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Marcus Hu – A Lifetime Elevating Independent Cinema

November 12, 2018
Three Strand films that have played at the San Diego Asian Film Festival:(l-r) Spa Night, Mifune: The Last Samurai, Cemetery of Splendour, and Have a Nice Day


For a revolution in cinema to happen, you need filmmakers and you need audiences. But you also need someone to connect filmmakers with audiences.

That person is the distributor, the executive behind the scenes who piques our interest in the right films and sets off conversations that make a lasting impact.

Some distributors specialize in big films, others in medium-sized films. In 1989, two entrepreneurial film-lovers Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans started a company called Strand Releasing, with an eye on small, independent films. They teamed up with some of the most exciting young directors of the time, including a new Japanese American talent named Gregg Araki. Many of these filmmakers would have been considered misfits: too radical, too queer for other companies. But Hu and Gerrans stuck to their vision, even jumping on as producers to ensure that the films got made.

When many of these films became heralded as the “New Queer Cinema” in the 1990s, Strand Releasing was on the front lines of a movement. Gay and lesbian films have a long and robust history in the U.S., but what made this moment special was that companies like Strand made sure theaters played the films, audiences knew about them, and the press was writing about them. This in turn fueled opportunities for more LGBT filmmakers to take a chance to tell their stories.

With Marcus Hu continuing to steer the company with Jon, Strand became a specialist in not just LGBT content, but some of the most important works by international filmmakers like Gasper Noe, Aki Kaurismaki, Catherine Breillat, Terence Davies, and Lucrecia Martel. Included in their lineup of world cinema included the most important directors from Asia. Strand was responsible for introducing to the U.S. filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang, and Lou Ye. They released the Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture from Cambodia, and the animated Have a Nice Day from China. No American distributor has consistently done more to discover and promote independent Asian cinema than Strand Releasing.

And of course, Strand has embraced Asian American cinema. They elevated films like Spa Night and The Taqwacores to award-winning status. They’ve released films by Asian American filmmakers like Kim So Yong and Steven Okazaki. For fans of LGBT, international, or Asian American cinema, the Strand logo is as recognizable as MGM’s lion’s roar or Pixar’s hopping desklamp. It’s a sign of quality, commitment, and risk-taking. It’s also a signature of one of American cinema’s most groundbreaking executives.

It’s rare that we in Asian American cinema can honor a person who changed the face of film. Marcus Hu is such a person. For his contributions, and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Strand Releasing, we present to him the San Diego Asian Film Festival’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.

-Brian Hu, Artistic Director

Just a few of the Strand films that have played at the San Diego Asian Film Festival:
Ramen Shop (SDAFF ’18)
Have a Nice Day (SDAFF ’17)
Spa Night (SDAFF ’16)
Mifune: the Last Samurai (SDAFF ’16)
Cemetery of Splendour 
(SDAFF ’15)
Mekong Hotel (SDAFF ’12)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (SDAFF ’10)

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