A Rogue Film Festival Earns Respect (Sort Of)
The New York Asian Film Festival has an image to uphold, based on a well-honed story of low-rent beginnings and disreputable programming. This familiar narrative starts in 2002 with five young guys and their credit cards, and embraces rowdy, fiercely obsessive audiences jammed into downtown theaters watching movies about young Japanese women whose breasts double as machine guns.
Asked where his baby ranks among the city’s annual film conclaves, Grady Hendrix, one of the festival’s founders and its longtime spokesman, toes the line. “Firmly at the bottom,” he declares.
He’s exaggerating for effect, but he’s serious about maintaining the event’s renegade character. “In terms of that film festival circuit, we’re pretty much the outsiders looking in,” he said in an interview. “We don’t have enough fancy parties.”
Maybe not. But whatever it lacks in red carpets and seafood towers, it makes up for in the quality, quantity and variety of films. As it celebrates its 10th year with a program of 40 features, showing Friday through July 14 at the Walter Reade Theater and Japan Society, it’s time to acknowledge that this outsider actually belongs in the top tier of New York’s film festivals, next to some very serious, very inside gatherings.