With more than a quarter of a million Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) living in San Diego County, you can bet there is always a flurry of activities throughout the region, especially at the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (SDAFF).

Best known for its Asian Film Festival (Nov 1-9 in 2012) which has become the largest exhibition of Asian cinema on the West Coast, the SDAFF keeps busy year-round unearthing little-known films from around the world for its Spring Showcase, Quarterly Screenings, monthly film forums, Outdoor Summer Series and other special events. The Festival typically showcases 150 films from 20 countries, bringing a window of the world to San Diego through cinema.

The SDAFF recently presented a critically acclaimed film by Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s leading filmmakers banned by his government from making movies, with his latest work called “This Is Not a Film.” The film was filmed on Panahi’s iPhone, smuggled out of Iran on a USB Drive baked into a birthday cake, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and created quite a buzz behind the story itself. “When an artist is being politically suppressed is when we celebrate the bravery of filmmakers like Jafar Panahi. It is those filmmakers who remind us how fortunate we are to live in a country that embraces the freedom of expression, and sharing creativity,” Lee Ann Kim, executive director of SDAFF tells Giving Back Magazine. “We have an obligation to share these stories so our community is better informed about the world and that we ultimately become better global citizens.”

Through its award-winning program, REEL VOICES, the SDAFF has graduated nearly 50 high school filmmakers (both Asian and non-Asian) – many of whom have pursued film school as a result of participating in the program. A competitive program, ten new students were just selected to participate in the 12-week summer filmmaking “bootcamp” during which each student will create their own documentary film on the topic of identity.

Meantime, REEL VOICES alumni like Anthony Anglin, a senior from High Tech High School in Chula Vista, are still experiencing the effects of being part of the program. Anglin’s film, “Love Life, Live Your Dream” was recently accepted and screened at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in Seattle. Thanks to SDAFF sponsor, Southwest Airlines, Anglin was able to attend the Festival with his mother. “It was probably one of the top experiences of my life,” said Anglin. “I’m so grateful to be able to fly to Seattle thanks to Southwest Airlines, to a beautiful city filled with culture and great people. I was very grateful to screen my film and be inspired by many others.”

Most independent filmmakers are not able to travel to various film festivals to screen their works without financial assistance. And yet, it is the very attendance of these filmmakers that make a Festival so special and meaningful. The San Diego Asian Film Festival is fortunate to partner with Southwest Airlines to provide travel for award-winning filmmakers like Patrick Wang (IN THE FAMILY), Sundance darling Bertha Bay-Sa Pan (ALMOST PERFECT), and Kathy Huang (TALES OF THE WARIA).

Along with nurturing future filmmakers, the SDAFF supports the production of film projects such as UPLOADED: THE ASIAN AMERICAN MOVEMENT directed by San Diegan Kane Diep and produced by UCSD graduate Julie Zhan, about the phenomenon of Asian Americans dominating the online media space. The documentary film, which was mentioned in The New York Times, made its world premiere this month in Los Angeles, and will be coming to San Diego this fall.

“While it is nice to celebrate APA Heritage month, diversity is something we value and promote throughout the year. Not just within our community, but to the broadest audience possible,” says Kim, “and we believe that film is the most powerful medium to share our stories, promote cultural understanding, and be a catalyst for social change.”