Linda Mabalot looks through images to be included in the organization’s 1984 large-scale photo exhibit “Planting Roots: Filipinos in California.” (Courtesy of Visual Communications)

The 39th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), presented by Visual Communications (VC), will be held from May 4 to 13.

The annual showcase for Asian American, Native Hawaian, Pacific Islander, diasporic and Asian international cinema returns with in-person programming slated to take place in Little Tokyo, Gardena Cinemas, and Regal L.A. Live, along with online programming.

On Thursday, May 4, the festival will kick off with a community celebration party at the Japanese American National Museum, followed by Opening Night programming on Friday, May 5, with the world premiere of Armed with a Camera Vol. 2023 (AWC). This year, AWC will feature six short films produced by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander artists, in reflection of VC’s renewed commitment to uplifting Native Hawaiian and Pasifika stories.

“As an organization, we recognize deeply that in order for us to build collective power we must in tandem confront issues that divide us; that privilege some parts of our own community over others and render our Indigenous relations invisible,” shares VC Executive Director Francis Cullado. “In our growing practice to challenge definitions and boundaries, we’re always examining what we can do better. We’re honored to center Native Hawaiian and Pasifika artists in the 2023 edition of AWC as well as our Pacific Cinewaves program.

“This is a continuation of our intentions from early works like ‘Omai Fa‘Atasi: Samoa Mo Samoa’ and ‘Na Pua O Laka,’ and a renewed commitment to uplift and amplify Indigenous storytellers in spaces where Asian-American artists may historically hold privilege. We have to amplify artists who utilize media to preserve cultural traditions and present diasporic stories if we are being earnest in our efforts to truly build community and collective power.”

In addition to AWC Vol. 2023, the festival will feature several programs reflecting Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Indigenous perspectives to amplify the contemporary storytelling of Indigenous peoples that universally connects all of us.

A central theme to the 39th edition of LAAPFF is wellness and joy, in continuation of VC’s year-round efforts to uplift the legacy of former Executive Director Linda Mabalot and her dedication to cultivating emerging generations of storytellers. This year commemorates the 20th year since she became an ancestor. VC has curated a series of healing and renewal-focused programs and activities for filmmakers and artists to participate in. These will precede film exhibitions throughout the festival. The festival’s renewal towards joy and wellness reflects Mabalot’s vision of creating community with artists and allies. 

“We rededicate our renewed work and the 39th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival to Linda’s everlasting values as we honor the 20th anniversary of her passing,” says Cullado. “In doing so, we acknowledge that our creative communities have experienced profound grief and loss, in addition to other challenges through recent social, political, and cultural movements. As an organization, we’re looking at ways the festival and our year-round programming can offer a space for care and compassion, where artists and filmmakers can deeply connect with one another without prerequisite or requirement.”

“Hito Hata: Raise the Banner” (1980), directed by Duane Kubo and Robert A. Nakamura. May 5, 6 p.m. at JANM.

Screenings in Little Tokyo

The Visual Communications Archives, one of the largest photographic and moving image collections on Asian Pacific experiences in America, will exhibit the 4k restoration of “Hito Hata: Raise the Banner” (directed by Robert A. Nakamura and Duane Kubo), the first feature-length film made by and about Asian Americans.

Continuing the themes of communities being threatened with redevelopment, the program will be followed with the 2k digitization of “The Fall of the I-Hotel” (directed by Curtis Choy), in which a San Francisco Manilatown community is wiped out by urban renewal, and 50 old-timers are forcibly evicted from the International Hotel by 300 cops in the dead of night.

Digital Histories, Documentaries

“The Tale of Uncle Frank and Stories for Another Day” (2023), directed by Stony Furutani. Part of Digital Histories 2023, May 7, 12 p.m., JANM.

The festival is proud to present the world premiere of short documentary films from Digital Histories, VC’s media production and storytelling program for older adults.

Since its creation in 2003, Digital Histories has provided a space for seniors to create and share their stories and experiences through film and media.

Storytelling of lived experience is a powerful way to grow empathy and build solidarity. From a son’s desire to connect with his Bengali father; to the wayfinding brilliance of Pasifika voyagers; to the tender days of an aging Japanese mother with dementia and her caregiving daughter; to the complexity of a woman’s kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan; this year’s Documentary Program welcomes in a learning experience to better understand each other so that we can navigate life together.

“Snip Snip Snap Ikebana Sensei” (2023), directed by Glen Tao. Part of Digital Histories 2023, May 7, 12 p.m., JANM.

Narrative Features

With 16 selections in this program, each film brings in a perspective from all over the globe; united in varying degrees of connection and joy. Travel to Japan to meet an old picture book writer named Yamazaki, and understand what romance and love means to him as an elderly gay man. In Pasadena, we’ll meet Laela and Colin, two long-lost high school sweethearts who unexpectedly reunite 23 years after being separated during the 1998 riots in Jakarta. Visit Iran to meet Esmail, a newly named patriarch, and his family that is constantly arguing and under pressure from various debts in the face of sanctions against Iran. And enter an ethereal, mythical tale of a colonial-era boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, to meet the mischievous 16-year-old Jaivardhana and his crush Tarini.

“Mia’s Mission” (2022), directed by Jireh Deng. Part of “You Are Here,” May 12, 6:30 p.m., Regal L.A. Live.

Shorts Programs

Amongst narrative shorts, some themes featured are: a stubborn father who refuses to move unless a broken-down van comes with him; a peek at the life of Afong Moy, the first documented Chinese woman to come to the U.S.; and a Samoan American who is torn between playing football and pursuing his hidden passion for acting.

Amongst documentary shorts, some themes featured include: amplifying the protest movement in China; two indigenous brothers from the Solomon Islands navigating a small conservative town in rural Georgia; and an intimate profile on Mia Yamamoto, her connection to L.A.’s neighborhoods and her work to bring visibility to the LGBTQ community.

“They Served” (2023), directed by Don Bannai. Part of Digital Histories 2023, May 7, 12 p.m., JANM.

Cinema Musica

This year’s Cinema Musica program continues to broaden the experience of cinema and music; not simply via a pop cultural music video form, but dissolves the boundaries to welcome in experimental narrative film and verite documentary filmmaking. From a rhythmic dream of drawn line and motion, to a traditional Ryūkyūan song and dance, to a time capsule of a healing anthem’s moment in time, this year’s Cinema Musia program is bathed in melody and sounds the inspirational messages of healing and connection.

“Dragonfly” (2023), directed by Julia Morizawa. Part of “Lost & Found,” May 7, 8:45 p.m., JANM.


This year’s animated short films highlights a community of filmmakers expanding the format including stories about the horrors of war, gentrification through the eyes of a child, a call to action about the barbaric practices of child marriage, and tales of the undocumented struggle. LAAPFF 2023 also brings the first independently made animated feature film from the Philippines, a labor love by its creators, taking its dramatic conventions into absurdist, but poignant humor. Though animated, these films are reflections of everyone.

C3 Conference

This year’s C3 features courageous and compassionate conversations focused on the wellness practices of artists and creators. The industry has a notorious reputation for being a very demanding work environment, with long hours, tight deadlines, and a culture of overworking. Unfortunately, these harmful practices often lead to high levels of stress and burnout. As we deepen our understanding of wellness and joy at this year’s festival, it’s important to address these issues and explore ways to build a more sustainable future for ourselves, while still meeting the demands of the job.

“No No Girl” (2021), directed by Paul Daisuke Goodman. May 10, 4 p.m., Gardena Cinema.

Emerging Talent

As one of the first film festivals on the continent to center Asian and NHPI storytelling, LASPFF has become a champion for Asian and NHPI storytellers, serving as a beacon for industry professionals who are looking for emerging talent. This year, Special Presentations include: “No No Girl,” which explores the current impact of WWII and the incarceration of Japanese Americans as one young daughter digs into the past to uncover a mystery that has been buried in her family’s history; and “Past Lives,” a modern romance in the diaspora of two childhood friends who reunite two decades later in New York.

“Bentobox” (2022), directed by Olivia Owyeung. Part of “From Visions to Reel,” May 11, 6:30 p.m., Regal L.A. Live.

Cultivating Connections

“Visual Communications is an organization founded on community,” festival organizers said. “As media producers, we amplify the voices of the communities that we serve. As exhibitors, we bridge audiences to stories that can inspire communities to catalyze change. When we gather around film presentations and panel discussions, we look to our VC values to help us connect to audiences in a most meaningful and impactful way.

“We deepen our practice of programming in venues, like the Japanese American National Museum and Gardena Cinema, that have a legacy of cultivating connections with the communities of Los Angeles. We desire to present programming that complements that legacy, helps strengthen solidarity and activates storytelling towards impact.

“When we select venues, we continue our journey of how to make our programs  accessible for everyone. As we look for venues for film presentations, we welcome the opportunity to activate non-theatrical venues that are more meaningful to our audiences. And we look for venues that have intentional access offering for folks with varying access needs.”

“Becoming Yamazushi” (2022), directed by G Yamazawa. Part of “Your Son,” May 13, 2 p.m., Regal L.A. Live.

LAAPFF is an in-person event at select cinemas in the Los Angeles area. In-person venues include the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Aratani Theatre @ Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), CENTRL Office Downtown Los Angeles, Gardena Cinema, and Regal L.A. Live. Several free or pay-what-you-can film programs are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Select programs will be presented online on Eventive. Recordings of in-person panel discussions will be released on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channels. Tickets will only be available for purchase online. For more information, visit

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