After nearly a quarter century, San Diego’s Asian Film Festival has established itself so firmly in the region that it has become a proving ground for local filmmakers themselves.
When it kicks off on Thursday, the 24th annual festival will highlight the work of five area artists.
Among them are Joseph Mangat, who graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts and from San Diego State University with a Master of Arts in TV, Film and New Media.
Mangat directed “Divine Factory,” a documentary exploring the lives of factory workers in the Philippines making inexpensive Catholic saint statues. The workers, many of whom are LGBTQ+, find their lives suddenly altered when the Pope visits the Philippines and mentions the spiritual power of one of the statues.
“Initially, the idea began as my thesis film for SDSU,” said Mangat, in an interview. “It was a fiction film at the beginning. I wanted to create a narrative film that examines the Philippine diaspora in the U.S. I was interested in the culture clash, particularly from the perspective of new immigrants who happened to be religiously devout.”
But he began location scouting in the Philippines and after visiting a factory and getting to meet and know many of the workers, his idea for the narrative film changed.
“Spending more time with the workers, I began to understand their struggles with money, religion and how working at the factory blurred those lines,” he said.
Mangat’s film will make its U.S. premiere on Tuesday, Nov. 7, but he won’t be in attendance because his film is also being screened in Taiwan around the same time. Still, that hasn’t dampened the excitement for Mangat, who has had other works of his shown at the Festival.
“It’s always a joy to showcase your work to the people closest to you, and it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to experience that again with this film,” he said.
Mangat’s film is just one of more than 160 films that will be screened during the festival. They include dramas, rom-coms, documentaries and “The Oath of the Sword,” a 1914 silent film that is the oldest-known film by an Asian American production company.
The festival’s Artistic Director, Brian Hu, emphasizes the diversity of the films being shown.
“It’s 2023,” said Hu. “Can we laugh already? Coming out of a global pandemic, we need to reserve a week to throw our hands up and laugh. At the world and at ourselves. So, we’re opening the festival with a game show comedy and closing with a coming-of-age movie about mustaches. In between will be time loops, love triangles and a vengeful ostrich.”
The festival runs from Nov. 2 to Nov. 11. The festival’s primary venue will be the Regal Edwards Mira Mesa theater, with additional screenings and events at the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Museum of Photographic Arts, both in Balboa Park; and at the UCSD Price Center Theater and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, both in La Jolla.
For information and tickets, visit www.sdaff.org