The Center for Asian American Media is a nonprofit 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. For 40 years, CAAM has exposed audiences to new voices and communities, advancing our collective understanding of the American experience through programs specifically designed to engage the Asian American community and the public at large.
For nearly four decades, CAAM has created opportunities for Americans and people around the globe to understand the diverse stories and experiences of Asian Americans through:
▪ Careers. CAAM empowers filmmakers to achieve their full potential by providing training, funding, distribution, and access to professional networks.
▪ Community. Connecting filmmakers and their stories to people and communities in schools, community centers, theaters and neighborhoods, bridging conversations about inclusiveness and social equity.
▪ Perspective. CAAM-supported work changes the way audiences see the world, changing hearts and minds, inspiring empathy and meaningful social action.
CAAM achieves our mission through the following initiatives:
CAAM presents innovative, engaging Asian American works on public television through our dynamic documentary programs. CAAM’s award-winning public TV programs are seen by over 5 million Americans, including 47 documentary shows in the last four years and more than 200 films since 1982. Since launching the groundbreaking Asian American anthology series Silk Screen (1982-1987) on PBS, CAAM has continued to bring timely and relevant works to viewers nationwide. CAAM is a member of the National Multicultural Alliance (formerly the National Minority Consortia), designated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to provide diverse programming to the PBS.
CAAM presents CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) in May, the world’s largest showcase for new Asian American and Asian film, food and music programs, annually presenting over 100 works in San Francisco and Oakland. Since 1982, our film 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 timely 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 $5 million has been granted to over 150 projects. Funding is made possible with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
CAAM presents original Asian American content and storytelling in multiple forms, including online, written, visual, and audio. CAAM engages the public in areas around film, media, education and food in year-round, relevant content via our website, caamedia.org, social media platforms, on Comcast’s Cinema Asian America VOD platform, and Xfinity Asia.
Through Memories to Light: Asian American Home Movies, the power of collective memory and media brings to life the experiences of Asian American communities from across the country and spanning six decades (1920s through the 1980s) of the 20th century. The program collects, preserves, and shares the home movies (on 16mm, 8mm, and super 8mm film) and experiences of Asian American communities from across the United States from the 1920s through the 1980s. To date, CAAM has gathered, archived and digitized twenty diverse family collections and we hope to collect more from each of the 50 states! Submit your home movies at caamedia.org/memoriestolight.
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.
Furthering CAAM’s work to nurture Asian American media professionals and advance the field of Asian American media, the CAAM Fellowship Program connects talented and dedicated individuals with leading professionals in the field. The CAAM Fellowship Program is unique in its field-wide approach seeking to develop the talents and skills of a range of media professions including filmmakers, actors, programmers, and executives.
Muslim Youth Voices Project is CAAM’s three-year national initiative, designed to amplify young people’s expression and celebration of Muslim cultures by giving them the essential tools to tell their stories and the stories of their communities through video — stories often invisible to the national public.
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 [editor’s note: the organization’s name was changed in 2005]. 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), today known as CAAMFest. 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.
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Goto, Taro. “Twenty years of the Festival.”
(online article), March 2002.
“NAATA Home Page.” (www.naatanet.org), August 2004.