Vancouver Asian Film Festival uses art to tackle hate and racism

2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. Along with celebrating filmmakers and artists within the Asian community, this year's event aims to tackle hate and racism through film.

Anti-Asian sentiments grew as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. According to Statistics Canada, from 2019 to 2020 there was a 301-per-cent increase in police-reported hate crimes targeting the East or Southeast Asian population.

“It’s really galvanized the community to come together,” said VAFF founder and president Barbara Lee.

“We understand the power of art and media and we are using it, in the platform, to elevate some of the issues the Asian community has been facing.”

The advocacy arm of the festival, called Elimin8Hate, is featuring three films: Emergence: Out of the Shadows, What Flowers They Bloom and Lynda.

Lynda pays tribute to a woman who is described as being one of the pioneers of advocacy for Asian women in B.C., and is directed by Eileen Park Robertson.

“She was doing this work before any of us, obviously, were doing it, and so, she is incredible,” Park Robertson said.

Lynda Shioya is a third-generation Canadian of Chinese descent. She grew up in Victoria in the ’40s and pursued a career as a dancer before becoming an educator and advocate.

Park Robertson is a former journalist who founded her own production company in 2018. She also spoke out against hate and racism toward Asian women after being subjected to degrading comments when she married former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.

“I couldn’t be silent about it anymore, because it was continuing to cement or further people’s biases against Asian-Canadians, specifically Asian women,” she said.

Although, in hindsight, she believes she didn’t go far enough in denouncing the behaviour she was subjected to.

“When I was first speaking out, it was with such great reluctance that I treaded lightly, in a way,” she said. “I wish I went even further with that advocacy in what I was saying.”

The Vancouver Asian Film Festival is showing 88 films over 10 days – in person this weekend and then virtually until Nov. 13 – along with some other special events. The program can be found here.