Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 10.2

"Giap's Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory" by Tony Nguyen. Photo by Ed Krauter.
"Mushroom clouds to matsutake mushrooms. When we look each other in the eyes, we must sense all those secret, hidden stories, and bring them to light."

Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 10.2

The Year Forty

We are shrapnel from long-exploded bombs –
backlash snapped from rifle return –
ricocheted shells from machine gun shot –
still-burning embers from napalm drop.
We are war.
That love sustains us is subtle proof
to what is and what must be the stronger force;
It is our opposable thumb,
witness to the fist that strikes –
Hitchhiking on some lonely highway of hope,
Where we gather, and walk,
Along for the ride,

It is not 2015 of the Common Era. It is the beginning of the Year 40, forty years after the Fall of Saigon (though some call it liberation), forty years after the Fall of Phnom Penh. Our traumas turn 40, middle aged in human terms but fresh and raw in the sediment of our cultural memory. Our archaeology has not even gathered dust, and still we pile bones. Perhaps every year is Year Zero for someone, some peoples, all of us. Every year, CAAM finds ways of telling these stories, these Journeys From The Fall. In remembering we hope to heal; we hope to transcend. But this year is special.

My friend Tony Nguyen has been exploring these stories. His debut documentary feature, Enforcing the Silence, explored the case of Lam Duong, a journalist who may have been assassinated 30 years ago for unpopular political views. This year, Tony’s short film Giap’s Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory (playing in the Family Ties shorts program) explores even more personal terrain, tracing his mom’s history as refugee (pregnant with him), and difficult questions of life, family and loss against the backdrop of war. I look forward to a Q&A with Tony in a later MOSF post. (Full disclosure, I’m a Co-Producer of his film.)

Arthur Dong’s The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor promises to be an outstanding celebration of the acclaimed physician’s life, the only Asian to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I will never forget reading Dr. Ngor’s explanation of the prevalence of psychic blindness among survivors of the genocide. “If you had seen these things, you would never want to see again.” But eyes can bring healing visions too; I hope this film will help do that. CAAMFest 2015 has a spotlight on Arthur Dong this year, with a conversation with B. Ruby Rich and a digitally remastered screening of the classic Forbidden City, U.S.A.

The Last Season by Sara Dosa.
The Last Season by Sara Dosa.

In The Last Season, the hunt for matsutake mushrooms in Central Oregon brings together an elderly, ailing white Vietnam Vet, Roger Higgins, and his younger Cambodian counterpart, Kouy Loch. They both sleep with guns across their chests; they both wake up screaming from flashbacks. Just like the mushrooms underground nourish the pines, they nourish each other, mutual symbionts. Family. Loch delivers poetic, philosophical riffs about interdependence in the Oregon forest, the binding together of life, made more poignant as we see the affection between these men, the forgotten soldiers whom we must remember as if our lives depend on it; because they do. The war inside soothed, all because the Japanese love a particular kind of rare fungus. What do we need to eat to make the whole world come together? The Masumoto family’s Suncrest Peach with its fragile skin is a good bet; I’ll find out at CAAMFeast on March 7th—tickets are still available.

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll by John Pirozzi.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll by John Pirozzi.

John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll is the must-see documentary about Cambodia’s musical treasure that flowered between colonialism and Khmer Rouge – and I’m not just saying that because I wrote the program note. I adored this film, which brought such a colorful time and people to life once more. “Music was life. Music was the world, and the world’s beat was alive in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh pulse throbbed with spectacular talent, reverbed with Angkor Wattage, and surged from capital to countryside.” The first two-thirds of this movie bring joy; the rest, tears, as we learn what happened to Cambodia’s stars after 1975. I’m giving away 5 pairs of tickets to this film to the first five people who email going2peace at icloud dot com. (For the Thursday, March 19th screening at the Kabuki only.) Bochan, Cambodian American rock singer, will be performing at the PFA screening on the 18th.

I’m also looking forward to hearing more from exiled poet Kosal Khiev in Verses in Exile, episodes 1 and 2, preceding Tashi’s Turbine, both of them about the power of air in breath and wind. You should remember Khiev from Masahiro Sugano’s award winning doc from last year, Cambodian Son, which I wrote about in MOSF Volume 9.8.

Sally Tran’s Deconstructing My Depression (in OUT/HERE Shorts) looks at mental illness in a child of refugees and diaspora. Bao Nguyen’s Employed Identity highlights the post-War generation finding a path to selfhood, showcasing Ham Tran (director of this year’s Hollow, and last year’s crowd-pleasing How to Fight in Six Inch Heels). Horror to humor, Ham’s got it all!

Davy Chou, helmer of the incredible Golden Slumbers from San Francisco International Film Festival 2012, is back with a futuristic short Cambodia 2099, which plays in the Tales of Tomorrow shorts program. And Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo’s narrative feature NUOC 2030 seems unrelated to the War—but its vision of Apocalypse Later must be informed by memory…I wonder what dreams come when we imagine the future, born of the rubble of our past and an uncertain here-and-now….

Scars, wounds and healing. Mushroom clouds to matsutake mushrooms. When we look each other in the eyes, we must sense all those secret, hidden stories, and bring them to light. They are the stories of how we became family. An improbable family—but family, nonetheless.


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, and his e-book on Asian American Anger. More CAAMFest MOSF blog posts can be found here and here.



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