Memoirs of a Superfan, Vol. 8.9: Labor of Love
“If memories are food for the soul then home movies are the bread crumbs we drop to find our way home.”
– opening lines, Memories to Light (Closing Night Presentation)
Memories to Light was an intimate, deeply affecting closing to CAAMFest. Master filmmaker Mark Decena plunged deeply into personal history as he introduced CAAM’s new and ambitious project – digitizing, archiving and contextualizing home movies shot on film. Light triggered memories triggered emotion and resonance. The past is never past, and recovering it can bring new depths to the present moment. Decena’s parents were in the audience; making the event an especially poignant one for him and all of us, as witnesses. Parents are such powerful forces for any of us; their presence and sometimes absences place imprints, archetypal imprints, on our hearts and souls. Decena says he was inspired by the live-narrated documentaries of Sam Green. He told the story of his parents, whom he described as carrying a “war inside.” His Filipino father met and fell in love with his Japanese mother while he was stationed in Japan during the Korean conflict – just a few years after their respective countries were engaged in bitter and brutal war. The home movies showcased happy moments of childhood. Here, his father embracing and kissing his mother; then, humorously, a very young Decena and his brother copying them. Happy times were more poignant as Decena revealed that conflicts drew his parents apart. His mother planted roots in the Bay Area, and raised three children with love, care and hard work.
Love and war are like battling Titans on this Earth and in our hearts. This is not an abstraction; this is our reality. We see them in grand epic (Salim Sinai and Shiva in MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, or even the “blue and red energy” of ASTRO BOY) and in the work of many of our artists. It’s a strange and combustible pairing; so difficult to carry, and sometimes, even to survive. War and conflict seem to arise spontaneously and all too frequently; love has to be tended, cultivated, strengthened. So much artistic and community work is literally a “labor of love”. CAAM and CAAMFest illuminate the stories that emerge from the fires of creation and conflict, and each year, we tip the scales towards light, love, and acceptance, inspired by artists like Mark Decena.
Part of the light emerges in “lightness” and humor – in NICE GIRLS CREW (written and directed by Christine Kwon, who is leaving CAAM this year – but I’m sure will be making return appearances at CAAMFest), and narratives like SUNSET STORIES (winner of the Emerging Filmmaker award for directors Ernesto Foronda and Silas Howard) and SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW. Ample darkness (JISEUL, LAND OF HOPE) is tinged with subtle light (MEMORIES OF FORGOTTEN WAR), and sometimes, there is a star-birth (LINSANITY). We experience the dawn of understanding, as filmmakers bring curiosity, thoughtfulness and years of work and dedication to difficult topics, as Debbie Lum did with SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE (winner of the Jury Prize for Best Documentary). And we can literally feel the light, as characters struggle to connect through their wounds (DEAD DAD, winner of the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature). As Leonard Cohen sings, “there’s a crack in everything. It’s where the light comes in.” Light emerges from the broken places, and the places of hope and vision. Even when we portray darkness, or simply seek to entertain, we’re hoping that a spark of light, life and connection emerges in the consciousness of the viewer. Our main job as human beings may be to be alchemists of light. Put that on your business cards.
(INHERITANCE directed by Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz won the Loni Ding Award for Social Issues Documentary, and if previous years are a precedent, the film will be available online at CAAMedia.org for a short time later this year.)
The festival itself is light. YouTube and streaming video offer ways for artists to get their work in front of viewers instantaneously, at low cost and practically without friction – but nothing can replace the real world experience of the theater, for either the artist or the audience. Add to that the irreplaceable, warm engagement with the smiling volunteers and staff of CAAMFest, and you have something very special indeed. I have a home movie in my mind of these moments of connection. Call it “Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart” or, since that’s taken, “The Chai Luck Club”. Bread crumbs to find our way home, indeed.
Something emerges from CAAMFest – renewal, solidarity, aspiration, inspiration, awareness, community, empowerment. And even after seeing all these great films, I know there’s someone out there thinking “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’ve got a story to tell.”
Stories to light. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. You can find more of his writing and performance at www.RaviChandraMD.com, where he invites you to sign up for an occasional newsletter. His Pacific Heart blog is at Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart. On Twitter he is @going2peace.