The 36th edition of Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival has lots of short programs to choose from. After exploring “Pacific Cinewaves” earlier, we now look at two short films shown in LAAPFF’s “Across the Dinner Table” program.

QUẬN 13

Paris is home to one of the largest and oldest Vietnamese communities in the world; however, little has been documented about it. Hieu Gray’s short documentary debut, QUẬN 13, which refers to the Vietnamese name for Paris’ 13th arrondissement or district, is about the Vietnamese diaspora in Paris told through the lens of food.

Award-winning journalist and producer, Hieu Gray, takes us on a 15 minute tour of Paris’ Vietnamese food culture, with one question in mind: “What does it mean to be Vietnamese?“. Fascinated with people who adapted their kitchen to their new homes, she visits a handful of talented Viet Kieus who thrive in the French capital. Hieu mentions how Vietnamese restaurants are often hidden in plain sight. “Do et Riz” is a good example of that. The owner of this busy restaurant claims the success behind Vietnamese food in this culinary city is the ability to give Parisians the desire to go to Vietnam – and because Vietnamese cooking requires less oil/fat, while the food is a mix of sweet, savory and sour. Hieu’s laid back style of interviewing works well with establishing a sense of familiarity and innocence, that makes her interviewees open up to her. Professor Quan Pham, owner of “Drapeau de la Fidelité” for 33 years, shares a glimpse of his life through old family photos and shows Hieu the secret behind his very own pho. Thinking about Vietnam makes him emotional. Paris will never be his home, it’s just a residence. The fluent cultural identity with their kitchen being the heart of every Vietnamese community, is a very central topic, no matter who she interviews.

QUẬN 13 makes you want to visit Paris’ 13th district, just to experience the same treatment Hieu Gray serves us on a platter. It’s more of a delicious ode to the Vietnamese cooking culture than it is an in-depth documentary, but it does exactly what it’s set out to do – make you hungry.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘Yai Nin’

Ninlawan Pinyo is the matriarch of a Thai American family, who hustled for her fortune by founding a pork sausage factory in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Even though Nin owns Naem Pinyo, she still gets up every day to makes her very own recipe of naem – a style of fermented pork. Just like every family business, she gets some help. Her brother manages the factory operation and workers, who all can Nin “mom”. Since she treats everyone as if they’re her own (grand)children, being all overprotective and constantly worrying, he often tells her to go take a break. Hi-tech as she is, she checks the cameras wherever she goes on her tablet, to make sure everything in the factory is running smoothly, although she claims “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself“.

Champ Ensminger‘s first short film in almost a decade, is not just a character study of Ninlawan, the director also explores Nin’s long distance relationship with her family in America, and through some nifty animation she explains her tough past, raising four children and losing her husband. Yai Nin is a buoyant short film that looks and sounds beautiful (the first thing you hear is Satta Rojanagatanyoo‘s energetic score) but also tells a strong, powerful story filled with rich emotional notes.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

QUẬN 13 and Yai Nin are part of LAAPFF’s “Across the Dinner Table” short program. This program is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59pm PT.
More information can be found HERE

LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘QUẬN 13’ & ‘Yai Nin’

QUẬN 13

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 27, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 15 min.

PRODUCTION: A Hieu Gray Creative production. Producer: Hieu Gray.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Hieu Gray. Editing: Richard Van. Cinematography: David Woo. Score: Bao Vo.

WITH: Hieu Gray.

Yai Nin

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 27, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 13 min.

PRODUCTION: Producers: Michael Peak, Kristy Peak, Michele Choy, Alec Ansusinha. Executive producers: Gerald Ensminger Sr., Styles Upon Styles.

CREW: Director/editing: Champ Ensminger. Cinematography: Liam Morgan. Score: Satta Rojanagatanyoo.

WITH: Ninlawan Pinyo.

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