Report: The inaugural ACN Creative Arts Festival celebrated a growing, artistic community
Back in November of 2018, the Facebook group Asian Creative Network (ACN) was born. With a central goal of connecting Asian creatives throughout the world, ACN became a fascinating platform for members to learn, draw inspiration from, and trade ideas with other like-minded creatives in the field. As most second-generation Asians might tell you, the pursuit of creative passions aren’t exactly the most widely accepted career path in the eyes of many an Asian parent. That’s why ACN became a special place. Linked by a common struggle for acceptance and cultural scorn by their white counterparts, the members of ACN found community within each other–no explanations needed.
Soon, local chapters of ACN started to spring up, segmenting this large online community into smaller, manageable groups. ACN Los Angeles, the biggest sector given its location and close proximity to the film industry, became one of the organization’s biggest chapters. With a group boasting 4,000 members (and counting), it only made sense to showcase the best of what the community had to offer outside of Facebook posts and often-broken promises of eventual in-person meetups. This all culminated in ACN: Los Angeles’s inaugural Creative Arts Festival, which took place on October 19, 2019 at the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) building in Los Angeles.
Helmed by Heidi Carreon and a team of ACN: Los Angeles officers (Samuel King Yen Lin, Nasahrat “JR” Sungvornyothin, Michelle Lewis, Thalinh Tran, May Lo, Justin Tran-Huy Ha, Alvin Liang, Yidu Sun, Beverly Tan, Ariana Zhang, Michelangelo Nguyen, Francis Ray) and volunteers, the first-ever ACN: Creative Arts Festival drew in about 270 attendees at the event. The festival was packed to the brim with events like film screenings, live musical performances, an ongoing creative mart outside, and various workshops that ran throughout the day. There was even a small makeshift gallery and a photo booth that could easily fill in any unlikely downtime that you might’ve had. All of this meant that there was more than enough to see or do during the festival, making it a full-day affair. With a schedule running from 1 pm to 9 pm, this celebration was truly representative of all of the different types of Asian talent that existed within the community. But although ACN had a lot to offer, perhaps it would have been better to narrow its massive content stockpile down.
Schedule-wise, the day was split into two parts: the film (1 pm-5 pm) and the music portion (5 pm-9 pm). That alone tells you a few things. First of all, four hours was waaaay too long to be sitting through 22 shorts. That’s not to mention that between every short, there was a pause in order to introduce each film… which meant that the original four-hour run-time got stretched out even further. There’s a reason why many shows and showcases don’t exceed three hours–that’s a lot of time for people to be actively engaged in the content that they’re watching. Secondly, anyone who wanted to get a taste of both visual and musical talent would have to stay at the festival for a very long time lest they risk missing out on a number of projects scheduled at the beginning or end of the event. It became a challenge balancing FOMO with all that was happening, and it was unclear whether or not the craft fair outside had any buyers while everyone was watching the films.
A closer look at the uneven film program also raised some questions of what exactly the criteria was for acceptance. The difference in film quality was magnified through many of the films’ credits and opening sequences, for example. There were a number of shorts that proudly bore the designations of being made during a 24 or 48-hour film festival… which could be quite the triumph in itself if they weren’t being shown next to films that actually took more time to create. Juxtaposed next to university backed projects (there was representation from LMU and USC film schools) or even museum-backed ventures (LACMA’s logo surprisingly made an appearance), these hastily put-together films felt a bit out of place. In the most extreme case, a one-minute short action film which clearly took place in a residential garage was followed by a 20 minute, AFI conservatory-backed $15,000 short shot on Kodak 16mm–an epic in comparison. Moments like these seemed to question the scheduling decisions of the programmer–if there was one in the first place. Though the decision to seemingly include every kind of film submitted reflected the diverse creative talents of ACN’s members, it was unfair to diminish the works of all of the rest of the filmmakers by plopping in such polished anomalies in the middle of it all. Refining the film programming by cutting down on its number of screenings or having concurrent projections (having the major budget film be a standalone screening, or lumping the 24/48 hour films into a single programming track, for example), would have been more conducive to the program.
A few technical difficulties and venue issues also plagued the screenings, leading to some antsy guests and awkward impromptu Q&As. Some people also complained about the poor quality of the projector being used for the screenings, while others bristled at the noise of the craft fair bleeding into the sound mix during the films. But although these technical difficulties dampened the mood of the fest, it never fully extinguished it: the show went on. One guest next to me quietly mumbled to his friend during one of the film program’s many many breaks, “You’ll never know what’s going to happen next.”
But with all of the confusion, mishaps, and misgivings surrounding the festival (again, it’s worth stressing that this event was put on by volunteers, not a professionally paid staff), ACN: Creative Arts Festival succeeded in its goal of bringing all of these Asian creatives from different fields and artistic backgrounds together. Amongst the large swaths of people that started to gather by the end of hour four (before the start of the music program), I started to see many familiar faces from all around the Asian American creative community that I’ve met through my time covering other events. There they were: creating an environment that was conducive to collaboration and inviting collaborations with open arms. As people mingled and new project ideas started to bubble up, it became clear that though it was an event that was perhaps too ambitious for its own good, ACN: Creative Arts Festival openly fostered the spirit of camaraderie within the often-isolating nature of Los Angeles, becoming a social catalyst for a community that is still on the rise. Unbridled ambition, however unrefined, is better than none.
Admission to ACN: Los Angeles Creative Festival was $20 per person.
*Note from the author: I left after the film program concluded, so I do not have any input on what followed the four-and-a-half-hour film showcase.