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Four Films to See at Next Week’s DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival

Festival director Melissa Bisagni on the films she's most excited about.

A still from the film Bad Axe, showing at the DC APA Film Festival. Courtesy of IFC Films.

The DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival is returning  July 14 to 17 for its 22nd year. This year’s event will include both virtual live showings and in-person screenings held at Alethia Tanner Park, Lincoln Theatre, Eaton DC, and several other venues. The festival highlights the diverse experiences of Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian filmmakers and focuses on stories set in the Asian diaspora. “Even though so many of our films are tackling hard conversations this year, there’s so much joy in it,” says festival director Melissa Bisagni.

With over 65 films showing from nine countries, it’s hard to know where to start, so Washingtonian asked Bisagni which films she’s most excited about. She says these recommendations have a shared through line: community building through shared humanity. All four will be shown in-person, with live Q&As with their filmmakers after the screenings.

Poster courtesy of Isaac Halasima.

1. Waterman

Waterman follows the story of Native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and the father of modern-day surfing. The documentary is narrated by Jason Momoa and features commentary from surfing stars like Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore, who won in 2020 when the sport was first included in the Olympics. Bisagni says the film is, in part, about sharing excellence with others, as Kahanamoku trained a swimmer who eventually beat one of his own world records. “That is something I really think our community can pass onto other communities,” Bisagni says. “Let’s revel in the joy of other people’s accomplishments.”

July 14, Alethia Tanner Park, free with registration. Register here. 


Poster courtesy of Bobbi Jo Hart.

2. Fanny: The Right to Rock

Fanny: The Right to Rock features a Filipina American-founded garage band from the 70s that became FANNY, the first all-female band to release an LP with a major label. Beloved by David Bowie and yet lost to history, FANNY fought against racism, sexism, and homophobia, paving the way for other all-female groups such as The Runaways and The Go Go’s— whose members speak in the film about FANNY’s influence. Fanny: The Right to Rock also chronicles FANNY’s return to music fifty years later. “[The band was] creating community through the magnetism of their talent and energy and doing the hard work,” Bisagni says.

July 15, Crescendo Studios, Falls Church, $20. Buy a ticket here.


Poster courtesy of GTG Entertainment/Mr. Fahrenheit.

3. 38 at the Garden

Directed by Frank Chi, a filmmaker with ties to DC, 38 at the Garden centers around Asian American basketball star Jeremy Lin’s rise in the NBA. The film’s title references the 38 points Lin scored at Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers, beating out basketball star Kobe Bryant and leading the Knicks to a resounding victory. Bisagni says the film is about being “othered” as an Asian American, but it also speaks to the universal experience of feeling like you don’t belong. At the same time, the film addresses what representation means for minority communities. “On screen, there are people like [comedian] Hasan Minhaj, talking about seeing Jeremy Lin playing in the NBA [for] the first time, and just how the sense of belonging flooded him, and recognition flooded him, watching this guy that he didn’t personally know,” says Bisagni.

July 16, Lincoln Theatre, free with registration. Register here.


Poster courtesy of IFC Films.

4. Bad Axe

Bad Axe documents filmmaker David Siev’s experience after he left New York City for his rural hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan at the start of the pandemic. His family struggles to keep their restaurant afloat amid growing violence toward Asian Americans. The Mexican-American and Cambodian-American family also grapples with old wounds dating back to Cambodia’s genocide and Trump-era, anti-immigrant racism. They find themselves speaking out during the Black Lives Matter movement in their conservative community. The film is intimate, says Bisagni, as a portrait of just one American family— yet it captures what people from so many different backgrounds went through during the pandemic. “It’s something that Americans in the future will reference about the time of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bisagni says.

July 17, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Silver Spring, $20. Buy a ticket here

Honorable Mentions 

While the four films above are the ones Bisagni hopes everyone will see, she’s also especially excited about Death on Evergreen, a murder mystery directed by a young woman from Northern Virginia, Blurring the Color Line, a film which looks at the Asian American experience amid Jim Crow, and Dealing with Dad, which grapples with familial bonds and depression.

Learn more about the films from the filmmakers on the DC Asian Pacific American Festival Instagram. 

Grace Deng
Editorial Fellow