Interview with Festival Director Martin Tran (Seattle Asian American Film Festival)

Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) is the only film festival in Seattle to provide a space for Asian American voices, perspectives and histories by screening independent films that reflect the diversity and richness of the city’s Asian American community.


Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Martin Tran: Our greatest success as a festival is how we grow a supportive community for our filmmakers. As independent Asian American filmmakers, it’s important to us that we connect them with people who are hungry to hear their stories, and to champion them and their work in the future.

It starts with partnering with local community organizations to help promote the films. For each screening we select organizations that have thematic alignment with the films, which plugs the filmmakers into organizations and communities that are eager to engage.

We also create spaces for the filmmakers to meet and engage with each other; from brunches to VIP rooms to parties. We’re all in this together so let’s connect and celebrate it!

And we as festival organizers we are such a tight knit group that we want to make the filmmakers feel like part of our community. They did the hard work of making a film for us to showcase, and we want to let them know that we appreciate them and will support them in all their future endeavors. To that end we always spread the word whenever they have screenings, crowdfunding campaigns, and new projects.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend your upcoming festival?

From a first time festival goer to our longtime festival pass holders, we expect our audiences to see the type of films that are rarely showcased; ones that will reflect, entertain, and illuminate the experiences of the Asian diaspora.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

We have a large team of volunteers who rate and review the submissions, and all of the reviewers come with their own tastes and experiences. What we ask them to look for most is originality, craft, content, and adherence to our mission of being a space to tell the stories of the Asian diaspora. How a reviewer personally defines that though is entirely up to them. Using the rating system as outlined by Film Freeway, which is a film submission tool used by many film festivals, our programming team aggregates the data and selects the highest rated films. And at a final, in-person meeting, that’s when the bleary eyed debates ensue.

4) Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

It’s hard for me to speak for other film festivals, but in my opinion I believe so. There are so many things that go into selecting films for a festival; your audience, sponsors, mission, you name it. There’s also the notion of what is a festival worthy film. Like it has to be “important” or a “prestige” film. Luckily there are so many festivals out there catering to different audiences and tastes that I believe if you made a good film, no matter the topic or style, there is a festival and audience out there for you.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

It may be a corny answer but it’s love. We’re an all-volunteer organization putting in crazy amounts of our free time to make it happen, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the love. Love for film, community, advocacy, and for each other. We’re a family as much as a festival organizing team, and we always strive to extend that feeling to our filmmakers and filmgoers alike.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

FilmFreeway has been a great tool for us. It’s an easy way for filmmakers to find and submit to festivals like ours. The review and rating process is very streamlined, and it’s nice to have all that data for us.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

I would like to see SAAFF continue to grow as we do every year. By 2023 we will be putting on our 11th festival, and I would like to see us become an even greater part of Seattle’s film scene with bigger venues, more films, and more events.

And in those five years I hope the Crazy Rich Asians effect will continue to bear fruit. 2018 has seen a lot of momentum for Asian American stories in Hollywood, and I hope it continues. So I would love to see an influx of filmmakers who had greater support than before, and a new generation of Asian American filmmakers following in the footsteps of those who opened the doors for them.

8) What film have you seen the most times in your life?

For me it would have to be The Princess Bride. I’m a sucker for action, comedy, fantasy, and intergenerational family stories.

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Story. Story. Story.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

I love the film scene in Seattle. There are so many people doing great, independent work. It’s a very supportive community that just continues to grow. Support from the city and state side though…that could use improvement. But hopefully we’ll get there.



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