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The Birth of the Asian World Film Festival

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The Birth of the Asian World Film Festival


By Georges N. Chamchoum

The Asian World Film Festival (AWFF) showcases the best of a broad selection of Asian World cinema in Los Angeles to draw greater recognition to the region’s wealth of filmmakers and strengthening ties between the Asian and Hollywood film industries. The festival is supported by patrons from the diverse Asian communities in Los Angeles as well as anyone who is passionate about foreign and independent cinema.

Uniting through cross-cultural collaboration, our festival champions films from over fifty countries across Asia, spanning from Turkey to Japan and Russia to India. This festival is unique in that it screens Oscar and Golden Globe-submitted films from Asia for Best Foreign Language Film. Since its inception, we have proudly screened over 100 Oscar® and 50 Golden Globe submissions.

We have shed light on many Countries such as South Korea, North Korea, India, Japan, Taiwan, Central Asia as a whole Vietnam, Philippines, China, Thailand, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Malaysia and many more… every year we showcase 4 or 5 countries. This year 2023, Vietnam is ready to burst open to the world.

AWFF was founded by the former Minister of Culture from Kyrgyzstan Sadyk Sher-Nyaz, who initiated the idea of this Festival, and Asel Sherniyazova, Brett Syson, and Georges N. Chamchoum in 2014. It was born out of frustration that the Asian Cinema was disregarded in Hollywood while we know the wealth of talent that comes out of this amazing continent.

But everything changed since PARASITE came out in 2019.

We are sanctioned by many Ministries and Film Commissions most notably by the Minister of Cultures of Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, South Korea and Korean Cultural Center in Los Angles, Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles, Taiwan Ministry of Culture to name a few.

After 8 years of AWFF, how do we see the achievement of this festival? I believe in my heart, and of course people will say it is from just one angle that we have achieved a miracle. We made a giant leap forward with the Asian & Asian American Cinema. Up until the early 2010’s Asians in Hollywood were still behind back doors. In 2015 when we started the Asian World Film Festival, front doors started opening. In 2019 came PARASITE which opened a flood gate to anything that is Asian. Let us not forget Asia has over 50 Nations, from the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean to Japan, from Russia by way of Georgia, Armenia, Central Asia all the way to China, India, and South Korea. What an amazing wealth of talents. We at the AWFF we are proud to be a small part of this resurgence of the Asian Cinema.

Imagine by our third year we already had over One Billion Impressions. There are over eight thousand festivals in the world – that is no less than 12 festivals a day! What makes us unique is Oscar® & Golden Globes submitted movies make up 85% of our program, which means we are focusing on promoting these movies to go to the next level, which is the shortlist, then a nomination and finally a win like PARASITE. That is why our Festival is at the end of the Award Season – always the first week of November. The remaining movies come from little known countries like Yakutia, Buryatia, Bashkortostan, Uzbekistan Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, and the likes. You can never imagine the outstanding movies that come from these countries. For example, for 2 years in a row, Yakutia won the Snow Leopard Best Movie!

Here are some stats about the festival in the last 2 years. In the past 8 years we have screened over 300 movies from all Asian regions and Asian American movies. What I love about our festival is our Team Members mingling with the audience and talking to them at the end of the screenings. Two words always pop-out about our Program: “How inspiring!” This is the greatest compliment one can say about us.

How do I describe the co-operation between AWFF and HFPA and other Organization such as the Academy of Motion Pictures? What are the main things we achieve?

We work closely with AMPAS to get our screenings in their Calendar. We have many Board Members that are AMPAS members. We partnered with ASIA SOCIETY, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, CAPE (Coalition for Asian and Pacific Islander in Entertainment) and we are immensely proud to partner with the HFPA, and most of all to have their unconditional support. I believe the HFPA will have a bright future if they stay out of politics. Hollywood, “period” should stay out of Politics. Cinema is about entertainment, glamour, beauty, and most of all TALENT! Movies are all about Entertainment. I miss the Hollywood of the 40’s, 50’s 60’s 70’s when it was all about talent and performance and not about inclusion, politically correctness, nor about religion, creed, or color.

WE need to go back to this period. These days in Hollywood, people are afraid to tell the truth, everyone is afraid that whatever you say might turn against you and be taken out of context.

We are in an incredibly sad period in Hollywood History, reminiscent of McCarthyism’s blacklisting in the early 50’s. I am confident that it will change so we can go back to what movies meant, what Hollywood meant!

We are one of 3 Festivals in the World (the other two, Venice & Toronto) that has the HFPA Scholarship given to Short Film. For us it is most definitely a stamp of approval that we are doing something right.

A moto we live by: “Together we can make a difference!” a difference has been made in small strides – one pace at a time.


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