Spanning nine days and more than 100 films, the Sacramento International Film Festival is hard to encapsulate. But a thread of cultural inclusiveness runs through this year's festival and the long-running event as a whole.
The festival will continue its Cine Latino, Cine Soul and Cine Asia programs in its ninth edition, running Saturday through April 28.
Cine Asia, often devoted to subtitled works from abroad, this year joins Cine Soul and Cine Latino in highlighting made-in-the-USA films.
"These films are from a particular culture but nonetheless show a uniquely American experience," said festival director Martin Anaya, describing the short "Lil Tokyo Reporter" and feature "Model Minority."
The films constitute the Cine Asia program and share the bill at 2:30 p.m. April 28 in the Delta King Theatre.
Written and directed by Lily Mariye, the gritty, sexually frank coming-of-age story "Model Minority" takes place in Los Angeles' Jefferson Park neighborhood and in East L.A. The film stars the immensely sympathetic Nichole Bloom as Kayla, a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian teenager struggling with cultural misperceptions and a disintegrating family life.
Kayla fields queries of "What are you?" from fellow students who wonder about her ethnicity. But the real problems lie at home.
Kayla's drug-addicted, neglectful yet hypercritical mother (Jessica Tuck) pays attention to her daughter just long enough to deliver sarcastic jabs. Kayla's blue-collar father (Chris Tashima) shows more kindness but drinks too much and virtually drops out of Kayla's life when the parents split up.
Kayla's adoring grandmother (Takayo Fischer) offers the girl more stability yet remains partially removed.
The grandmother was interred at a relocation camp during World War II but does not speak of her childhood trauma. She holds to the Japanese values of being "strong and heroic – you withstand hardship and you do not complain about it," Mariye said by phone from her home in L.A. Yet the grandmother's childhood hardships influenced her son's outlook and behavior anyhow.
Into the void left by Kayla's family steps a seductive drug dealer (Delon de Metz) who showers Kayla with attention.
The title of "Model Minority" plays on the stereotype of Asian Americans as high achievers destined for success and then subverts it, similar to what filmmaker Justin Lin did with his 2002 film "Better Luck Tomorrow," which featured bored teenage overachievers turning to hedonism and petty crime for kicks.
Kayla, a promising art student who takes care of her younger sister, is "a good girl," Mariye said. "But even if you start out with the best intentions, if you are raised in an environment where you are not necessarily nurtured, your chances of coming out OK are very slim."
Mariye and Tashima will appear in Sacramento with the film. Tashima also stars in the accompanying short "Lil Tokyo Reporter," based on a real-life 1930s newspaperman who fought injustice in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood.
"It's really the Chris Tashima film festival," said Mariye with a laugh. She has known Tashima for two decades through the L.A. theater scene.
Mariye, an actress who spent 15 years playing nurse Lily Jarvik on the TV show "ER," became a director in 2000 with the award-winning short "Shangri-la Cafe," based on her parents' experiences as restaurant owners in postwar Las Vegas.
She first contacted Tashima, a veteran film and theater director, to "pick his brain" about directing a feature film, she said. (Tashima won a live-action short Academy Award for his 1997 directing effort "Visas and Virtue," in which he starred as Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who issued thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees during World War II).
"I really didn't have too much to offer her," Tashima, speaking by phone from L.A. about his coffee date with Mariye. "She seemed to know what she was doing." But he was happy to act in Mariye's film, he said.
"You could sense it was a role Lily really cared about – that she liked the father (character)," Tashima said.
Mariye said that as an actress she seeks parts with "a beginning, middle and an end." She tried to create such arcs for her "ER" pals who agreed to do bit roles in "Model Minority," shot in 18 days for less than $200,000. Former "ER" castmate Laura Innes plays a judge in the film.
Mariye found another high-profile supporter in her husband, smooth-jazz artist Boney James. James advanced from spousal sounding board to full-fledged producer as the filmmaking process progressed. He also composed the film's score.
"He listened to everything I had to say, he looked at every version of the film as I was editing," Mariye said. "He was producing with me, and at one point I just made it official."
SACRAMENTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
When: Saturday-April 28
Where: Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St.; Delta King, 1000 Front St.; and Embassy Suites, 100 Capitol Mall, all in Sacramento
Cost: Tickets range from $12 ($10 students) for individual films to $150 ($120 students) for a festival pass.
48 Hour Film Festival, 6 p.m. Crocker Art Museum: Results from a filmmaking challenge in which directors and crews must complete a film in 48 hours.
Cine Latino, 7 p.m. Delta King: This program includes the documentary "Unique Ladies," which profiles a female lowrider car club.
Cine Soul, 7 p.m. Delta King: This collection of films by or about African Americans includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Weapons Down," an anti-violence song by Sacramento R&B artist Carla Fleming.
"Lolita," 7 p.m. Delta King: This 1997 Adrian Lyne adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel stars Jeremy Irons as a pedophile and Dominique Swain as the stepdaughter with whom he is obsessed. Swain will appear at the screening.
Cine Asia, 2:30 p.m. Delta King. Two Los Angeles-set films with Japanese American themes: the short "Lil Tokyo Reporter," about a 1930s newspaperman, and "Model Minority," a gritty coming-of-age story. ("Model Minority" is suitable for ages 16 and older). Chris Tashima, who appears in "Model Minority" and stars in "Tokyo," will appear at the event, as will "Model Minority" director Lily Mariye.
Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.