CAAMFest 2017 review: In Jon Maxwell’s documentary “AKA Seoul,” five Korean adult adoptees journey to Seoul to meet their birth families and to explore the intersection of adoption with their identities
Exploration of identity has always been a complex challenge for adoptees and it’s particularly true for those raised in adoptive families of a different race and culture. Jon Maxwell’s new documentary AKA Seoul (70 min, 2016), screening twice at the upcoming CAAMFest, impressively encapsulates a range of experiences shared by five Korean twenty-something adoptees who journey to Korea in the summer of 2016 to find themselves as they connect with their birth families and their native Korea.
The film is a sequel to the documentary series AKA DAN, which chronicled the 2013 journey of alternative rapper and Korean adoptee Dan Matthews as he met his biological Korean family, including an identical twin brother he never knew about. AKA Seoul picks up three years later as Matthews and four other Korean adoptees—Chelsea Katsaros, Siri Szemenkar, Min Matson, and Peter Boskey—get together in Seoul in various restaurants, bars and tattoo parlors to unpack various aspects of their identity as Koreans, as adoptees and as adults. Since they are all in the immediate throws of searching and reuniting and each experience is unique, what results is a very fluid and candid snapshot of adoption.
- Dan Mathews introduces his adoptive mom, Lynn Mathews, from Camarillo CA, to his Korean birthmother while continuing to process that he has an identical twin brother who remained in Korea with his birth family while he was adopted out. His brother is learning English to strengthen their bond and to facilitate communication for the entire birth family while Mathews is trying to figure out how much interaction he actually wants.
- Siri Szemenkar, who was raised in Sweden with virtually no contact with Asians, meets with adoption agency officials in Seoul to get information about her birthmother. After being stonewalled, she is told that her birthmother wants to meet her. Her hopes are dashed when the birthmother cancels and then elevated when she changes her mind.
- Min Matson shares his story as a transgender Korean adoptee and what it’s like to experience Seoul and Korean LGBT culture for the first time as a male. Min’s adoptive mother was Dutch and his adoptive dad was Norwegian and, while he felt really loved by his parents, he had strong feelings that he was boy in a girl’s body even before he started elementary school. He shares his isolation and his adoptive family’s struggle with his search to find his identity, which included a suicide attempt. When he first went to Korean as a masculine looking woman, it was hard for him to fit in with Korean women and to identify with the culture. When he returns, on this trip, to embrace Seoul as a Korean male, with a sense of body security, he feels different, as if he really fits in.
- Chelsea Katsaros, a 28 year old genetics student at University of Minnesota, was raised by adoptive parents of Norwegian and Greek ancestry in Minnesota and grew up around surrounded by people who didn’t look like her. She admits that pressure of being Asian in a white family and culture, was stressful. When she realized as a teenager that she was gay, and came out at age 19, she felt even more pressure because her adoptive family was deeply religious and would not accept her, ultimately leading her to sever communication with them altogether. Holding an orphan in her arms on a visit to Seoul’s Eastern Social Welfare Society, she laments that she will never be able to adopt a Korean baby herself because she is gay and Korean policy only allows for heterosexual adoptions.
- As free-spirited poet and textile artist, Peter Boskey, meanders through the back alleys and shops of Seoul collecting fabric and mementos for his art, he discusses his creative life and the influence of adoption on his artwork. Not only is his artwork a deep expression of who he is, it has been profoundly healing.
What makes AKA Seoul so relevant is the lens feels very fresh. The five adoptees, aside from being very creatively inclined, represent a broad spectrum in terms of their life interests, sexual orientation (two are gay, one is transsexual), and levels of self-awareness. The common thread is that many of them were raised by white adoptive parents and grew up in communities where they had little contact with other Asians, much less Koreans. As a result, they often ended up feeling isolated within their families and communities, despite feeling that they very loved. The mere sensation of seeing people who look like them and feeling a kind of completeness within themselves is one of their most special take-aways from Korea.
Another is the natural comradery, empathy, and bonding that develops between the five as they eat and drink together, get special tattoos, and unpack their adoptee experiences. They form a pack and we sense that they will be there to support each other long after they leave Korea. As many of these adoptees confide, they’ve walked a tight rope all their lives trying to please their adoptive parents and to fit in. This became increasingly difficult as they went through adolescence and into adulthood. In AKA Seoul, we experience their personal healing and see their complex identities emerge out of their interactions with each other and with their native culture. Albeit, they are all at various stages of processing their experiences and this impacts their coherency but this makes it feel real. Seeing this documentary at CAAMFest, where it will be followed up with a live discussion with at least two of the adoptees from the film, Dan Mathews and Min Matson, should be a very enriching experience.
More about CAAMFest 35:
CAAMFest celebrates its 35th year in 2017 with a ten day festival—March 9-19— in San Francisco and Oakland that explores the shifting tides of Asian American culture. Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest expanded in 2013 beyond film to also include music and food from locales touched by Asian culture. A presentation of the non-profit media organization, CAAM (Center for Asian American Media), CAAMFest’s film offerings include cutting-edge dramas, unflinching documentaries and innovative short films. Throughout CAAM’s history, the organization has supported documentary films and filmmakers by both funding and co-producing films.
This year’s festival will include 113 films and video— 22 feature narratives, 26 documentaries, 65 short films and videos. There will be 10 world premieres, 4 North American premieres, 3 US premieres, 14 West Coast premieres, 36 Bay Area premieres, and 1 special sneak preview.
Celebrating CAAMFest’s 35th anniversary, this year’s Special Presentations will include a diverse lineup of local and international spotlights, interactive works, anniversary screenings that revisit films from the 1980’s and 90’s, a Pacific Islander showcase, community screenings and touching documentaries on the legacy of Japanese American Internment.
Details: AKA Seoul screens at CAAMFest 35—Friday, March 10 (6:30 PM, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema) and Saturday, March 18 (8:20PM, New Parkway Theater, Oakland). Purchase $14 tickets in advance online here. The Alamo Drafthouse at New Mission is located at 2550 Mission Street, San Francisco (There will be a special food and drink menu exclusive to CAAMFest festival screenings.) The New Parkway Theater is located at 474 24th Street, Oakland)
For information about CAAMFest 35, visit http://caamfest.com/2017/.
What! You’ve never heard of artist Tyrus Wong? The Asian Art Museum and CAAMFest will honor this living legend starting Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Unless you caught his wonderful retrospective at the Walt Disney Family Museum two years back, Tyrus Wong is a name that most people can’t place readily. At 105 years young, this pioneering Chinese American artist has touched all of us through his innovative art for films like Rebel Without A Cause and Walt Disney Studio’s classic 1942 animation film Bambi. Wong’s impressionistic conceptual art grabbed the attention of Walt Disney himself and Wong became essentially responsible for the evocative style that we associate with the beloved Bambi and he created much of the film’s background landscapes. But that was just the beginning of this exceptional artist’s diverse artistic career as a painter, illustrator, calligrapher, muralist, designer, Hollywood sketch artist, ceramicist, and kite maker. At 105, he is Americaʼs oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. On Wednesday, March 9th, at 4:00PM in the Asian Art Museum’s Peterson Room, CAAM (the Center for Asian American Media), the Asian Art Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation will ensure that Wong is long remembered in the Bay Area. San Francisco District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar will present a Tyrus Wong Day proclamation in honor of the artist. The next day, CAAMFest 2016 celebrates Wong on the big screen with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus, selected as the opening night film.
On Wednesday, Tyrus, will also be signing one of his unidentified large paintings, which had been unattributed for decades, “Chinese Jesus.” The 85 x 75 inches painting was rediscovered recently by CAAM board member David Lei in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Wong will be joined by his daughter, Kim, and Tyrus director, Pamela Tom. The painting will be on display at the Asian Art Museum on Thursday, March 10th, for one day only. The public is invited to view the signed piece during regular museum hours and during CAAMFest’s Opening Night Gala, which takes place at the Asian that evening at 9:30 p.m., following the screening.
“That it was first in Los Angeles in late 1920’s and made its way here is an amazing discovery,” explained CAAM, Executive Director, Stephen Gong, who spoke with ARThound at the CAAMFest press conference in February. “This came to our attention some 5 years ago. Tyrus was in the process of being made and our board member, David Lei, was poking around the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, looking at old opera scenery backdrops, and his memory was triggered about a painting he had seen as child in a local church of a Jesus that he felt might have been done by the same artist. He did some research and spoke with scholar Mark Johnson at San Francisco State, who told him that Tyrus Wong was around at the time and might be able to identify the artist. When Tyrus’ daughter, who was about 80, spoke with him about it, he said it ‘might be’ one of his. I was flabbergasted. It took David several months to investigate this. The next time Tyrus came to town, he brought him to the Jesus painting, which he had found, and it was confirmed.”
Right now, Stephen Gong explained, the painting is “in between lives.” The Chinese Methodist Church in Chinatown stills owns the painting but they have loaned it to the Asian Art Museum, where CAAM board member, David Lei, is also on the board. Lei is trying to drum up interest to get it restored and to place it in a Bay Area museum, like the de Young or the Asian.
“Tyrus could well have been a major figure early on, but no Chinese artist in the 1930’s was going to be recognized by the art establishment especially when it wasn’t recognizing West Coast artists of any background, ” added Stephen Gong.
Pamela Tom’s Tyrus opens CAAMFest 2016: Tom’s emotionally inspiring documentary paints a beautifully intimate portrait of Tyrus Wong, eloquently exploring his childhood arrival at the Angel Island Immigration Station, the evolution of his voice and legacy and the formation of what he views as his greatest achievement, his family.
CAAMFest 2016─an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music opens this Thursday, celebrating its 34th year with a program that celebrates and explores the breadth of the Asian and human experience. This year’s program all things Asian includes no less than 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films and thoughtfully-curated events that run for 8 days in various locales in San Francisco and then move on to Oakland for a long final weekend. Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016
Love great conversation, food, farming, family and film? Another screening of the sold-out “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm” has been added to CAAMFest for Saturday, March 21 in Oakland—SO worth the drive
CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s annual film festival, has added another screening of Jim Choi’s documentary Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, which has its (sold-out) world premiere on Friday, March 20, 7 PM, at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California). The OMCA event, which features a pre-film get together, the film screening and the entire Masumoto family on stage in story-telling and conversation is at “Rush.” This means it is sold out BUT there may be a few tickets released at the last moment. The new added screening is Saturday, March 21, at Oakland’s New Parkway Theatre at 7PM and there are ample tickets now but this screening too will most likely sell out. Mas, Nikiko and Marcy will also be in attendance and a lively Q&A will follow the screening.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikiko and David “Mas” Masumoto on Monday evening at UC Berkeley (we’re all alums) and this dynamic father daughter duo touched my heart with their loving connection, positive energy and years of farming wisdom. I brought along my dear friend, long-time SRJC librarian Karen Petersen, who first introduced me to Mas via Epitaph for Peach, his 1995 lament over the loss of heirlooms. The public response to Mas’ writing was so encouraging that it essentially led him to re-evaluate the decision to bulldoze his precious heirloom trees. Our meeting couldn’t have come at a better moment because I’d spent the day, and the previous week, out in the garden paving the way for the plantings to come. If you’re the type of person who believes as I do that your garden or orchard is a reflection of who you are, then this is a film and a family that you won’t want to miss. These famous fourth generation Japanese American farmers are best known for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches as well as their tenacious adherence to sustainable practices. Over years, they’ve reaped a harvest of not only delicious fruits but also dreams, reflections and abiding kinship. We discussed what it was like to be filmed and the new directions their lives are taking now that Nikiko has returned to home to step into her father’s work boots on their certified organic 80 acre farm in Del Ray (south of Fresno). That’s 80 acres of organic peaches, nectarines, grapes and a fig tree that all need nurturing, often in grueling heat which it turns out is also the perfect incubator for storytelling. They’re all highly creative but Mas’ writing on farming and food includes numerous best-selling books which have been lovingly treasured and dog-eared by foodies, farmers and imagined gardeners.
This beautifully shot film, which was funded by CAAM, chronicles the transitions undergone by Mas and his daughter as they lovingly enact the rituals of passing the reins from one generation to the next and reflect back on the family’s WWII internment in a camp near their farm. Stay tuned to ARThound for the interview. For more information on CAAMFest 2015, click here.
CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland
The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist. CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix. Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience. ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.
This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too. Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film. In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts. Bravo! There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora. Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market. It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme. Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.
Opening Night: The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January. A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.
Opening Gala: After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.
CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie: Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for. Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”
Closing Night: The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater. The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape. Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen. Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.
Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984. Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.
Perfectly Peachy: The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food. When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum? CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art. Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.
Music: In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.
Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.
When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.
Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events. Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members. Special screenings, programs and social events are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general. Click here for ticket purchases online. Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day. Rush Tickets: If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin. Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.
Not just film, CAAMFest, has super-sized into an Asian American cultural extravaganza—it starts Wednesday, March 13, and runs for 10 days in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland
CAAMFest is 32 this year and no longer just about great film. The 10 day festival, which takes place between March 13th and 23th , in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, has long showcased the best and newest in Asian American film. It got restless when it turned 30 though: it changed its name from SFIAFF (San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival ) to the shorter CAAMFest , named after its sponsor, CAAM , San Francisco’s Center for Asian American Media. Under the guidance of Festival Director Masashi Niwano, now in his fourth year at the helm, it also responded to changing times by tweaking its programming. And growing. And growing. It now bills itself as the nation’s “largest showcase for new Asian and Asian American film.”
Music and Food: In addition to its 121 films and videos, and stellar presentations and tributes, CAAMFest 2014 includes cutting edge musicians and the fusion of great food and film line-up. Korean and Vietnamese hip hop and rock music, and leading female performers are the focus of the two “Directions in Sound” evenings. On March 22, 23-year-old rapper, singer and songwriter, Suboi (Hàng Lâm Trang Anh), tagged Vietnam’s Queen of Hiphop, will have her U.S. debut at 111 Minna Gallery.
Culinary artists like superstar Chef Martin Yan (of PBS and M.Y. China) and award-winning Chocolatier Windy Lieu of Sôcôla Chocolates are the focus of CAAMfeast,” a high-end tasting party/fundraiser, while three fabulous food films celebrate storytelling around Asian food.
CAAMFEST expands into artsy Oakland: Promising to engage all the senses is “Super Awesome Launch,” an evening at the Oakland Museum of California (Friday, March 7) that includes a sneak preview of its highly anticipated upcoming spring exhibition, SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot, along with the chance to meet arts visionary and Eric Nakamura, who curated the exhibition. What? Never heard of Nakamura? Then you’re WAY WAY behind the times and need a serious CAAMFEST infusion. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Nakamura founded Giant Robot, Los Angeles’ Little Osaka based store, magazine, art gallery that became an uber-destination for Asian and Asian American popular culture and art. You can meet Eric Nakamura and experience the art in person at OMCA, which has become quite the hopping venue on Friday nights. The evening also includes high energy bands from Taiwan, a caravan of food trucks, and a screening of Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco’s Awesome Asian Bad Guys (2013) starring Tamlyn Tomita and Dante Basco. Easy to see why they call it “Super Awesome Launch.” And, this year CAAMFEST has its closing night party in Oakland as well (see below), marking what promises to be a sweet partnership with the community’s vibrant arts organizations and galleries.
Big Nights of Film—
Opening Night: The festival kicks off this Wednesday, March 13 with the US premiere of Vietnamese American director Ham Tran’s (Journey from the Fall, 2006) romantic comedy, How to Fight in Six Inch Heels, at the historic Castro Theater. The film was Vietnam’s top box office draw for 2013 and features San Jose native Kathy Uyen as a New York fashion designer who infiltrates Saigon’s high-fashion world to test her fiancé’s fidelity. After the premiere, CAAMFest heads over to the Asian Art Museum for its Opening Night Gala, which features food from local chefs and restaurants, a special presentation by fashion stylists Retrofit Republic, dancing to beats spun by local DJ’s and the Asian’s amazing new exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation.
How To Fight In Six Inch Heels (Âm Mưu Giày Gót Nhọn)
Select Special Presentations: Each year, CAAMFest highlights the works of significant media makers and their contributions to modern cinema. In Conversation with Grace Lee: Award-winning documentary filmmaker Grace Lee will be in conversation at the Castro Theatre on Saturday, March 16, discussing her new documentary, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013), profiling the extraordinary life of activist and feminist Grace Lee Boggs which screens right after the conversation. Lee’s narrative feature comedy, American Zombie (2006), screens on Friday, March 14.
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Tribute: Run Run Shaw: CAAMFest offers a three film tribute to the legendary movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, who over the course of nine decades fostered some of the greatest filmmaking talent in Hong Kong, and produced some American classics such as Blade Runner (1982). The films—The Kingdom and the Beauty; King Boxer (The Five Fingers of Death); and my personal favorite, Come Drink With Me, will all screen at the Chinatown’s Great Star Theater on March 15th.. The Great Star, refurbished in 2010, hosts both Chinese-language film and Chinese opera.
Closing Night: The Closing Night Gala, Sunday, March 23, marks the festival’s expansion to downtown Oakland’s arts district. The evening starts off at the New Parkway Theater with a screening of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy’s documentary, Delano Manongs (2013). A prescient chronicle of the life of Filipino activist Larry Itliong (1913-77), who organized the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and helped launch the United Farm Workers, the documentary explores the vital contribution of Filipinos to the American Farm labor movement. Following this screening, the Gala moves one block to Vessel Gallery for a closing party that takes place amongst the art exhibition “Periphery: New Works by Cyrus Tilton and Paintings by Tim Rice.”
CAAMFEST expands into Oakland:
Stay-tuned to ARThound for detailed film picks, which will include:
Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo (2013) Winner of the Caméra d”Or at Cannes this May, a mesmerizing portrait of a middle class Indonesian family in crisis that sprang out of the director’s childhood in the Singapore and his nurturing relationship with his Filipina nanny who worked as a domestic helper for his family for 8 years from 1988 to 1997. (Screens March 15 at 6:30 PM at Pacific Film Archive and March 17 at 6 PM at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)
Director Yuya Ishii’s The Great Passage (2013), Japan’s 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film about a shy, eccentric young man, who joins the Dictionary Editorial Department of a big Tokyo publishing house to help compile a new dictionary, “The Great Passage” and over the course of years is transformed. (Screens: March 15 at 2:30 PM at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas and March 16 at 3:30 PM at Pacific Film Archive.)
Tenzi Tsetan Choklay’s feature documentary, Bringing Tibet Home (2013). Following the death of his father, a Tibetan refugee, Rigdol embarks on a remarkable journey to bring 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil from Nepal to India. The smuggled soil is laid out on a platform in Dharamsala, the Himalayan hill town where the Dali Lama and many Tibetan refugees are based. For many, this is a reunion; for some, this the first time that they set foot on their native soil; and for a few, this is probably the last time that they ever see anything of their lost nation. (Screens: March 14 at 5 PM at New People Cinemas and March 19 at 7 PM at Pacific Film Archive.)
When/Where: CAAMfest 2014 runs March 13-23, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, galleries, bars and music halls.
Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events. Regular screenings are $12 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members. Special screenings, programs and social events are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general. Click here for ticket purchases online. Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.
CAAMFest 2013—Jin Dan’s masterpiece “When the Bough Breaks,” examines upward mobility’s downward emotional toll on a Chinese migrant family as days, months, years pass
It’s hard to top recent Chinese documentary masterpieces like Ghost Town (Zhao Dayong, 2008, 169 min), Fortune Teller (Xu Tong, 2010, 129 min) or Last Train Home (Lixen Fan, 2009, 85 min). And yet Ji Dan’s latest film, When the Bough Breaks (2011), maintains remarkable dedication to its difficult subject: a family of five Chinese migrants living on the outskirts of a city, their fragile state worsening with time. It ebbs and flows with high drama as well, pulling us into a family tragedy involving innocent children that seems informed by the great master storytellers.
In China today, over 120 million migrant workers have sacrificed everything for a country that barely acknowledges them, gambling all their resources on the dream of a better future. China’s dirty little secret: it’s turning its back on these workers and choosing instead to focus on rapid modernization—at their expense. To tell this story, Ji Dan focuses on two girls and their brother, all of whom desperately need and want an education and their parents, two trapped and defeated individuals who are unable to provide it.
Ji Dan is one of the most important filmmakers in China today. Her past works include Spirit Home (2006), Dream of the Empty City (2007), and Spiral Staircase of Harbin (2008), which won prizes at both the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and the China Documentary Film Festival. To create such an intimate portrait of this fractured Chinese family living on the outskirts of Beijing, she spent three years following and getting to know them. She even took up residence in the teacher’s dormitory of the school they attended. The film screens today, Saturday, March 23, 2013, at the Oakland Museum of California at 2 p.m. (details here) as part of CAAMFest 2013’s final weekend.
Trash is an active metaphor. The family wades through trash heaps from dawn till dusk and the father collects and sells scrap metal, while family’s three vulnerable children fight against all odds – including their own parents – to continue their education and pursue a better future. But this is no ode to victory at the end of a long period of tribulations, it is instead a compelling examination of how life can leave one with a series of choices that all lead to undesirable outcomes. The parents, especially the disgruntled drunkard dad, do all they can to maintain some semblance of control, while the two pre-teen twin daughters struggle to hold the family’s long-term financial vision, though they too exhibit their father’s impatient proclivity for conflict. As the two headstrong girls try to negotiate a path to independence, security, and adulthood, the film reveals how some children are forced to make their own way in the world, assuming the responsibilities of adulthood long before they should have to.
Here’s what critic Brian Hu of PAC-ARTS (Pacific Arts Movement) said when the film screened at the San Francisco Asian Film Festival —Long, impeccably-shot verbal arguments that seem to into stretch into hours are riveting not so much for the yelling, but for the minutiae, in particular the silence of the son, whose fate motivates much of the conflict. Through it all is a sense of environmental doom: the weather, the military jets, the sounds of firecrackers in the distance. When the film comes to a close following a Lunar New Year unlike any other, a visceral transcendence is achieved that numbs the skin and pounds the heart.
Renowned Chinese artist Hung Liu, who currently has a retrospective at OMCA, “Summoning Ghosts, the Art of Hung Liu” canceled her appearance at today’s post-film conversation, but sent this statement about Ji Dan and her filmmaking—
As a filmmaker, Ji Dan spent a long time working with the family, not just on them. Her film is thought provoking and raises questions about family dynamics, personal and societal relationships, and class issues when people live physically and psychologically on the edge. The film shares a harsh reality and is truly moving. It shows us that there are many families living in isolation on the cusp of society, as if on an island. When the film was screened in Shanghai in 2011, several younger members of the audience asked why the film was long. In response, Ji Dan articulately and eloquently expressed her commitment to the need for longer documentary filmmaking in order to tell the full story. I was compelled to speak up and support Ji’s dedication in the face of Hollywood’s influence to train the viewer to absorb only shorter films. As I shared with Lori Fogarty, the Executive Director of the Oakland Museum of California, I am truly impressed with the dedication of women filmmakers from Beijing who challenge film industry standards with their engaging full—length documentaries. They are bold enough to tell dramatic stories about real life, about real people in the contemporary world. I think we must show that we care about humanity by watching and supporting these female filmmakers coming out of China. Ji Dan made an impression on me, and I hope to bring many female filmmakers and their documentaries to the attention of US audiences. With filmmakers like her, who follow a family for seven years to capture their story, we must respond with support. Hung Liu
Details: CAAMfest 2013 runs March 14-24, 2013 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco and Berkeley. Regular screenings are $12 and special screenings and programs are more. Click here to see full schedule and to purchase tickets online.
CAAMFest 2013, expanding beyond film to music, food and a celebration of Asian and Asian American culture
CAAMFest continues it 11 day run through this Sunday, March 24, 2013. This year, the fesitval has expanded its emphasis from mainly film to an 11 day celebration of film, music, food and digital media from the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists. Accompanying Monday evening’s world premiere of “Memory of Forgotten War,” by award-winning Berkeley filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem and Boston College professor emeritus, Ramsay Liem, was a captivating vocal performance by Amie Kim and the Korean drumming group, Jamaesori (Pronunciation: “JAH-mae-soh-rlee”). Jamaesori is a Bay Area collective of women of Korean descent who use traditional Korean drumming to support social justice movements. Their Pilbong style of Pungmul drumming is a centuries old participatory folk art tradition and was a rare treat.
Details: CAAMfest 2013 runs March 14-24, 2013 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco and Berkeley. Regular screenings are $12 and special screenings and programs are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60. Click here to see full schedule and to purchase tickets online.
CAAMFest 2013, an 11 day celebration of film, music, food and digital media from Asian and Asian American artists
CAAMFest, formerly known as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, kicked off Thursday evening, March 14, 2013, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre 2013, with “Linsanity,” Bay Area native Evan Jackson Leong’s new documentary about the meteoric rise of Chinese American NBA basketball phenomena, Jeremy Lin, one of the few Asian Americans players in NBA history and the only one in the global spotlight.
Along with its name change, CAAMFest, now in its 31st year, has expanded its emphasis from mainly film to an 11 day celebration of film, music, food and digital media from the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists. Over the years, the highly-respected festival, organized by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), has showcased hundreds of films and has become a highly-respected launch pad for promising Asian and Asian-American filmmakers as well as a venue where influential Asian filmmakers are honored.
This year, the festival is offering many forms of entertainment, and the name CAAMFest reflects that change, said Masashi Niwano, the festival director, at CAAMFest 2013’s press conference. In addition to its offering of 90 exceptional films—documentaries, shorts and narratives—there will be 55 programs and live events, ranging from salons featuring musicians and chefs in symposium style panels, to music performances that follow special screenings. Here are some that caught ARThound’s eye:
DOSA HUNT/New Directions Launch: In collaboration with the Asian Art Museum (AAM), on Thursday, March 21, CAAMFest presents “Dosa Hunt,” a special evening at the museum that celebrates the “new directions” the festival is taking. The Indian-themed evening is built around film, food and music, and includes the West Coast premiere of music critic Amrit Singh’s short musical film “Dosa Hunt” — which follow the hunger pangs of a 7 Indian indie musicians— pianist Vijay Iyer, critic Amrit Singh, members of groups like Das Racist, Yeasayer, Vampire Weekend, and Neon Indian—who pack into a disco van and set out to find New York’s best dosa. Dosa are those fabulous crispy and savory South Indian crepes filled with potatoes, chickpeas and various spices. And, through the film, we learn that dosas are a metaphor for the American dream. The evening kicks off at 6 p.m. with Happy Hour featuring DJ KingMost; “Dosa Hunt” screens at 7 p.m. and the Indian group, Bastards from Hell, perform from 8 to 9 p.m. Entrance to the China’s Terracotta Warriors exhibition is included in the price. (Click here for more information.)
THIS WEEKEND: Up Sunday, March17, CAAMFest offers two special screenings at the Castro Theatre— At noon, Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” based on the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamida taps into one of the central issues of our time—how does our society inadvertently nurture the very prejudices that drive people to radicalism? With an amazing cast—Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Live Schreiber, Martin Donovan—Nair takes us from pre-9/11 Wall Street with its ideology of greed to post-9/11 xenophobic Manhattan, to the coffeehouses and classrooms of Lahore Pakistan as it declares its desire to be independent from America’s political stronghold. All reflected in one young man’s journey.
At 5 p.m., a centerpiece reception with hors d’oeuvres and drinks and 6 p.m. screening of Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children,” based on Salman Rushdie’s 1981 best-selling Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. Rushdie also narrates the film. While both of these films will open later this year in Bay Area theatres, there is nothing like seeing them early and at the Castro.
On the eve of India’s independence, two male babies, switched at birth, live the life intended for the other, both handcuffed to history in Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children”
Beyond Boundaries: On the Anniversary of the Armistice—CAAMFest explores the ramifications of the Korean War through 4 films: Beyond Boundaries is a special festival program exploring the societal repercussions and cinematic incarnations of the Korean War on the 60th anniversary year of the Armistice. Four films highlight aspects of the Korean experience—
“Memory of Forgotten War” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean survivors of the Korean War who later immigrated to the U.S. After the screening, the Korean drumming group, Jamaesori will also perform. Jamaesori is a collective of women of Korean descent who use traditional Korean drumming to support social justice movements. and includes as s part of CAAMFest 2013 and is the first documentary to tell of the experiences of Korean survivors who later immigrated to the U.S.(Screens: Monday evening, March 18, at 6:30 p.m., at San Francisco’s Kabuki Cinemas.)
Jiseul: Set during the 1948 Jeju Massacre, Jiseul tells the fictional story of some 120 villagers who hid in a cave for sixty days from soldiers who were under shoot-to-kill orders. They suffer from severe cold and hunger but retain their sanity by making jokes and holding on to the hope that their wait is almost over. Eventually their endurance wanes, and fear begins to test the group’s mettle. (Screens March, 19, 2013, 8:30 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)
Seeking Haven: Over 20,000 North Koreans have crossed the border to China in search of freedom. Most of them live in hiding, in fear of being deported back to North Korea and politically persecuted. Director Hein S. Seok, a recipient of one of only five film-production grants given by CAAM’s 2010 Media Fund Program, reveals their often overlooked stories in this intimate, daring tale of struggle, heartbreak and survival. (Screens March, 18, 2013, 8:50 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.)
Comrade Kim Goes Flying: An international collaboration six years in the making, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the first fiction feature in over thirty years to be filmed inside North Korea and co-produced by Western filmmakers. (Screens March, 23, 2013, 8:45 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley and March 24, 2013, at 4 p.m. at Great Star Theatre.)
Stay-tuned to ARThound for festival coverage.
Details: CAAMfest 2013 runs March 14-24, 2013 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco and Berkeley. Regular screenings are $12 and special screenings and programs are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $60. Click here to see full schedule and to purchase tickets online.