Here’s a roundup of the CAAM funded documentary films showing at CAAMFest 2014. Funding for these films was made possible through the CAAM Documentary Fund, administered through the Media Fund Department.
American Revolutionary: The Life of Grace Lee Boggs unfolds like a layered conversation. Director Grace Lee was working on The Grace Lee Project, seeking stories from Asian American women who share a common name with her. In a moment of serendipity, Grace Lee met Grace Lee Boggs; a social activist born in 1915, feminist, supporter of the black power movement, lover of good questions, and idol to many. What emerged from their initial meeting became a decade-long project of conversations and sharing stories. Lee captures candid and intimate sides of Boggs and the flux of activism, revolution, inner reflection, and structural change. As Boggs narrates histories of activism and community in Detroit, she also provides her refreshing and restorative wisdoms on spiritual and social transformation.
Isang Bagsak! Meaning: If one falls, we all fall. Almost fifty years after the struggles and solidarities of the farm workers’ movement, and coming parallel with the highly-anticipated release of the film Cesar Chavez, Marissa Aroy’s independent film tells the lesser-known background of the Great Grape Strike of 1965. Aroy brings light to the significance of organizer Larry Itliong and the 1500 Filipino farm workers in Delano, California who helped light a movement which gave political voice to Chicano, Filipino, Chinese migrant workers and the development of the United Farm Workers. Delano Manongs pays respect to the elders of the American labor movement, and their shared passion, sacrifice, and sense of unity.
At first glance, the sight of the jeepney is both familiar and striking. With its vividly painted designs, each vehicle is as individual as its driver. In Jeepney, director Esy Casey uses the rhythms of brushstrokes and bus horns to peel back layers of local history and generations. As the tiny film crew of two travels through the Philippines, they make several stops to explore what the indigenous art form means for rapidly changing rural and urban communities, increasing oil prices, and struggling to survive within the shifts of globalization. All the while, the film takes an in-depth look at the jeepney with visually striking detail and a light, lyrical composition. The jeepney is not just a vehicle, but also a metaphor of shifting times.
American Broadway meets China’s larger-than-life theatrical dream in The Road to Fame, as young students from China’s highly-esteemed Central Academy of Drama are given their senior year finals: to be cast and to perform in Fame. Director Hao Wu addresses the universal persistent and uncomfortable questions of youth, while also addressing the realities of the first generation affected by China’s one-child policy.
American Arab takes a gritty, lucid look at the realities of Arab and Muslim American communities in the United States. Iraqi-American director Usama Alshaibi (Nice Bombs, 2006), doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult questions around violence, hate crimes, and experiencing racism in post-9/11 America. Alshaibi’s counter-narratives don’t rely on trying to prove a capacity for assimilation into America. Instead, he chooses to face this deep racism by detailing different, complex and nuanced stories of Arab Americans as individuals, and asking bold questions around citizenship, home, and belonging. American Arab is visually captivating and playful, using experimental tones to take on an otherwise heavy subject.
Duc Nguyen’s film, Stateless, follows the story of a group of Vietnamese refugees stranded in the Philippines for sixteen years after the closure of refugee camps. Raw and delicate, Stateless depicts both the struggles and resilience for asylum speakers as they wait on their dream of creating “home”.
Written by Hardeep Jandu. Images by Ines Chan & Elaine Mihailoff.