by Nathan Lerner
Now in its seventh year, the upcoming Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival will kick off on Wednesday, Nov. 12, and extend through Saturday, Nov. 22.
With the late addition of the Martin Scorsese-produced “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” the festival will include 16 features. These will be augmented by five free programs of shorts, a web series pilot and a panoply of ancillary events. These will be held principally at the International House of Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St., and the Asian Arts Initiative with a panel at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Plymouth Meeting resident, Michael Wingate Jones, will again serve as Managing Director of the festival. Jones was recruited by Joe Kim, founder of the PAAFF, who told us, “Joe and I had met in the local indie film scene on a project on which I was assistant director, and he was director of cinematography. Subsequently, we collaborated on other film projects including a music video he shot for MTV’s Asian channel and my short film, ‘Nothing But Net,’ for which Joe shot behind-the-scenes footage.
“In the Spring of 2008, Joe assembled a small group of eager, like-minded film enthusiasts to launch the inaugural edition of PAAFF, which took place in October, 2008.” Jones was Festival Coordinator during the first year and thereafter served as its Managing Director.
The 50-ish Jones grew up in East Norriton. He attended Gwynedd-Mercy Academy and graduated from the former Bishop Kenrick High School in Norristown. He then earned an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and a law degree, both from Villanova University. He has practiced law for over 20 years.
“I came late to pursuing the acting bug,” he said. “My first paid acting gig was as a background detective on the second season of the TV series, ‘Hack.’” The CBS show starred Chestnut Hill actor, David Morse, and was shot in the Philadelphia area from 2002 through 2004 and was then cancelled.
Jones caught a break. “Because another actor was late, that first day on a paid film set had me standing in for one of the guest stars on the episode. Stand-in actors substitute for the principal actors to provide technical setup and rehearsal of the scene blocking, lighting and camera angles with the film crew before recording the scene with the principal actors. I knew right away I was hooked.”
Jones went on to appear semi-regularly as a film/TV extra on network shows like “Cold Case” and “The West Wing” and in feature films such as “Invincible,” “Shooter” and “Get Smart.” Jones also participated in regional and national commercials, corporate industrial training videos and performed in community theater.
Jones took numerous acting classes. During an ongoing small class taught by Kelly McGillis (“Top Gun,” “Witness”), Jones had an epiphany, “I came to perceive the depth of the acting craft and recognized the need for serious training. Shortly thereafter, I studied seriously for about a year with a world-renowned acting teacher.”
Jones recently won an on-screen co-starring role as the casino security specialist in an episode of Season Two of Kevin Spacey’s acclaimed “House of Cards” series on Netflix.
“I literally drove down to Baltimore for the audition on the morning that the 9 Emmy nominations for Season One were announced,” he said. “With all the auditions I had chased over the years, this was an opportunity that actually reached out to me instead!
“I received a call out of the blue from a Baltimore casting director who remembered me from an audition several years earlier for a national Pepsi commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. I am hoping that this ‘House of Cards’ role has broken the ice to open to door for other film and TV speaking roles.”
Jones described his ethnic background, “Although part Asian by birth, I was not raised in the Asian sub-culture. I have been amused when at various PAAFF events, I am sometimes approached by persons of obvious Asian heritage who politely inquire how someone like me became interested in Asian American films. I typically respond by explaining that many Asian Americans such as myself are multi-racial and that people are people. This is America, and everyone has come to this country from somewhere else.
“The current Festival Director, Rob Buscher, and I share the similarity of being part Asian, having non-Asian names and being frequently misperceived as non-Asian. This phenomenon is more common than one might think. Two notable examples from the entertainment industry who are not generally recognized as Asian multi-racial are Keanu Reeves, who is part-Chinese, and Dean Cain, from ‘Lois and Clark,’ who was born Dean George Tanaka.
“Most general audiences do not associate these actors as ethnic performers. America has always been a melting pot for diverse cultures, and the entertainment industry reflects American culture.
“As an actor, I have been called frequently to portray other ethnicities because of my ambiguous ethnic look. For example, ‘The West Wing’ used me as a navy steward of indeterminate ethnicity. On another occasion, I was cast as a Palestinian. I sometimes get called to portray mainstream Hispanic. More recently, ‘House of Cards’ cast me as a Native American head of casino security.”