Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2023: Short Films Picks in Narrative, Animation & Documentary

Back in-person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the 13th Annual Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) takes place in-person at Northwest Film Forum from February 23 to 26, 2023, and virtually from February 27 to March 5. This curated list of short films represents our favorites out of this year’s short film programs, which run the gamut from narrative and documentary to animation and animated works.

Please head over to the SAAFF site to view the entire festival program.

Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2023

(Full disclosure: I have a short film in the festival this year entitled Reckless Spirits, under its “Explore the Unknown” program, but am continuing coverage as we do annually for this festival.)


1945 April 11th, Wednesday

Jason Okamoto, United States, 2022, Documentary
(“Bring It Home: Pacific Northwest Shorts ” Short Film Program)

“To part is to meet again,” says the closing sentence of 1945 April 11th, Wednesday, a documentary short that draws from the diaries of a Japanese American man, Takumi Okamoto (1915-2006). Initially incarcerated with his family at Tule Lake, California, his refusal to swear allegiance to the United States led the federal government to label him and “enemy alien” and send him to Fort Lincoln, Nebraska, alone. His poetic diary entries — narrated in Japanese by Terry Ieki and set to music by director Jason Okamoto — were much inspired by the natural world around him, as he longs to meet his family again.


Big Trouble in Little America

Big Trouble in Little America

Qiyue Sun, United States, 2022, Narrative
(“Explore the Unknown” Short Film Program)

Chinese kung fu tropes show up mighty in Big Trouble in Little America, a film that fully embraces its goofy sense of humor. Long story short, all goes wrong after a girl comes home with a haunted mattress that brings with it the haunting spirit of sexy white boy lovers.


The Body of My Name

The Body of My Name (名自字体)

Rosie Choo Pidcock, Canada, 2022, Narrative
(“Bring It Home: Pacific Northwest Shorts ” Short Film Program)

The Body of My Name is a short film featuring a colorful cast of dancers and movement artists, who scribe their names in Chinese using various instruments as they move through playful school settings.




David Chai, United States, 2022, Animation
(“Centerpiece: Snapshots” Short Film Program)

An adorable rainbow exploration of transgender and nonbinary existences, BOUNDLESS elevates freedom one can find in the expansiveness of gender expression, as well as the constriction one may feel when faced with a lack of understanding. The animated short features diverse ethnic and cultural testimonials from five transgender individuals, who offer insights into the transformations they’ve experienced while on their gender journeys.


Deaths Diner

Death’s Diner

Ravenna Tran, United States, 2022, Narrative
(“Explore the Unknown” Short Film Program)

Before crossing over to their final destination, deceased souls leaving Earth make a brief stop at Death’s Diner for one last interaction and dining experience of their choosing. Simple in its premise and morbid in its subject matter, this narrative short is ultimately joyful in its delivery of each person’s reaction to their eventual end.


Echoes of Kef Time

Echoes of Kef Time

Avo John Kambourian, United States, 2022, Documentary
(“Family Portraits” Short Film Program)

Raised in a traditional household where “there was music 24/7,” filmmaker Evo John Kambourian explores his community’s relationship to Armenian music and dance in Echoes of Kef Time. The documentary short follows his journey to relaunching a public performance series called “Kef Time,” which gathered the Armenian community among multiple cities so they could meet and celebrate together. Sadly, however, the film also shows how cultural traditions which were brought to the United States are also inextricable from the Armenian genocide which brought the refugees here to begin with.


Eyes and Horns

Eyes and Horns (눈과 뿔)

Chaerin Im, Republic of Korea & Germany, 2021, Animation
(“Fragments: Experimental Shorts” Short Film Program)

Soundtracked to a fabulously atmospheric drone track, Eyes and Horns shows the transformation of an overly-masculine Minotaur to swirling figures, more gender neutral. Self-professed to be inspired by Picasso’s print series, Vollard Suite, animator Chaerin Im has created a dizzying, dazzling textural delight of a piece.


God Can’t Give You Double Eyelids

Sarah Tang, United States, 2021, Documentary
(“Centerpiece: Snapshots” Short Film Program)

A graphically-heavy documentary with mixed media and collage elements, God Can’t Give You Double Eyelids presents filmmaker Sarah Tang’s reflections on faith. Growing up in Waco, Texas, Tang was an Asian kid in a predominantly white church located in a Black neighborhood; it was only later that she discovered her attendance was inextricably at odds with her identity, including her ethnicity and queerness. The short film unpacks it all through self-reflections and conversations with other congregation members.


Heading South (雁南飞)

Yuan Yuan 元圆, United States, 2020, Narrative
(“Centerpiece: Snapshots” Short Film Program)

Filmed in a beautiful landscape where sand dunes are snow-covered and grassy expanses are vast, Heading South shows the Chinese-Mongolian experience through the eyes of a young girl as she navigates both worlds. Along the way, she is surprised by the presence of a new mother she is expected to accept, though she is unsure how to cope.


Ka Hoi The Return

Ka Hoʻi: The Return

Mitchel Merrick, United States, 2021, Narrative
(“We Need to Talk About It” Short Film Program)

In memory of Native Hawaiians who have served in battle, Ka Hoʻi: The Return is a beautiful tribute that honors the ancestors and the land. Seen primarily through the eyes of a former Vietnam veteran, it is a tale of passing on and calmly accepting fate.


The Last Ferry from Grass Island

The Last Ferry from Grass Island

Linhan Zhang, Hong Kong, 2020, Narrative
(“Explore the Unknown” Short Film Program)

Hitmen never truly retire, do they? The Last Ferry from Grass Island is an atmospheric piece that immerses the viewer in an intimate world, where an apprentice is tasked to eradicate their mentor, despite the relationship which remains between them.




Jennifer Wu, Kym Santiana, Ruyee Lu, Christopher Hsueh, Nicole Taylor-Topacio, Joy Zhou, Ruby Saysanasy, Miranda Li, Saul Benavides (Fuzzie Die Studios), Canada, 2022, Narrative
(“Explore the Unknown” Short Film Program)

High tension holds throughout Mileage, an animated short film set vaguely in Cuba and featuring a cab driver who steals the life force of those he drives around. Harrowing and striking in its presentation, the project is the collaboration between a number of student creators, and its craftsmanship is top-notch.



Christopher Hwisu Kim, 2022, Narrative
(“Centerpiece: Snapshots” Short Film Program)

Missile unravels over the course of multiple phone calls among family members, where misunderstandings are tantamount and sentiments are lost in translation. A Korean-American comedy of sorts, rifts in communication escalate to the point of extraordinary drama that somehow remains sweet.


Call Me Back


Tigris Alt Sakada, Canada, 2022, Animation
(“Fragments: Experimental Shorts” Short Film Program)

OrHoDa is a dream to behold. An animated reinterpretation of an old Jurchen legend, the short film walks viewers through the foundational elements and components of a ritual, traditional Indigenous practice. OrHoDa beautifully renders mountains, forests, waters, animals, and other natural surroundings from the boreal forests of Northeast Asia, as it follows hunter-seekers on their quest for ginseng — who the Jurchen believe to be spirit beings.


The Return

Hena Ashraf, United States, 2021, Documentary
(“Family Portraits” Short Film Program)

“This is me filming my dad,” filmmaker Hena Ashraf repeats in the opening scenes of The Return — and those many hours of footage rolling certainly do come into play. The Return features a complex meta-narrative that intersperses home videos and documentary footage with a scripted narrative film based on the filmmaker’s real-life relationship with her family. Shortly after the filming of the narrative project, Ashraf’s father passes, and she is left reflecting on the many things she never shared with him.


Supermarket Affairs

Supermarket Affairs

Hang Luong Nguyen, United States & Vietnam, 2022, Narrative
(“Belonging and Becoming: Refugee & Immigrant Stories” Short Film Program)

Following a father’s death in the family, Supermarket Affairs proves that Vietnamese grandmothers can still fantasize about romance in the produce aisles. Part drama, part comedy, and part karaoke video, it’s ultimately a tale of loss, love, and understanding — which may or may not be partly influenced by this track, “Supermarket Love Affair.”


Take Care

Take Care

Ben Alderman (Wen-Ben Li), United States, 2022, Animation
(“Fragments: Experimental Shorts” Short Film Program)

A quick-paced, disorienting mixed media animation that pulls in many rendering styles, Take Care finds its creator working through family traumas. Alternating between Mandarin Chinese and English, the short film brings to light many of one’s deepest — and sometimes darkest — inquiries about belonging, acceptance, and questions around wanting any of it.


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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