During the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), AlixPartners hosted a screening and reception at Lincoln Center for Coba Cheng’s Hong Kong film Chilli Laugh Story that was attended by clients and partners at prominent investment banks, law firms, and tech companies.
It was AlixPartners’ fourth year partnering with festival and its first as a major sponsor, thanks to the Asian Leadership, Insights, and Growth Network (ALIGN) employee resource group (ERG), which envisioned the firm’s involvement with the festival as an opportunity to create cultural exchange and develop business relationships.
“What I love about the festival and what ALIGN does, is we’re making bridges between East and West,” says Rob Domingo, Service Desk Lead, Senior Vice President, at AlixPartners, and, by moonlight, Senior Operations Manager at NYAFF.
The vast world of Asian cinema allows attendees to take in different cultures, and provides an enticing reason to network outside of business hours. “If people can get past the captions, there is so much to watch,” Rob adds. “Since Parasite won the Oscar, more films are being discovered.”
The screening and reception for Chilli Laugh Story attracted interest from Asian affinity groups at other major firms, opening the door to cross-company interaction.
“If they have an Asian ERG, great, we are happy to collaborate in different ways; if they don’t, we can help them to build one,” says Kay Wang, a Vice President in AlixPartners’ turnaround and restructuring unit and ALIGN’s Americas Operations Lead.
ALIGN has a solid history of creating a dialogue that goes beyond the firm. “When Asian hate crimes were on the rise, we were talking about empowerment,” says Kay of a partnership with General Motors. The group went on to organize similar discussions on the model minority myth with Toyota, and two virtual screenings of Lee Isaac Chung’s Oscar-nominated film, Minari as part of the 2021 NYAFF.
These have resonated with industry peers and clients, but also with ALIGN members and AlixPartners staff who find themselves discovering new aspects of their culture.
During the 2018 NYAFF, Maria Steward, Director of Office Management and Facilities, Americas and Asia, at AlixPartners and an expat Filipino, was acting as host, along with NYAFF members, for some of the Festival’s panelists. They had brought an actress from one of the films to a hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop when a man stopped in his tracks and asked Maria, “Is that Anne Curtis?”
It was indeed, though the magnitude of her stardom was a surprise to Maria. Outside the U.S., the Australian-Filipino actress is an industry heavyweight, with more than 18 million followers on Instagram. Yet there they were getting doughnuts—the beauty of the festival.
“What a great way to reconnect with my culture,” says Maria, “and what a great way to teach my sons who were born here and have never been to the Philippines what it is like.”
Rob, who is Filipino, speaks at length about the ways Japanese, Chinese, Hong Kong, and Korean cinema has influenced Hollywood, from the movies that are remakes of classic Asian films to the ways emerging talents like director Aimee Long are shaping the U.S. industry today. He recalls an earlier time volunteering for NYAFF when he was asked to be Jackie Chan’s bodyguard. Rob, a seasoned systems engineer, thought, “This guy doesn’t need me!”
The success of the festival is something to build on, say key members of ALIGN. “For a lot of our clients with Asian affiliations, they are very impressed by our relationship with NYAFF and our event,” says Kay.
Next, they have their sights set on an Asian food event for Lunar New Year.
Through ALIGN events, “we can begin to recognize the differences between these countries and not put them in one bucket,” says Maria, who participates in multiple ERGs at AlixPartners to better understand the experiences of her family members. “What a great thing to use as a business development opportunity.”
“ALIGN provides a place for our people to connect internally and externally,” says Kay. “Consultants are great at executing our initiatives, and clients at other firms hire us because we know how to bring things together.”