Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 9.2: The Bridge Between Us
The CAAMFest 2014 theme and signature image is the bridge. Bridges connect the Bay Area, and they connect us, or can connect us, metaphorically, if we choose. There is no literal bridge to Asia; here the ocean itself bridges the gap. As Ruth Bolan, then director of Pacific Islander in Communication, told us in 2012 at the “Life on Four Strings” premiere, the ocean between us connects and doesn’t divide us, just as our differences “unite us and make us stronger.”
We need bridges. We need the ocean. We need something to fill the space between us.
Janet L. Surrey writes in an essay on Relational Cultural therapy, “the particular American context of suffering has been described as a fundamental crisis of connection, a loss of a sense of rootedness, belonging, community, and continuity of care.” (In Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, eds. Germer, Siegel and Fulton.)
This is the fundamental human problem as well. The earliest Ericksonian development stage is “Trust vs. Mistrust”. If caregivers are attentive and attuned to their infant, the child develops trust. Relational problems that cause the infant to be wary of his or her environment lay down the seeds of mistrust, seeds that are often triggered by later relationships. Racism, sexism, socioeconomic inequity, the other barriers of prejudice, our disconnection with planet Earth: these are all sources of fear and mistrust. There’s not just mistrust, there’s outright distrust, and even forces of anti-trust, working their hardest to push us apart. On a biological level, some of us are more prone to mistrust than others. But in therapy and in life, we look for corrective emotional experiences that can reawaken relatedness. The brain seems almost infinitely malleable to scientists these days. Maybe there’s hope for us all. Hope must start with awareness. We have to know, with Bob Dylan, that “Everything is Broken” before we can find our way to mend what we can.
CAAMFest 2014 is chock full of examples of connection and disconnection, trust and mistrust, and through the dialectic, provides a healing balm. Singapore’s INNOCENTS lays the blame squarely on uncaring adults who are apathetic to abuse or abusive themselves. Syafiqah, the new girl in school, tells off her teacher. “We see ugly things in this world that you don’t even know about.” Through the innocent eyes of a child, our world can seem dark. What would you tell a child who asks, “why do people kill each other? Why are people mean to each other because of the way they look?” We answer in tears, and perhaps guilt and anger at the world we’re a part of. We nurture resolve to help goodness grow.
In DREAMING LHASA, part of the retrospective on directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, we see the effects of displacement and abuse (“in prison, they beat us. They treated us like animals”). The electricity is unstable in Dharamsala, India, but the effects of power are palpable. Only the human capacity for love can transform it, if given a chance.
Esther Eng, one of the first female Chinese American directors, dealt with race, class, gender and culture, with a fortitude that turned those barriers and their possibility for disconnection into bridges that carried her to her dreams. GOLDEN GATE GIRLS is a solid representation of her life and times.
THE GREAT PASSAGE, Japan’s entry for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars, is an eloquent and elegant portrayal of the word as bridge. A shy, quiet man (Majime, meaning “diligent”) is recruited to work on a expansive new dictionary, “The Great Passage” or the “boat across the sea of words”. As words fill his world, so do feelings of love. His sage-like boss puts it this way: “Wanting to know what words mean means wanting to know exactly what others think or feel. Doesn’t that simply show a desire to form human connections?” Commitment to people across a lifetime becomes its own precious reward; the dictionary is just the excuse for deepening relatedness. (The movie also made me wonder if we need new words these days. For example, what’s the word for that awkward feeling when your ex likes your post on Facebook? Or the word for when you want them to?)
I really enjoyed previewing BRAHMIN BULLS, a story about a father and son with many broken bridges in their past. Siddharth (Sendhil Ramamurthy of HEROES) is an angry, frustrated architect who has to learn how to build himself up again after losses from childhood on; his visiting father (veteran actor Roshan Seth), is both the target of his anger and the source of eventual redemption.
PEE MAK is a hilariously spooky, laugh-out-loud ghost story from Thailand that asks how love might be a bridge across the great divide between life and death. Ghosts are fearsome; they make one mistrust reality. But here, the “space between” human and ghost is filled with care. What once was horrifying becomes tender, romantic and funny. Stay through the closing credits for extra LOLs!
J.P. Chan makes his feature debut with the extremely well-written, acted and directed A PICTURE OF YOU. Siblings Kyle (Andrew Pang) and Jen (Jo Mei, who also co-wrote with Chan) tend to their mother’s house after she’s passed. As they pack her belongings, they unpack their disaffected relationships with each other and their feelings for their mother. Great ensemble performances with Teyonah Parris and Lucas Dixon help make this a memorable experience. Producer Yasmine Gomez and J.P. Chan will both be in attendance at the weekend screening.
I’m also really looking forward to Rithy Panh’s Best Doc Oscar-nominated film THE MISSING PICTURE, which promises to bring healing through memory to the horrors of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. The Cambodian people are still dealing with the memory and reality of relationships destroyed by the terrors of the past. CAMBODIAN SON also promises hope in the face of relationships with country, family and people wrecked and rebuilt, from the inside out. AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS, one of two Centerpiece presentations this year, looks to the work and relational-philosophy of Grace Lee Boggs, a 98 year old visionary activist whose life continues to inspire. And of course, you must not miss the extraordinary opening night film by veteran director Ham Tran (JOURNEY FROM THE FALL, THE ANNIVERSARY). HOW TO FIGHT IN SIX INCH HEELS is a true crowd-pleaser, with humor and psychological intrigue for all.
This year looks to be an extraordinary year of depth and sophistication, as well as light-hearted comfort with who we are as Asians and Asian Americans. CAAMFest 2014 is a path to the interior, as well as all the exteriors, of the Asian American experience.
I see the woman on the CAAMFest cover, seated on a bench, looking at a bridge in the distance. She wants to cross it, or even be it, but she doesn’t yet know what that means or what waits on the other side. I want to tell her not to worry. She has friends here. We’re all waiting.
See you at the CAAMily reunion!
Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a San Francisco psychiatrist and writer. He writes The Pacific Heart blog for Psychology Today. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and best of all, sign up for an occasional newsletter here, and find out about his upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks. Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein says “I think it will be inspiring to many, many people.”