develop and support the voices of Asian and Pacific Islander filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives. Founded in 1970 with the understanding that media and the arts are powerful forms of storytelling, Visual Communications creates cross-cultural connections between peoples and generations. 

The 37th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presented by Visual Communications, runs from September 23 – October 2, 2021 as a hybrid event, taking place virtually and in person at select cinemas in the Los Angeles area. The largest festival of its kind in Southern California, LAAPFF is a proud Academy Award®-qualifying film festival for the Short Film Awards. For program and ticket information, please visit

Visual Communications is supported by:

Foundation: Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Aratani Foundation, Asian Pacific Community Fund, California Community Foundation, California Humanities, Getty Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Keiro, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, LA Arts Recovery Fund**, National Film Preservation Foundation, SAG-AFTRA Producers IACF, SAGindie, Sundance Institute

Government: California Arts Council, California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, Japanese American Confinement Sites (National Park Service), National Endowment for the Arts

Corporate: Alaska Airlines, Amazon Studios, City National Bank, Comcast NBCUniversal, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., The Famous Group, HBO, Motion Picture Editors Guild, MTV Documentary Films, Paramount, Pechanga, Sony Pictures, Superlative, Union Bank, Vervet, ViacomCBS, Warner Media, Writers Guild of America West

**Initiated by the J. Paul Getty Trust and administered by the California Community Foundation, the LA Arts Recovery Fund is a collaboration of local and national philanthropy and is the largest-ever pooled private investment for arts in Los Angeles County. 

Major contributors to the fund include J. Paul Getty Trust, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, Jerry and Terri Kohl, The Ahmanson Foundation, Perenchio Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, California Community Foundation, The Music Man Foundation, Robert Lovelace and Alicia Miñana, Snap Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment & Sony Global Relief Fund, Ford Theatre Foundation and the LA County Department of Arts and Culture, and The Weingart Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Getty Patron Program & Getty Fund, The California Wellness Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, Netflix, and Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation.


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