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LA film festival showcases beginnings, growth of Asian American cinema with ‘Lumpia’

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is currently streaming the low-budget 2003 film “Lumpia,” which presents a humorous and unfiltered view of inner group prejudice within the Filipino American and immigrant community. (Illustration by Vaibhavi Patankar/Daily Bruin)

"LAAPFF: Lumpia"

Through May 23

Online

Free

By Julie Lee

May 21, 2020 5:05 pm

“Lumpia” is more than a spring roll in the Asian American community.

The homemade, low-budget 2003 film tells a story about inner group prejudice, in which a gang of Filipino Americans picks on Filipino high school immigrants. It is currently being screened in the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s virtual showcase until May 23, which also features a livestreamed Q&A with the filmmakers to discuss their upcoming sequel, “Lumpia With a Vengeance.” For writer-director Patricio Ginelsa Jr., he said the writing process began after watching a movie directed by his fellow USC alumnus John Singleton – “Boyz n the Hood.”

“It opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even realize was happening here in the U.S.,” Ginelsa said. “When I saw this young, 21-year-old African American filmmaker that could make a movie about his neighborhood, I figured I could do it too.”

Back in 1996, Ginelsa said he and his neighborhood friends came together to film the first two acts of “Lumpia” during summer vacation, but the footage was eventually shelved when he returned to school. Three years later, UCLA alumnus A.J. Calomay met Ginelsa through a mutual friend and came on as the film’s producer, taking the footage and creating a trailer that kickstarted their professional partnership.

“(Ginelsa) saw me as his creative partner, and so did I,” Calomay said. “We had the same sense of humor and creative sensibility.”

Ginelsa said Calomay’s trailer allowed him to see his work in a different light and motivated him to complete the film. However, during its initial release, “Lumpia” did not garner much media attention, which Ginelsa said was likely due to the film’s raw, amateur nature. But decades later, he said the filmmakers are honored to have the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival paying homage to it.

[Related: Author Việt Thanh Nguyễn discusses Asian American representation in the media]

Francis Cullado, the executive director of Visual Communications, which programs the festival, said they adjusted to the pandemic by presenting older stories since they were unable to debut upcoming films in person. Instead, they utilized the online format to take the audience back in time to when Asian American cinema began, Cullado said.

“We wanted to at least do a retrospective (approach) and have people rewatch or watch (“Lumpia”) for the first time to sort of gain an appetite for the second movie that’s going to come out,” Cullado said. “It’s sort of like a flashback moment.”

Although the film festival does not explicitly list a collective theme, Ginelsa said it is trying to celebrate the growth of Asian American cinema. He said the filmmakers sometimes cringe at the sight of the nonprofessional nature of “Lumpia,” but the film’s topics like anti-immigration and internal prejudice are still relevant to this day.

Not only are such topics in the Filipino community rarely seen in independent films, but Calomay said there are also very few Filipino American films in general. But in the context of today’s cultural films, “Lumpia” can still be appreciated because of what Calomay sees as the growing desire for these stories within the Asian community.

“I think people want to see more nuanced stories about our community, and this is one in particular that is pretty different,” Calomay said. “It’s a little irreverent, a little ridiculous and hyperreal.”

But to make these serious topics more digestible, Ginelsa said he packaged them in a humorous way. Although anti-immigrant measures and discrimination are very serious, Calomay said the audience will remember these themes if the film is made to be memorable, entertaining and relatable.

[Related: Alumnus rolls out film aiming to stir pot with fresh take on marijuana culture]

Ginelsa said he hopes their sequel, “Lumpia With a Vengeance,” will highlight the advancement of Asian American cinema, especially since viewers are able to revisit the first of the series during this festival. The new film will be released this year, and Ginelsa said the crew is excited to be featuring the same group of neighborhood friends from almost two decades ago. However, they are also welcoming established actors such as Danny Trejo, who starred in movies such as “Desperado” and “Bad Ass.” Regardless of their development as filmmakers, Ginelsa said the team hopes the audience will gain a more holistic understanding of their experiences as Filipino Americans.

“When you think about Asian American stories, you have to understand that it isn’t about one particular kind of story or how we want to be represented, it’s about showing the kaleidoscope of what we are,” Ginelsa said.

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Julie Lee
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