Skip to Content

40th Edition of VC Film Festival

April 4, 2024


VC Film Fest Announces Lineup of Asian, Black, Latine,
and Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Storytelling

World Premieres of Yi Chen’s DISSIDENTS;
Quyên Nguyen-Le, Tadashi Nakamura’s NOBUKO MIYAMOTO: A SONG IN MOVEMENT;
Alexander Bocchieri’s SHAKA: THE STORY OF ALOHA And More

LA Premiere Of Iram Parveen Bilal’s WAKHRI

West Coast Premiere of Uyghur film NIKAH, Directed By Mukaddas Mijit & Bastien Ehouzan

North American Premiere Of Aizhan Kassymbek’s MADINA

Democracy Series To Feature LA Premieres Ramona Diaz’s AND SO IT BEGINS,
Vanessa Hope’s INVISIBLE NATION And More

(April 4, 2024) Los Angeles, CA – Visual Communications (VC),  the first non-profit organization in the US dedicated to the honest and accurate portrayals of Asian, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander communities through media arts announced the lineup for VC FILM FEST – the 40th edition of their film festival, formerly known as the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF).  Set to open on May 1st, VC FILM FEST will center the storytelling power from Asian, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander communities, and will encourage audiences to activate that power into action at home and action with organizations that serve Black, Indigenous, and additional people of color. 

VC FILM FEST, produced annually by Visual Communications, will present over 150 films during the 10 day festival. The festival will be anchored in Little Tokyo, as a way to build regenerative power in the Arts District/Little Tokyo neighborhood; with  in-person events at Aratani Theatre @ Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), Japanese American National Museum (JANM), and the Union Center for the Arts. Additionally, the VC FILM FEST will bring programming to the Art Theatre of Long Beach;; closing out the festival with films that center Black, Southeast Asian and Pasifika stories. 

“VC Film Fest honors our beloved elder cultural workers and their solidarity work, linking them to present and emerging artists who continue to empower our communities and challenge perspectives.” said Francis Cullado, Visual Communications Executive Director.

As one of the most diverse cities in California, Los Angeles has many unique storytelling threads that connect the communities. Honoring that legacy, VC FILM FEST will present films that reflect some of the diverse talent  in LA, with films including: 

  • The world premiere of NOBUKO MIYAMOTO: A SONG IN MOVEMENT: Directed by Quyên Nguyen-Le, Tadashi Nakamura this feature documentary is a sweeping tale that follows the life of visionary artist-activist Nobuko Miyamoto. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nobuko’s cultural impact stretched across both coasts of the nation and her work that changed Asian America forever.
  • CRUISIN’ J-TOWN: Produced in 1975 and directed by Duane Kubo, one of VC’s founders, this documentary explores the roots of the popular jazz fusion band Hiroshima and connects them to the era of pre-redevelopment Little Tokyo. Select group members discuss the sociological and cultural pulse of the early 1970s. Dan Kuramoto describes the political movements of the 1960s out of which Asian American music emerged, while June Kuramoto relates being ridiculed in her youth for playing the Japanese koto. Percussionist Johnny Mori delves into the influence of African American, Latino, and rock ‘n roll music on his art. The film goes beyond a mere profile of a band to investigate the core and influences of Asian American music. 

Home to the VC Archives, of the largest photographic and moving image archives on Asian Pacific experiences in America, VC designed this year’s festival to honor the archives and VC’s practice of documenting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in California and beyond. In doing so,  VC Fest will present a slate of films, to celebrate that legacy, including: 

  • STAND UP FOR JUSTICE : A Production of Visual Communications and Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress STAND UP FOR JUSTICE, directed by John Esaki, presents the story of Ralph Lazo, a 17-year-old Mexican American student at Belmont High School in Los Angeles who devises a remarkable plan to support his Japanese American friends confined at Manzanar concentration camp during World War II. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive order 9066, Ralph witnesses the pain and humiliation of his Japanese American friends and their families, who are forced to sell their belongings and “evacuate” to a concentration camp in a remote California desert. Against the backdrop of the chaos when armed soldiers ordered tens of thousands of Japanese Americans to board trains and buses to unknown destinations, Ralph’s response remains a rare act of friendship, loyalty and strong principles in a time of crisis.
  • PIECES OF A DREAM: Directed by Eddie Wong, one of Visual Communications’ Founders, this lyrical documentary follows Immigrant farm laborers — Chinese, Japanese, and the Filipino manongs — who came to America through Angel Island to work the land. PIECES OF A DREAM tells the story of Asian Pacific American life and history on the Sacramento River delta. Their stories are told through a montage of voices from the past, adapted from Victor Nee and Brett de Bary’s Longtime Californ’. Delta life is captured in lush, pastel colors and presented with the music of jazz/fusion band Hiroshima. A visit to the Locke Historic District, a town founded by Chinese immigrants shows viewers the sharp realities of the present: The crumbled wooden Chinatown looks like a quaint tourist landmark, but is revealed as low-income housing for the Delta’s poor; a Japanese American farmer talks about the pressures of the large agribusiness on small farmers. Original format: Documentary, 16mm, color Following the short film program, presented on Opening Day, VC Founder Duane Kubo will join Eddie in a fireside chat, to discuss the power of community, the synergy of media-production and civil rights activism, and early days of Visual Communications.

In continuation of VC’s mission to build connections between peoples and generations through  film, video, and media, VC FILM FEST will debut 24 works from VC’s artist development programs: Digital Histories (DH), designed to encourage older adults to make films with their perspective; and the Armed With A Camera Fellowship, a program that cultivates a rising generation of artists committed to social and political changes and movements, these storytellers are encouraged to empower communities and challenge perspectives through their creative works. This year, the AWC world premieres center the perspectives of 6 creatives and their artistic response to selections from the VC Archives. The AWC 2023-2024 artist cohort is comprised of:

  • Alfred Bordallo is a CHamoru visual artist from Guåhan currently based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on recollecting and honoring the fragmented and, more importantly, repurposed facets of CHamoru identity through the analog mediums of photography and video. Bordallo’s self-taught practice began in 2018 while attending the University of Southern California, and has since grown into editorial shoots for fashion and music, live-visual (VJ) sets accompanied with lo-fi hip-hop, and to video art installations that interrogate CHamoru identity within the context of indigeneity, diaspora, and imperialism.
  • Bryson Nihipali is a visual artist born and raised in Los Angeles with a passion for both photography and filmmaking. With ancestral ties to the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands, he draws much inspiration for his photographic work from his family and their rich cultural heritage. He is a current undergraduate studying Communication and Cinematic Arts at USC. As an aspiring filmmaker, he aims to focus on the indigenous diaspora and share his unique perspective with wider audiences. Embracing his diverse background and experiences, Bryson’s artistry reflects a deep connection to his roots and a drive to create impactful visual stories.
  • Honestine Pa’ala-Fraser is a writer and social media professional born and raised in the Los Angeles area. She graduated from CSU Long Beach with a BA in Communication Studies and went on to Syracuse University to receive her MS in Digital Communications. Her work can be found in publications like Teen Vogue, POPSUGAR, and HuffPost. She is passionate about storytelling and sharing the stories of the Pasifika community and is extremely excited to be a part of this year’s cohort!
  • Kayli Kimura is a Japanese-American creative director, visual storyteller, and talent manager. Her work spans across various genres with a focus on non-fiction storytelling and musically-driven films. In addition to her directorial and cinematography work, Kayli worked in the camera department for a variety of commercials, TV shows, documentaries and music videos including projects for Netflix, Hulu, Food Network, PBS, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Telfar. Kayli is the creative director and manager for Queens, NY-born, Nigerian-American rapper, AKINYEMI. Kayli was born and raised in Boulder, CO and recently relocated to LA after living in NYC for almost 5 years. She graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine with majors in Sociology and Environmental Studies and a minor in Music.
  • Paula Kiley (she/her) is a multimedia journalist and documentary filmmaker who strives to tell stories that connect and empower people with information, the truth, and most importantly — one another. She most recently worked on a feature documentary titled Body Parts, a Sundance-selected film that explores the evolution of desire and “sex” on-screen from a female perspective — allowing women to reclaim the parts of themselves that have been objectified and exploited for decades. Paula received her BA in journalism and a minor in film at Cal State Long Beach and is currently a digital content coordinator at PBS SoCal where she produces arts and culture stories in the Greater Los Angeles area.
  • Zaynah Waseem is a graduate student at the University of Southern California pursuing her Master of Arts in Visual Anthropology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies and Media & Cultural Studies from the University of California, Riverside. As a Pakistani-American, her work uplifts the diverse stories of South Asian, Muslim communities through ethnographic film, media production, digital storytelling, and archival research. Having grown up in various communities across the world, Zaynah has a special interest in exploring themes like memory, belonging, diaspora, immigrant experiences, third culture identities, and migration. Her most recent project was with NPR’s Next Gen Radio, through which she produced a non-narrated audio piece and a multimedia story. She is now working on her first documentary film as part of her master’s thesis project.

“The VC Archives are an unsung hero of LA storytelling. We’re thrilled to center the archives in the fest this year. It has been inspiring to share the archives with the next generation of artists, and witness their practice grow VC’s legacy of community participatory media.” said Jason Tiangco, Visual Communications Archives Steward.

VC FILM FEST will feature over 150 films with: 37 World Premieres, 5 International Premieres, 11  North American/ United States Premieres, 24 West Coast Premieres and 37 Los Angeles Premieres. Highlights from the fest’s robust feature film lineup, include:

Narrative Features and Documentary Features will take us around the world: from Uyghur Region, to Monterey Park to Pakistan and beyond. Some highlights, include:

  • World Premiere of HOME COURT: This documentary feature. Directed by Erica Tanamachi traces the ascent of Ashley Chea, a Cambodian American basketball prodigy whose life intensifies amid recruitment, injury, and triumph throughout her high school career. 
  • JEWELLE: A JUST VISION, directed by Madeleine Lim, shines a hope-filled spotlight on the Lambda award-winning novelist, activist, and philanthropist, Jewelle Gomez, an Ioway/Wampanoag Native American, and Cape Verdean/Black lesbian Femme elder.
  • The North American Premiere of MADINA: Directed by Aizhan Kassymbek and starring Madina Akylbek, the narrative feature, starring Madina Akylbek, tells the story of a single mother’s day-to-day routine in a harsh Kazakhstan winter  -a battle for survival with lack of confidence in the present and lack of hope in the future. 
  • The West Coast Premiere of NIKAH, directed by Mukaddas Mijit Mijit, Bastien Ehouzan is a Narrative Feature, from the Uyghur Region, that follows a 27-year-old woman who is still single, and has to endure pressure from her family to get married. Her friend Gulnur, who lives in Paris and with whom she shares her daily life by phone, then offers her a solution.
  • World Premiere of PAPER MARRIAGE: Written and directed by Jeff Man, with The Duplass Brothers as Executive Producers, this feature narrative follows a young professional seeking an U.S. green card enlists the help of a directionless slacker to stage a marriage. The two strangers have less than a year to convince everyone, including themselves, that they are a real couple. 
  • World Premiere of SHAKA, A STORY OF ALOHA: Directed by Alexander Bocchieri, this feature documentary invites you on a global journey, from a temple in Japan to surf breaks in Brazil and the white sandy shores of Hawai’i, to discover the Shaka hand signʻs origin, meanings and why itʻs the secret to paradise.  
  • The LA Premiere of WAKHRI: Written and directed by Iram Parveen Bilal. This drama travels to Pakistan to follow a widowed school teacher who becomes a viral sensation overnight when she accidentally unleashes her unabashed opinions on social media. This newfound fame comes with its own challenges as she must navigate archaic mindsets and secret identities.  
  • World Premiere of Risa Morimoto’s WE CARE:  The documentary feature follows four Asian American families – The Shahanes in Cedar Park TX, the Herrs in Los Angeles, the Simtumuangs in New Jersey, and the Woos in Hemet, CA as they share their personal experiences, struggles and self-discoveries caregiving for aging family members.  

DEMOCRACY SERIES:  This year, more than 80 nations will hold elections; and the current political commentary grows more urgent by the day, as Democracy seems to slowly break down in governments around the globe. The Democracy Series will be a courageous space to reflect on Democracy from different nations, through films including: 

  • World Premiere of DISSIDENTS: Directed by Yi Chen, the film follows three Chinese dissidents’ fight for democracy against a superpower through art, petition, and grassroots organizing, but not even exile is safe for them in the U.S.
  • LA Premiere of AND SO IT BEGINS: In a decades-long nonfiction saga of the Philippines, director Ramona Diaz presents the latest chapter on her homeland as the despotic reign of President Rodrigo Duterte is coming to an end. And So It Begins proffers unbridled access to all the key players in the months leading up to the country’s 2022 presidential election. With her keen observational eye and deep knowledge of the socio-political history and landscape, Diaz continues to find her own forms of storytelling as political disruption.
  • LA Premiere of BREAKING THE CYCLE: This documentary feature, directed by Aekaphong Saransate, Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn,  captures the political awakening among Thais after the rise and fall of Thanatorn, a young politician who calls to end the cycle of coups d’etat. The film explores the 2019 election in Thailand, which marked the end of five years of full military rule and a new group of young politicians who campaign against an authoritarian constitution, sparking hope and a once-in-a-generation youth movement.
  • LA Premiere of INVISIBLE NATION: With unprecedented access to Taiwan’s sitting head of state, director Vanessa Hope investigates the election and tenure of Tsai Ing-wen, the first female president of Taiwan. Thorough, incisive and bristling with tension, Invisible Nation is a living account of Tsai’s tightrope walk as she balances the hopes and dreams of her nation between the colossal geopolitical forces of the U.S. and China.

PACIFIC CINEWAVES: Pacific Cinewaves programming celebrates stories and storytellers emerging from Hawai’i, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Guåhan (Guam), Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Samoa, and throughout the Pacific region. Film presentations include: 

  • US Premiere of INKY PINKY PONKY (Dirs.: Ramon TeWake, Damon Fepuleai) Written by  Amanaki Prescott-Faletau, this feature film paints a tale of High School crushes with the new arrival of the fakaleiti (2 Spirited) Lisa causes a stir, particularly with rugby captain Mose.  
  • LA Premiere of KŪKINI (Dir. Mitchel Merrik) LA Premiere: Written by Paula Fuga, In 1790 Hawaiʻi, an elite warrior must leave his family behind when sent on a deadly mission to report on the bloody war waged by Kamehameha against Maui. When captured by the enemy, he is miraculously saved by someone who has a message for him of their own.
  • LA Premiere of LEA TUPU’ANGA / MOTHER TONGUE (Dir. Vea Mafile’o): Written by Luciane Buchanan, this short film follows a young speech therapist who is disconnected from her Tongan heritage and lies about her Tongan language skills to get a job. Out of her depth, she must find a way to communicate or risk her patient’s life.
  • THE SHAUN NUA PROJECT (Jess Speight, Jake Zielenski): Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion and USC defensive line coach Shaun Nua returns to his home island of American Samoa to donate uniforms to every high school football team. This short documentary celebrates the enduring spirit of American Samoa and highlights Shaun’s profound impact on his community, drawing powerful parallels to his own upbringing and the lack of support for athletes on the island.

OUR STORYTELLING POWER: This short film program is curated from arts organizations that  encourage community-centered filmmaking that begins with the community members as the lead creatives. Working with peers from the Color Congress cohort and beyond, this documentary lineup will feature Asian, Black and Latine communities from New York, Philadelphia, Rio Grande Valley, and San Diego, and will embody a multicultural solidarity that amplifies the combined storytelling power that can impact all of our lives. Participating films and organizations include:

  • THE BOTANICAL GARDENS: AN URBAN OASIS: Produced with guidance from ENTRE FILM CENTER in Rio Grande Valley, TX, this short documentary features archival footage of the McAllen Nature Center and interviews with Jessica Tanguma and Angelina Vasquez, 2 former park employees. 
  • THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER: MIGRANTS IN THE WORKPLACE: Produced through EDUCATION VIDEO CENTER in New York, NY, this documentary explores the dangers of workplace exploitation among immigrant communities.
  • STAYING PUT: Produced by Philadelphia’s Chinatown Community Development Corporation, with guidance from SCRIBE VIDEO CENTER’S PRECIOUS PLACES COMMUNITY HISTORY PROJECT, the documentary traces voices from the 1960s to present day to chronicle Philadelphia Chinatown’s history of community and resistance to external forces of development, gentrification, and erasure. 
  • LA NUEVA FLOR: Directed by Emmanuel Enriquez, with guidance from PacArts Reel Voices, this documentary follows a San Diego family as they discuss their past, present, and future familial blooms. 

Tickets go on sale April 15, 2024.  For more information, please visit
Stay tuned for forthcoming announcements regarding attending talent, special presentations, panel programming and more!

More News