Goto and friends: SF International Asian American Film Festival Assistant Director Taro Goto toasts the year with actress/filmmaker Jacqueline Kim (center) and friend Jenn Lim (right). (Photo by Virgil Vidal)

SFIAAFF's Taro Goto, Moving On

Sean Uyehara March 19, 2008

As the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival draws to a close, it says goodbye to one of its loyal and gracious gentlemen, Taro Goto. Goto began as the Festival’s Print Traffic Coordinator in 2000, first thinking of the position as a temporary means to stay in touch with the film community. But he stayed eight years, and leaves as the Festival’s Associate Director. As he puts it, “[The job] became an obsession.” He gave notice that this would be his last Festival one year ago, and judging by this year’s success, he is going out in style. asked Goto to give us a personal look at what makes him happiest about this last year of his tenure.

Top Unheralded, Unknown or Other Un-such Things that Make Me Happy in My Last Year at SFIAFF

1. Since the first day I started working for the festival, I’d dreamed of holding activities in the Japantown Peace Plaza, which seemed just perfect for hosting some festive activities. This year, we were finally able to pull together a “Festival Forum” event that featured live bands and dancers, tent booths with interactive corners, and a magical outdoor screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro that had my eyes all watery. There’s something truly beautiful about seeing a crowd of people huddled in blankets and watching a film under the stars.

2. Hotel Tomo rocks. With its fun, colorful J-Pop décor, it’s been the perfect hotel to host our guests and events this year. All weekend long, festival guests were tickled by the Fatboy beanbags in the rooms and by the receptions and meetings that took place inside the “GeoDome” tents that live in the hotel’s courtyard, while impromptu parties were springing up in hotel rooms.

3. For the last several years, we’ve been hosting a summit for Asian American festival programmers during the festival, and this year was the largest turnout yet, with some 15 cities sending numerous delegates. Bet you didn’t know that there’s an Asian American film festival in Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh!

4. Our admissions have more than doubled in the last eight years, and a large reason for that growth is the increase in non-Asian audiences. I’ve always felt that as a niche festival we must market ourselves beyond our core audience so that we’re not preaching to the choir. I no longer hear anyone say, “I’m not Asian, why should I go to the Asian American film festival??”

5. Perhaps in part because of this growth, SFIAFF is starting to receive unsolicited inquiries from corporate sponsors looking to support us. It’s a very pleasant surprise, since we usually have to beg for every cent we get.

6. Previous guests of the festival continue to come back and visit us. At the West 32nd afterparty at Yoshi’s, festival regulars like Eric Byler, Jacqueline Kim and Chris Chan Lee were rubbing elbows with guests who were new to the fest this year, like Daniel Wu and John Cho. It feels at once like a big reunion and a growing community.

7. I love seeing what the Bollywood experience at the Castro has developed into. Watching Om Shanti Om playing to a roaring crowd on Sunday night, it felt like the film was made to play at the Castro. The novelty of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 2003 has evolved into a heartfelt appreciation for the unmatched spectacle that Bollywood offers.

8. My boss Chi-hui Yang never ceases to amaze me. I don’t know if people fully appreciate what he’s done for the festival. He became Festival Director at the tender age of 24 and in my humble opinion has set the tone for us with his tireless efforts to put on the best show possible. It’s been my pleasure working with him for the last eight years. It was a good run.