The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) is a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. We do this by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting works in film, television and digital media.
CAAM’s catalog includes more than 250 titles, constituting the country’s largest collection of Asian American films and videos for educational distribution. Our award-winning documentaries, personal stories, dramas and experimental works reflect the rich history and diversity of Asian people in the U.S. and global diaspora.
CAAM presents innovative Asian American works in new forms. Since launching the Digital and Interactive Media program in 2006, CAAM produces and showcases new media projects that educate and engage. CAAM works with new forms of storytelling as an active innovator in the dynamic ecosystem of media creation and distribution.
CAAM presents CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) every March, the nation’s largest showcase for new Asian American and Asian films, annually presenting approximately 130 works in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. Since 1982, the festival has been an important launching point for Asian American independent filmmakers as well as a vital source for new Asian cinema.
CAAM provides funding and support for provocative and engaging Asian American film and media projects from independent producers. CAAM awards production and completion funds for projects intended for public television broadcast. Since 1990, more than $3 million has been granted to over 150 projects. Funding is made possible with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
CAAM presents innovative, engaging Asian American works on public television. Since launching the groundbreaking Asian American anthology series “Silk Screen” (1982-1987) on PBS, CAAM continues to bring award-winning works to millions of viewers nationwide. CAAM is one of five minority public broadcasting consortia designated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to provide programming to the Public Broadcast Service (PBS).
James T. Yee Fellowship
Named in honor of CAAM’s founding executive director, the James T. Yee Fellowship provides funding coupled with a mentorship for first-time or emerging filmmakers. Candidates for this award are selected from CAAM’s Media Fund Open Call applicant pool.
Written by Oliver Wang
Founded in 1980 the San Francisco-based Center for Asian American Media, formerly known the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), has grown into the largest organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian Americans in independent media, specifically the areas of television and filmmaking. CAAM’s inception at the beginning of the 1980s came at a key moment in the historical development of Asian American media. Earlier, in 1971, Los Angeles-based activists and artists established Visual Communications (VC), a community-based organization which was instrumental in helping to create many early examples of Asian American filmmaking, including the first Asian American feature film, HITO HATA: RAISE THE BANNER in 1980. In New York, Asian CineVision (ACV) formed in 1976 and pursued similar goals as VC, helping to nurture a nascent East Coast filmmaking community.
CAAM’s mission in its early years reflected similar priorities as its counterparts in Los Angeles and New York but their origins were also intimately tied into federal policies and politics. In the late 1970s, the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) began to provide greater funding resources with the specific aim of encouraging the development of ethnic media. At a three-day conference held at UC Berkeley in 1980, Asian American activists from around the country came together to discuss the creation of an entity that could benefit from CPB’s policies, directly leading to CAAM’s formation later that year.
CAAM’s general mission approached Asian American media in two different ways. Part of the organization’s priorities included social advocacy to confront and challenge negative images of Asians within mainstream media. At the same time, CAAM also invested its resources into creating new work, especially for public broadcasting. The CPB, along with a collection of public and private donors, have given CAAM the resources to gradually expand and refine the services they provide to the larger community.
One of its oldest divisions is in public television programming. Beginning in 1982 and running through 1987, CAAM helped produce the “Silk Screen” series for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), focusing on educating the wider PBS audience on issues of Asian American import. Since then, CAAM has continually developed new programming for the PBS audience, especially during Asian American Heritage Month in May. These works have included both documentary and narrative films, addressing a diverse range of ethnic communities, key issues and aesthetic approaches. Past airings have included works such as Sokly Ny’s AKA DON BONUS(1995), a diary-style documentary of a young Cambodian teen in San Francisco, as well as Kayo Hatta’s PICTURE BRIDE (1995), a dramatized retelling of 19th century Japanese immigrants to the plantations of Hawaii. For upcoming broadcasts see our Public Broadcast website.
CPB-funding lead directly to CAAM creating their Media Fund in 1990, a grant-making resource for filmmakers working on Asian American-related projects for both cinema and television. The range of these projects is necessarily diverse and includes works both relevant to the Asian American community as well as film/television projects about Asian America but aimed towards a larger audience. Past winners have included Tony Bui, director of the award-winning feature narrative, THREE SEASONS (2000) as well Dai Sil Kim-Gibson’s documentary on Korean comfort women, SILENCE BROKEN (1998). To see recent awardees go to our Media Fund website.
The Media Fund complements one of CAAM’s most important divisions, its distribution wing. CAAM is the largest distributor of Asian American media works in the country, with several hundred titles at their disposal. Previously, CAAM Educational Distribution dealt only with educators and related institutions but in 2004, it added a Home Video collection, allowing general households access to a newly formed catalog of 13 titles. In addition to its films and videos, CAAM also distributes documentary and narrative audiocassettes.
Apart from their public television work, CAAM’s most visible community contribution is their yearly San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF). The SFIAAFF traces its roots to Asian CineVision’s New York Asian American Film Festival, begun in 1978. Given the general dearth of Asian American films available to the general public, as well as scarcity of similar festivals in other cities, ACV spun-off a traveling version of their festival that toured the U.S. From 1981 to 1984, CAAM partnered with ACV to showcase their traveling festival in San Francisco, adding in other films by local filmmakers to help round out the program.
Other commitments forced CAAM to shelve the festival in 1985 but beginning in 1986, CAAM took over planning, programming and management of the festival. Since then, the SFIAAFF has since become the largest of its kind in America, with over 100 films screened over the course of 10 days and three cities (San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose). Unlike similar festivals, such as VC’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the SFIAAFF was a non-competitive showcase but starting in 2005, it created its first competitive awards for Best Asian American Feature and Best Asian American Documentary, providing additional support and momentum to emergent filmmakers.
Though the SFIAAFF originally began with exclusively Asian American work, over the course of the 1990s, they expanded to include works from Asian filmmakers, reflecting an attention to the increasingly transnational forms of media moving between Asia and America. The SFIAAFF, which traditionally takes place in March, also begins a cycle of Asian American film festivals around the country, notably the long-running New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago festivals, but also emerging ones in San Diego, Washington D.C. and other cities.
Ding, Loni. “NAATA At 20.”
(online article), March 2000.
Gong, Stephen. “A History in Progress: Asian American media Arts Centers
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Goto, Taro. “Twenty years of the Festival.”
(online article), March 2002.
“NAATA Home Page.” (www.naatanet.org), August 2004.