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June 6, 2022

Short Films Celebrating Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage

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NYICFF’s Teaching With Film Series | AAPI Filmmakers to Celebrate in Your Classroom

By Martine McDonald

The New York International Children’s Film Festival has curated innovative, reflective films for the young at heart for 25 years. With the launch of FilmEd Classroom, a free streaming film and curricula library, learning environments nationally—classroom educators, home schooling parents, teaching artists—are invited to enjoy the humor, heart and socially engaged imagination of our unique film programs in their own community. We’re thrilled to connect with the Share My Lesson education community!

As an arts organization dedicated to amplifying international storytellers, we celebrate film as a medium of collaboration, connection and empowerment. With a particular mindfulness to amplify historically underrepresented voices, our films invite new perspectives, deconstruct stereotypes, and celebrate the stories of young leaders and innovators.

Along the journey, we’re honored to support emerging and established artists innovating their craft and industry. Here are a few Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)-led filmmakers and production teams educators and students can learn with. 

Elizabeth Ito

Elizabeth Ito

Welcome to My Life
(NYCIFF Audience Award, 2017)
Animation, Elizabeth Ito; 2015, 9 minutes
Recommended ages: 8+

When animator Elizabeth Ito began to develop her short film, Welcome to My Life, her experience as a fourth-generation Japanese American was an entry point to developing her characters. “Something that stood out to me about my brother was that he’s funny and kindhearted, but because he’s a stronger-looking dude, people react a certain way to that sometimes.” The film uses an animated mockumentary format to follow the experiences of T-Kesh as a soft spoken teenage monster in a human world.

Educators enrolled in NYICFF’s film guides receive free access to enjoy the films and apply the lesson resources across subject areas to explore themes of inclusion and self-affirmation featuring reflective dialogue prompts on identity, narrative protagonists and stereotypes, a film glossary, and exclusive behind-the-scenes gems from our filmmakers. 

Explore Welcome To My Life on NYICFF’s FilmEd Classroom page here on Share My Lesson, and the film guide here.

Being a fourth-generation Japanese American growing up in Los Angeles also served as inspiration for Elizabeth Ito's latest series, Netflix’s City Of Ghosts. NYICFF recently had the opportunity to talk with Ito about her work.

Remote video URL

Jess X. Snow

Jess X. SnowAfterEarth
Documentary, Jess X. Snow, 2021, 14 minutes
Recommended ages: 10+

“If there’s anything I hope for the future, I hope we do not forget what love is.” Kayla Briët’s voice rings clear with care in a heartfelt invitation overlayed across stunning landscapes, moments of connection, murmurations of birds and cultural anchors shared through director Jess X. Snow’s immersive short film, AfterEarth. With the climate crisis impacting their cultural homes in Hawaii, the Philippines, China and North America, we’re led by the testimonies of four women working to preserve the volcano, ocean, land and air for future generations. Additionally, featuring a chant by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a poem by Isabella Borgeson, and a heartfelt reflection between Wan Ping Oshiro and her son, poet Kit Yan.

Poet and producer Kit Yan illuminated the vision: “I believe that my body is its own small planet in which I can heal and grow my own flesh and spirit in the ways that I want to.” Joining a cast and crew of LGBTQIA+ Asians and Pacific Islanders of all ages, these moments of reflection offer the viewer a poetic entry to engage their own experience of place, culture and identity. AfterEarth has been made available for limited-time streaming for Care Package, curated by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Featuring poems, meditations, films and other “cultural nutrients for times like this,” the collection features resources for artistic inspiration, self-care and educational resources for all ages.

Consider adapting NYICFF’s FilmEd Classroom biopoem writing prompt from Robertino Zambrano’s Accents with your class in response to this film.

Hui Tong & Kelly Ng

Hui Tong & Kelly NgCurtain Up!
Documentary, Hui Tong & Kelly Ng, 2019, 69 minutes
Recommended ages: 8+
English and Mandarin, with English subtitles

The music of Disney’s Frozen has captured the hearts and minds of children around the world. In Curtain Up!, a spirited documentary centering on PS 124 in New York City’s Chinatown, co-directors Hui Tong and Kelly Ng invite viewers behind the scenes to witness both delight in the craft, play and creative triumph found by the students and also the challenge of deconstructing stereotypes. From rehearsal, teambuilding and taking the stage, along the way we see that the theatrical experience for the students and viewers alike is a celebration of culture and community.

Curtain Up! also shines a caring spotlight on the arts educators who work to facilitate rehearsals with patience, humor and heart. And of course, teachers and (and filmmakers!) are always learning, too. Ng was moved. “I personally learned hanging out with the kids of PS 124, there's no one defining Asian American experience. … I really hope that our audience can take away [valuing] each individual based on their personalities, their strengths, their interests.”

Curtain Up! co-directors Hui Tong, Kelly Ng, and students William and Charlotte joined NYICFF recently to share the trailer for the film and their experience of making the film.

Ng’s vision remains intact: “I hope [Curtain Up!] paves the way for more parents and teachers themselves to encourage children in general to pursue arts. I think we are also seeing more diverse Asian Americans being on the big screen and also cast in different characters.” 

Remote video URL

Curtain Up! is available to rent and own internationally exclusively on Montage Play, a streaming library dedicated to Asian and AAPI independent films, documentaries, shorts and series for an international audience. Educational licensing is also available. 

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Hinaleimoana Wong-KaluKapaemahu
Animation, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson; 2020, 9 minutes
Recommended ages: 10+
Hawaiian, with English subtitles

Kapaemahu reveals the healing power of four mysterious stones on Waikiki Beach - and the legendary dual male and female spirits within them. Co-Director Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian teacher dedicated to using digital media to protect and perpetuate Indigenous languages and traditions. The visually stunning Kapaemahu was screened in NYICFF’s 2021 Becoming Ourselves: Breaking the Binary program.

Narrated in Olelo Niihau, this film would be perfect for cross-curricular lessons year-round to center the cultural and historical contributions of underrepresented Indigenous and nonbinary people. 

Use NYICFF’s FilmEd Glossary and Storyboard Sheet on Share My Lesson to expand your film literacy and storytelling activities. 

Expand the conversation with students to reflect on the collaborative tools co-directors and animators use to compose the story.

  • Flashbacks
  • Montage
  • Voice-over narration

Short-listed for a 2021 Oscar, Kapaemahu is currently available to screen on YouTube courtesy of PBS.

NYICFF’s FilmEd Classroom is designed to support educators in bringing mindful, inspiring and culturally responsive tools for teaching with film to learners everywhere. We look forward to exploring your experience of the films that come to life in your classroom.

Asian American and Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander Heritage

Join the Share My Lesson community in celebrating the generations of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who have enriched global society, playing a critical role in its development and success. With our wealth of prek-12 digital resources, you and your students can explore the remarkable contributions that AANHPI Americans have given to history, culture, the sciences, industry, government and more.

About the Author

Martine McDonald is the Director of Education at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. With an MFA in Social and Environmental Arts Practice, her work at the intersection of peace education and film curation inform her facilitation of film as an essential resource in arts education.

New York International Children's Film Festival

FilmEd Classroom is New York International Children’s Film Festival’s film education portal. Our film-based K-8 curriculaare designed to provide meaningful arts engagement, support media literacy, and hone critical thinking skills.

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