The Debut Will Have Its Own “Debut” at the Cinematografo International Film Festival on November 10

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You heard right, folks. It’s been 18 years since the release of The Debut, the pioneering Filipino American film by Director Gene Cajayon. To celebrate The Debut’s maturation into adulthood, the Cinematografo International Film Festival will host a special screening of the film with some of the cast and crew in attendance as part of its weekend-long celebration of Filipino and Filipino American filmmaking.

For the uninitiated, the film centers on Ben Mercado (played by the one and only Dante Basco), a young high school senior unfamiliar and ashamed of his Filipino American heritage, and his exploration of his identity through relationships to his family and community at his sister’s debutante ball. As a coming of age film, The Debut explores issues that many deal with today: immigration/acculturation, interracial relations, cultural values, inter-generational conflict, family tsismis, hiya, and of course, love. It’s hard to imagine all of these matters addressed in a movie about one night, but don’t a lot of us put all of our eggs into one basket? (Think: PCN).

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In essence, The Debut was truly Cajayon’s ode to a 1990’s Filipino America, an era when young 2nd generation Filipino Americans – the children of post-1965 immigrants – came of age in an increasingly diverse society to create a distinct culture that continues to this day. The scenes featuring Sun-In’d hair, pagers, rice rockets, and dance battles harken back to simpler times for many of us. And in true pre-social media era fashion, making the film was a community effort fueled by a grassroots campaign, involving thousands of Filipino Americans from numerous cities throughout the nation – some of the TFAL crew included.

The Debut’s “Debut” will take place on Saturday November 10, 7pm at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theaters in San Francisco. Following the screening, come join the fun at the Cinematografo Centerpiece Party at Hotel Kabuki (1635 Post Street, San Francisco, CA, 94125) following the event!

Tickets are now available!



In addition to the special screening, the Cinematografo Film Festival will feature many new films by talented Filipino and Filipino American filmmakers. HP Mendoza’s Bitter Melon and Mikhail Red’s Neomanila are some of the TFAL crew’s top narrative picks. Additionally, PJ Raval’s Call Her Ganda, Hans Block and Moritz Reisewick’s The Cleaners, and former TFAL guest Alexandra Cuerdo’s Ulam: Main Dish are must watch documentaries. Also, make sure to check out the short films blocks, particularly Filipinx: Queer Shorts, which will feature Drama Del Rosario’s In this Family and the By Way of America which will feature Filipino American stories like Jeremy Sistoso’s Fakeapino and Joy Regullano’s I Won’t Miss You.  Plus, the Festival will feature other films, conversations, panel discussions, and much more!

The 2nd annual Cinematografo International Film Festival, presented by ABS-CBN International, will be held on November 8-11 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theaters in San Francisco. Check out all of the other films playing at the Festival on their website


About the Festival:

The Cinematografo International Film Festival is an annual film exhibition series presented by ABS-CBN International and aims to showcase emerging filmmaking talent from around the world, focusing on issues of representation and inclusivity. We also provide financial support for filmmakers to tell their stories and passion projects through our Cinematografo Originals initiative.

On its second year, the festival’s theme is “Breaking Down Walls,” which refers not only to divisions along global political lines but also aims to empower storytellers in breaking through barriers in film and story whether in terms of subject matter, representation and cultural limitations.

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McRibbed for Our Pleasure: A Conversation with Xanthe Pajarillo and Jason Barlaan from ‘AIRMEN’

An Interview With AIRMEN’S Xanthe Pajarillo and Jason Barlaan

In this guest blog post on This Filipino American Life, Xanthe Pajarillo, the creator of the web series AIRMEN, and Jason Barlaan, AIRMEN’s starring actor, sit down and talk about their new show, life in the military and the film industry, and their experiences of growing up Filipino. Pajarillo is a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran, while Barlaan, who portrays 2nd Lieutenant Anders, is a United States Marine Corps (USMC) veteran.

AIRMEN is a new web series that follows a group of Air Force troops navigating life during peacetime operations. It is a response to the lack of diversity in veteran narratives. It takes on a subject matter that is often marginalized in the entertainment industry: how military members experience their time in service, rather than focus on war or PTSD. They are currently raising funds for the first season on Seed&Spark.  The deadline to contribute the web series project is August 15.

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XANTHE: The first thing that I noticed was when you introduced yourself. Jason Bar-lun? I thought it was pronounced Bar-lawn.

JASON: You know it’s Barla-an in Filipino but no one gets the two “A”s at the end. Bar-lun is the American one. That’s the way most people can understand it. That’s how it was all through the military too.

XANTHE: What did you do in the Marines?

JASON: I ended up in the Aviation Support field. When we were deployed, they would call our unit to dispatch aviation assets: drones, anything that had to do with the sky to help with the war out there in Iraq and Afghanistan.

XANTHE: When you joined the military did you feel you were going to be the only Asian?

JASON: I’m used to that, growing up in this part of Los Angeles being the only Asian. You’d see [Filipinos] more so in the Navy but not in the Marines.

XANTHE: When I was talking to one of my Filipino friends while I was in the Air Force, he said that he expected that he would be the only Asian in a sea of white dudes, but then he met a lot of Asians. It depends where you are, I guess.

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JASON: As a military person, are you proficient in weapons handling?

XANTHE: No. I was Health Services Management. The only time I held a weapon was in boot camp. I saw a lot of family members and airmen needing appointments.

JASON: I wanted to ask you something. The Talk of Santa Clarita podcast we did last week reminded me of your McRib thing. As a friend to you, I’m like “Was that an act?” My wife and I just finished watching it this morning, too. You don’t have to answer…  [Laughs]

XANTHE: [Laughs] No, I get it all the time it’s fine. In Germany where my dad was stationed, the McRib is there year round. When we moved to the US, we wondered why McRib was only here in the fall. We made the McRib a part of our fall routine. I moved here for CalArts and got ovarian cancer. I had surgery to take it out. My dad was in Iraq. After we got together again, we wanted to do our family thing, and McDonald’s said the McRib’s not coming back. I thought, “This is not okay,” and I went to the [Santa Clarita] City Council — not because I felt like those were the correct people, but I thought someone there would get something done.

Song written in support of Santa Clarita City Council plea

JASON: I saw that video before I knew you. I thought that was a total gag. [Laughs] Now that you put it into context, you never judge. That’s a beautiful story. I never knew that. Wow, that’s so resilient.

XANTHE: Thanks. It’s been weird because I’ve gotten extreme reactions. Someone was really offended when they found out I was a veteran. They said, “You’re a disgrace to the military.” A lot of mad people message me, but some appreciate it too. I’ve had friends say “I need to go viral” and it’s actually not fun.

JASON: You lose your anonymity. They threaten you.

XANTHE: But I’ve met a lot of cool people through it too so it has its pros and cons. How was your upbringing? You said you didn’t have a traditional Filipino upbringing.

JASON: I meant in the sense of nuclear. My mom died in a car accident when I was six. My dad wasn’t in the picture, so my maternal grandmother raised us. My mom’s brother came from the Philippines and he had a drug problem. I went through a long period of time of child abuse. I know for a lot of kids in Filipino culture, that’s standard punishment, but in America it’s abuse. So yeah, Filipino traditions came in family parties. So when I see your mom cooking on set, I see the other actors and crew say, “This is awesome!” and I say, “This is standard, dude.” [Laughs]

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Photo Credit: Courtney McAllister


XANTHE: This is a Filipino party!

JASON: Yeah, you just cook.

XANTHE: Well, thanks for sharing your story.

JASON: Yeah, it’s part of why I started teaching now. There’s a lot of kids that are like me. They’re down and out and want to turn to crime. I want my life to be like, “Hey, I was there, and it’s actually possible to make a good life.”

XANTHE: So you’re into teaching.

JASON: I had to put the acting thing on hold. You know, child care and going into these auditions in Hollywood… the high rejection rate is not paying off. Burning all the gas and time, paying for child care. I’d probably book every four months. Sometimes I wouldn’t even book.

XANTHE: Do you have a horror audition to share?

JASON: I wrote I knew capoeira on my acting resume. I know basic one-two movement of capoeira. It got me into an audition for a music video for… not One Direction, it was one of the groups at the time. The other kids were literally jumping off of walls, somersaults, aerials, and stuff like that. I don’t know how to do that. I had to slate my name and I had to go. She was a very well-known casting director. I did this number. I grabbed my foot and did a Homer Simpson. It was bad. The song gets radio play every now and then and when it plays, it’s like “This is the song!”

XANTHE: You hear it still?


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L: Jason in Not Man Apart’s Ajax in Iraq, R: Performing at CalArts


JASON: Yeah. I have a lot of good experiences with auditions, too. I was the stereotypical Asian featured guest spot in Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johansson. I was an “Asian bad guy militia man.” All I had to do was fire the gun twice. I was shooting on set for twenty minutes, but I was on the lot for about 10-12 hours. That’s typical Hollywood, life of an extra.

XANTHE: Is there anything repetitive in what you’re brought in for?

JASON: They brought me in for a Benghazi movie. I could hear the people behind the camera say, “He’s not tall enough. We need more Asian.” I’m full 100% Filipino. I went home and the movie came out. I wanted to see who got my role. I’m not doubting his talent, but I was very confident in that audition. I totally killed that thing. But he was tall, darker, had a head of hair. He delivered the lines the same way. It taught me about what casting directors look for. They needed someone at the same eye line [as the lead actor.]

XANTHE: What were some stereotypes you’ve experienced from people?

JASON: My half-sister’s Black and Filipino. I would always get the dirty eye from the black community. They would think we’re dating. One night I was dropping her off at her dad’s house. We’re at a red light, and there’s this older black man who’s like, “Roll down your window!” I’m like, “What’s your deal?” He said, “Take her home! How dare you!” I said “That’s my fucking sister, dude.” The guy says sorry, all apologetic.

XANTHE: He doesn’t want black and Asians to date.

JASON: It’s very sad, but it’s also very interesting. If Magat and Anders [the two characters from AIRMEN] actually got together you could deal with that. People who don’t have those experiences and don’t want to know the different cultures. Like people who don’t take off their shoes when they walk into our homes. [Laughs] We say it as a courtesy “You can keep them on,” but what we really mean is take your shoes off.

XANTHE: At our house we tell them to take them off.

JASON: Take it off, man. These rugs aren’t cheap.


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A still from the AIRMEN episode, “An Officer and an Airman.”


XANTHE: How do you feel about the current state of Asian representation in the media?

JASON: It’s horse shit. It’s nonexistent. It’s a pecking order: Caucasian, black, Latino, LGBTQ — which is great, but then below all of that is Asian. I can tell by the way I’m casted or auditioned, I’m never considered for those speaking roles. I’m a trained actor. I’m competent. I’m educated. I can totally do this, but I’m never given the opportunity. That’s why I commend you because you’re making it happen, which is what you’re supposed to as a minority. We need more people like you. The representation is sub-par, saying it nicely. It’s really bad.


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Xanthe directing actors Chloe Mondesir and Blu Lindsey on AIRMEN.  Photo Credit: Courtney McAllister

XANTHE: How do you feel about those shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? They’re trying to add some change to that.

JASON: My sister’s a huge fan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and I think it’s great… but it’s very centered around our culture. It’s not centered around being a human being in America. I’m watching a show called Sharp Objects with Amy Adams. Great actress. Super talented. But they’re not celebrating her whiteness. They’re just telling a story about her being a journalist. I wish the marginalized groups like the Asians and Indians, Latinos, and LGBTQ would get those kinds of shows.

XANTHE: About who they are.

JASON: Yeah, about who they are. Just the humanness of them.

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L to R: Blu Lindsey, Jason, and Chloe Mondesir.  Photo Credit: Nick Jarry

XANTHE: How do you feel people will feel about seeing a Filipino in the military in AIRMEN?

JASON: You see them more so in the medical field as doctors and stuff. But as a military officer, it’s always good. It’s not out of the norm, nor is it for any kind of race, but it’s just sad how other shows create these other narratives about veterans. It’s important to show that Asian officers — they’re there, they’re real. Interracial relationships are there, they’re real. And other things you point out in your project. Very important.

Find AIRMEN on Seed&Spark, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Xanthe Pajarillo is a filmmaker, musician, photographer, and USAF veteran from Germany and Virginia. She is driven by a duty to tell stories that expand people’s empathy towards one another. She received a BFA in Photography and Media from CalArts, and will begin her MFA in Film and TV Production at USC this fall. Find Xanthe on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and on the web at


Jason Barlaan is a proud Marine Veteran who served honorably in both OIF & OEF as an enlisted Marine and an Officer, and has received recognition in multiple ranks. He carried over those talents into his civilian life and has credits with commercial work for USAA, Navy Federal, and USO. He loves his craft and understands the many challenges it presents, but being a Marine has prepared him to endure Hollywood and beyond. Jason loves working on projects with other Veterans!


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In our conversation with WASI in Episode 22 we let them know that they remind us of M.I.A. WASI’s infectious, dance music with a message fits right in with M.I.A.’s sound.  The closing night film for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. a documentary by first time filmmaker Stephen Loveridge. Loveridge creates an intimate portrait of the unconventional pop star through personal footage spanning decades.

Get your tickets to the film and closing night party! What are notable films that you saw throughout the festival? Find the TFAL crew at the closing night party and let us know!

MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.Aratani Theatre, May 10, 2018 7:00 pm



Spotlight on Taiwan

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The 34th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) shines a light on the country of Taiwan, highlighting the best in Taiwanese cinema and the country’s rich culture and history that have shaped the island nation into one of the most dynamic countries in the Asia-Pacific Rim.

This year, LAAPFF is honored to present two feature films — Jay Chern’s third feature film, OMOTENASHI, and Frank W. Chen’s documentary LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY.

OMOTENASHI, from LAAPFF Award winner Jay Chern (THIEF, LAAPFF 2014), stars Edison Wang as Jacky, the young heir to a construction company in Taiwan. His father sends him to Kyoto to oversee the renovation of the  beautiful yet obsolete Bright Moon Ryokan. Jacky is going in hopes to get back his ex-girlfriend Naoko and to sell the hotel. There, he meets the innkeeper Mistuko and her daughter Rika. Unaware of his hidden agenda, the innkeeper is excited about the idea of turning the hotel into a wedding venue, and suggests that Jacky learns “omotenashi”, the virtue of traditional Japanese hospitality, together with her daughter and her otaku helper.

LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY could be best described as a baseball version of LINSANITY. Directed by Frank W. Chen and produced by Brian Yang (coincidentally, who also produced the eponymous Jeremy Lin documentary), chronicles Taiwanese baseball player Chien-Ming Wang’s last ditch effort to be recruited back on a professional baseball team after a series of injuries disrupted his trailblazing career in the major leagues. Much like LINSANITY, the documentary is an up close and personal film that delves into Wang’s personal drive as a star athlete with a steely determination and resiliency that impresses everyone in his wake.

In addition to these two features, this year’s spotlight also highlights the works of emerging Taiwanese filmmakers with three short films — 100th BIRTHDAY WISH by Lien Chien Hung, MISS WORLD by Georgia Fu, and FUNDAMENTAL by Shih-Chieh Chiu. These short films present universal stories that are also unique in capturing everyday Taiwanese life.  As LAAPFF is an Academy Award®-qualifying festival for Short Film Awards, perhaps these new directors will one day be the next Ang Lee.

We celebrate Taiwanese filmmakers with their latest shorts, in the following programs:

100th BIRTHDAY WISH (dir. Lien Chien Hung) appearing in Forever Alone (Or Not)

MISS WORLD (dir. Georgia Fu) appearing in My So-Called Adolescence

FUNDAMENTAL (dir. Shih-Chieh Chiu) appearing in My So-Called Adolescence



The No Spin Zone

This Filipino American Life shorts program recommendations!

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival continues to highlight talented short filmmakers and storytellers. A few short films that shouldn’t be missed are Just A Kid From Seattle, Fakeapino, Limboland, and Aswang Next Door.

If you are looking for one shorts program to check out, TFAL recommends The No Spin Zone. Filipino/Filipino American Short Films included in this program include The Duwende, Killings, and Your Mother.

THE NO SPIN ZONE, Downtown Independent, May 5, 2018 9:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

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While working far from home to make ends meet, Boyet is called back to his family in rural Philippines after his young daughter Abby goes missing. His distraught wife, Tata, believes their child was taken by the duwende, a mythical creature from Filipino folklore that steals children from their homes.

Director’s Bio

Odin B. Fernandez is a filmmaker from Quezon City, Philippines and currently based in Melbourne, Australia. He has been in the film production industry in various capacities for more than a decade. In 2016, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Film and Television from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. His graduate film received the Best Production Script at the 2016 VCA Film and TV Graduate Awards.


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Through a series of killings, PATAYAN examines the wearisome violence plaguing the country and questions the amalgam of murder with impunity, along with the public’s apathy for the dead. Without narrative or characterization, choosing only to depict the act of killing itself, the film confronts the violence head on.

Director’s Bio

Joseph Mangat is a filmmaker born in Manila, Philippines and based in Brooklyn, New York. He received his BA in Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego. He holds a MA in TV, Film and New Media from San Diego State University. His short films have screened at multiple festivals and showcases. He is currently finishing his first feature documentary film, HOLY CRAFTS.


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Follow Ana, a housemaid in Manila, and her quiet resilience as she is hassled by the family she has come to care for. While she is desperate to send more money to her mom, her job is jeopardized when her employer’s children’s desire for her go too far.

Director’s Bio

Mary is an NYC based filmmaker. She blurs the lines between personal drama, fantasy, and fiction ever since she got a hold of her first 16mm camera as a teenager. She received her MFA at NYU for Writing and Directing where she was the recipient of the prestigious Tisch Graduate Fellowship for Cinematography. With her work, she pursues distinct and transformative stories full of bullish heart and levity.


The Cleaners + Call Her Ganda

This Filipino American Life Documentary Recommendations!

THE CLEANERS and CALL HER GANDA are two films in the documentary competition for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Under the International Documentary Feature Competition there is THE CLEANERS highlights who’s job is it to Olivia Pope/fix your online profiles. CALL HER GANDA makes it’s west coast premiere in the LAAPFF Documentary Features Competition. The film follows the story of a 19 year old transgender woman murdered by a US Marine.

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THE CLEANERS, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 13, May 7, 2018 6:30 pm: BUY TICKETS

When you post something on the web, can you be sure it stays there? Who is controlling what we see… and what we think? Social media sites — particularly Facebook and YouTube — have been under intense pressure to monitor and delete offensive, pornographic, and incendiary posts. Compassionately portraying the Filipino workers who comb through thousands of online images in the dark of night, THE CLEANERS exposes the dark side of information technology.

Director’s Bio

Hans Block is a German theatre director, musician, and filmmaker. He studied Music at the Berlin University of the Arts and Directing at the Ernst Busch Institute for Theatre Directing. Moritz Riesewieck is a German theatre director, author, and filmmaker. He studied Economics as a scholar of the German National Academic Foundation, followed by Directing at the Ernst Busch Institute for Theatre Directing in Berlin.


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CALL HER GANDA, AMC Dine-in Sunset 5, May 4, 2018 7:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

Grassroots activists in the Philippines are spurred into action when a local transgender woman is found dead in a motel room with a 19-year-old U.S. marine as the leading suspect. As the activists demand answers and a just trial, hidden histories of U.S. colonization come bubbling to the surface.

Director’s Bio

PJ Raval is an award‐winning filmmaker whose credits include TRINIDAD (Showtime, Logo) and BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, which follows the lives of three gay senior men, described by indieWIRE as “a crucial new addition to the LGBT doc canon.” An accomplished cinematographer, PJ shot the Academy Award‐nominated Best Documentary, TROUBLE THE WATER and is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, 2016 Firelight Media Fellow, and a 2017 Robert Giard Fellow.


The Fever and the Fret + Neomanila

This Filipino American Life Features Recommendations!

The Fever and The Fret and Neomanila are two films that are in the features competition for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The Fever and The Fret is in the Narrative Feature Competition, while Neomanila is in the International Feature Competition. Neomanila also happens to be by Mikhail Red, who’s film BIRDSHOT is currently streaming on Netflix.

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The Fever And The Fret, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 14, May 9, 2018 7:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

A shy, artistic loner growing up in the Bronx, Eleanor is tormented at school because of her large facial birthmarks. At night, she begins visiting another world, and encounters another being. But when Eleanor is forced into a confrontation at school, she may have to leave her other world behind forever.

Director’s Bio

Cath Gulick is a New York-based filmmaker. Her previous short film world-premiered at Slamdance, where Film Threat applauded it as “very funny and well-acted.” She helped produce the burlesque shows, “Guilty Pleasures” and “The Blushing Diamond Review” as featured in New York Magazine, and worked assistant camera on Jeremy Saulnier’s MURDER PARTY. Most recently she wrote, produced, directed, photographed, and edited her first feature film, THE FEVER AND THE FRET.


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NEOMANILA, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 14, May 9, 2018 9:15 pm: BUY TICKETS 

Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election, the Philippines has been in a grip of the “war on drugs”, where the police use bounty hunters to kill gangsters. A street orphan named Toto is one of many caught in the crossfire when he is recruited by a notorious death squad.

Director’s Bio

Mikhail Red is a Filipino filmmaker based in Manila, Philippines. Exposed to cinema at an early age, Red wrote and directed his first short film when he was fifteen, immediately earning him recognition in local and international film festivals. His sophomore feature film project, BIRDSHOT, won the top prize of the Asian Future section of the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival. It was the Philippines’ official entry to the Academy Awards.







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This Filipino American Life is thrilled to be a community sponsor for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival premier of PRISON FOOD, a docu-series directed by Aditya Thayi and hosted by The Park’s Finest owner Chef Johneric Concordia. Throughout the docu-series Chef Johneric learns how inmates prepare meals for each other under the circumstances of prison.

PRISON FOOD, East West Players, May 6, 2018 2:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

Get your tickets for this screening today! Share your thoughts about the episodes with the TFAL crew. This is something that shouldn’t be missed!




Volunteer at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival!

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Why volunteer at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival? For perks like free movies!

You also will get this awesome free shirt!

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Volunteer Benefits Also Include:

  • Meeting film industry professionals and artists, Asian Pacific American community members, and fellow film enthusiasts
  • An official festival volunteer shirt
  • Vouchers for Festival screenings (1 voucher every shift)
  • And more!

Festivals like this rely on people power! Be one of those people. Find community with fellow Asian Pacific Islander Americans who are passionate about APIA storytelling.